Among the many passions of mine there’s also music, which is why a few weeks ago I enrolled myself into this “World Music” course offered by Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania. Carol Muller, the instructor for this course is introducing me and all the other students from all around the world to various musical styles, one of which is got very close to my heart. It is called Tuvan music, and it’s the traditional music of people from Tuva – a geographical area between the Russian Federation and Mongolia. Huun Hur Tu is probably the best known band that took Tuvan music outside their borders and showed it to the World. Fantastic music! Absolutely amazing, that’s what it is. The best part is that there’s an entire concert online on YouTube in HD, which I invite you to watch right here, below the article.
Before that, a little info about Huun Hur Tu taken from their MySpace pace, which also features some freely streamable songs, so make sure you checks those out as well. In 1992 HUUN-HUUR-TU was founded by Sasha Bapa, his brother, Sayan, and two other musicians, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Albert Kuvezin. Ever since they have tried to focus on the performance of “old and forgotten songs”, as Sasha put it. Sasha, Sayan, and Kaigal-ool were refugees of one of the large state-managed song and dance ensembles that became fixed institutions of the public cultural life during the Soviet era. For decades these ensembles with their glitzy performances of folk music or pseudo folk music offered the only possibility for young musicians to play indigenous music for a living. But throughout the privatization of the music business in the former Soviet Union, many musicians decided to abandon these state ensembles and formed their own groups. The musical results have decidedly been mixed.
The members of HUUN-HUUR-TU have devoted themselves to learning old songs and tunes but at the same time their performances reflect the values of innovation as much as tradition. For example, the very notion of an ensemble like HUUN-HUUR-TU is new to Tuva: Most Tuvan music has traditionally been performed by a solo singer or instrumentalist, and musicians have tended to specialize in a particular genre or musical style. These genres and styles in turn have deep roots in particular kinds of social occasions. By contrast, HUUN-HUUR-TU’s eclectic concert presentations of old songs and tunes fall between the cracks of Tuvan musical life. “In Tuva, there’s still no real context for what we do,” says Sasha Bapa. “We perform there only rarely because it’s so difficult for an independent group like ours: where can we find a good hall and sound equipment, and transportation to get there? How can we deal with all the government and commercial structures that still control a lot of the booking? And who can offer fees that will support us even modestly as professional musicians? Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, the musical leader of our group, might be better known in America than in Tuva. We’re trying to preserve our musical heritage, but at the same time, we’re trying to look forward. If a musical tradition stops evolving, it is destined to die.”