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HHT have finally arrived in Germany for two ground-breaking concerts

After several smaller appearances here, Huun Huur Tu have finally been invited to perform their art and let the spirits of Tuva stream through the audiences in two prestigious German concerts:

On July 16 they played in the St. Mary’s Church in Bad Segeberg within the world famous Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in a completely sold out concert before an enthusiastically applauding audience, and on July 31 they performed in the Verdo Concert Hall in Hitzacker at the banks of the river Elbe within the Musical Summer Days before a deeply touched and enthralled crowd of 750 older and younger people. The north German radio station NDR and several newspapers reported accordingly.

While the concert in Bad Segeberg was performed by Huun Huur Tu all by themselves, they teamed up for the second concert in Hitzacker, which lasted almost three hours including a passionately requested encore, with the Swiss two-man ensemble Stimmhorn, with whom Huun Huur Tu had repeatedly performed, including for a documentary film which was produced for and broadcast by the European culture channel ARTE in 2003.

Stimmhorn’s Christian Zehnder (vocal, including overtone and yodel, bandoneon, bandurria) and Balthasar Streiff (vocal, alp-horn, trumpet) are performing the first act. What the two are offering is not only music but also an artistical show as well as instrumental and vocal theater, as unique as worldwide seldomly experienced, in which Zehnder’s whole body at times becomes a sonorous resonator, while Streiff is not simply and masterly playing his instruments but becomes an instrument himself – with the audience being kept in breathless attention.

Then comes the main act – Huun Huur Tu. Even their external appearance with traditional clothing and the concentrated, friendly smile on their faces indicates to a European audience that an entirely different cultural world is coming alive. When the first sounds ring out, we, the audience, are immediately thrilled and with the continueing music we are slowly but steadily becoming entirely bewitched. With their uniquely performed throat singing technique, in which one singer simultaneously produces two or even three tones, the group is unfolding a fascinating, infatuatingly meditative sound-cosmos, against which they set clear rhythmical structures with their traditional herdman’s instruments. HHT’s world-renowned ensemble consists of frontman Kaigal-ool Khovalyg (vocals: khoomei, sygyt, kargyraa; instruments: igyl, flute), Radik Tyulyush (vocals: barbang-nadyr; instruments: byzaanchi, igyl, khuur), Alexei Saryglar (vocals: sygyt; instruments: tuyug [horse hooves] and tungur [shaman drum], igyl, [also piano]) and Sayan Bapa (vocals: khoomei, kargyraa; instruments: igyl, doschpuluur, acoustic guitar), while all of them play the khomuz, the Tuvan type of a jew’s harp. We are especially touched when the group, through their voices and instruments, is greeting us with the sounds of Tuva’s other inhabitants, the animals, such as a horse’s or camel’s neighing and their beating of hooves while gallopping, with their birds’ singing, with voices of creatures unknown to us – wonderfully tendered especially by Radik Tyulyush.

The final, shorter act brings the two groups together – in a surprisingly harmonious and yet overwhelmingly exciting sound of voices, rhythms and peaceful encounters of true world music that so positively defies comparison with any other musical stage acts.

When finally the thunderous applaus is ebbing, it is already late in the evening. And yet, against the knitting of the concert hall manager’s eyebrows, people are patiently standing in line to purchase many of the offered CDs and DVDs, both from live concerts and studio work, including HHT’s remixed CD “Spirits from Tuva”, which in 2002 reached the # 1 place of the World Music Charts Europe.


Having submitted to Huun Huur Tu a paper with interview questions just before this Hitzacker concert, I was fortunate enough to be granted the desired short interview with the group’s Sayan Bapa, who during the concert was the English language introducer of each next title and who had explained the cultural essence of each song.

Q: Would you please tell us what the name Huun Huur Tu means in English?

A: Huun in our language is the sun, Huur Tu means when children arrive from the sun, if you see it behind the clouds or during the evening when the sun goes down or shines through trees, beautiful effects when the sun shines through the clouds from the sky down to the earth.

Q: As you had said in a long interview with Andrei Chymba sometime ago, HHT is an evolving organism, is in constant motion. Tuvan folk music is the fundament, but much more goes into it, such as each of you add your own visions to your music. You had also mentioned that in Tuvan folk music there are spirits and powers involved that are generally beyond the understanding of many Europeans. Could you please elaborate a bit on aspects like these?

A: I think that spirits and powers being an essential part of music are not restricted to Tuva, or Central Asia for that matter. When we listen to folk music and other good types of music from around the world, I think that good spirits and good powers are also part of their music. But I think Tuvan music is one of oldest, traditional type of singing and playing instruments from the ancient times, which touches the listeners around the world who understand what the vibration of voices and the soft sound of instruments means to the heart and soul. People in many areas of central Asia and even Eurasia with ancient musical traditions are growing up with the songs of their forefathers, and at some point of time are encountering music styles of other cultures, which then may lead to influencing their own type of music. This has also been the case for nomadic cultures like in Tuva, who have traditionally interchanged cultural habits and customs with the neighbouring peoples, such as from Altai, from Turk peoples and from other Central Asian regions. And this ancient music is being passed on from generation to generation not by a traditional understanding of music folklore but by way of ears to ears and voice to voice, being taught to the young ones through their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, who teach them how we are singing and what instruments we are playing – and the young generations, adding their own notes, their own sounds and their own words, have always easily understood what this music means to themselves, their culture, physically and emotionally. Tuvan traditional music has always been and still is pure natural beauty for all of us, not only through the melodies in major and minor and through the sounds but also through ever new words and ever new beautiful poetry. But as modern times are evolving and communications with other cultures are becoming so easily available, also we are influenced by other music forms and styles, and we ourselves are influencing the music traditions of others. And I am myself, for instance, playing a so-called modern guitar in addition to our ancient instruments – you could say that we are indeed on a pathway to ‘world music’, which is why we also like to play concerts with other music groups and ensembles.

Q: Technically speaking, I understand that the pentatonic scale of your music is native to many cultures in Asia, in Africa, even in the Americas through the cultures of their native peoples. May I ask you for a comment on this aspect?

A: In the area of sounds in Central Asia this is definitely one of the types of most beautiful Pentatonic notes and a kind of a special scale, but the scale of each of our songs is a different one, it is not like the Pentatonic scale that we see is usual in China or in other parts of the world. Each melody of our music has a special type of rhythm of the words and a special group of rhythms for the lyrics, underlined by our ancient instruments, and for us the understanding of the force of rhythms is very important.

Q: Your home is the small Republic of Tuva, politically belonging to the Russian Federation and located at the northwestern border of Mongolia – and Tuva is the geographical center of Asia. According to the Amazon shop’s website….

“Tuva is limitless steppes, cloud-clad mountains [the Sayan and Altai mountains reaching up to 4,000 meters], ancient suns, and thousands of years of history of nomadic horsemen” and “Huun Huur Tu is the sounds of steppe, the cries of animals, the songs of the birds, the chanting of the spirits”. Would you please tell us in short words what Tuva means to the hearts and souls of your wonderful ensemble?

A: We do not only try to be with nature, we are still a part of nature. This is a very important thing for us. We are living right within nature, not even far from a city. And we are living in yurts, which means there are no borderes of wood or stone. Yurts are made from natural materials which are no borders to natural sounds. You hear nature and its creatures all the time when living in yurts – sheeps, cows, yaks, who all talk around you, and you also can easily listen to the stories of the old people with their tales of animals and their sounds – this is quite important to Tuvan people, still listening to the stories and to the natural sounds of animals and to the spirits of nature. And for us, this living together with nature and its intimate ear to ear listening and thinking connection, even through the walls of a yurt, is being engraved on us from the time as a child, who is hearing the sounds and the cries of the animals such as a crow or other birds, telling us their stories, their sorrows and their wisdom, and we easily can understand the presence of the natural spirits and powers.

Q: Just about the first person who introduced Tuva and its wonderful art of khoomei to Western Europeans was the German composer and music scientist Wolfgang Hamm, who in the 1990s travelled to Tuva and produced a very attractive and informative film about your home country and some aspects of its culture, which was subsequently broadcast on television. Since the start of the new millennium, Tuva has become better known here thanks to your many concerts in various European countries, and also thanks to those of Sainkho Namtchylak. In the German speaking countries, no doubt, the monumental Scythian exhibition of 2007 and 2008 in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg has also contributed towards more knowledge of and interest in Tuva, as has the widely praised book of the famous Sewjan Weinshtein, which my company Alouette Verlag has published under the title “Geheimnisvolles Tuwa – Expeditionen in das Herz Asiens”, along with a DVD with a documentary about the expeditions of our author to and within Tuva, with photos, and with examples of Tuva’s throatsinging tradition, which I am hereby bringing you and your colleagues of Stimmhorn as a present. My question to you is, are you having definite plans for further concerts in Germany?

A: I don’t really know for sure. We are represented here by Jaro Medien in Bremen, Uli Balss, who is planning for further concerts for us and is bundling our concert tours. You could ask him for more details. What we do know is that we are going to travel to England tomorrow for a concert in Northampton. But we have also our own projects in Europe, Russia, North America, and in Asian countries, where we are always touring for a number of weeks. But our home is and remains Tuva, to where were are always going back and where we are staying permanently with our families.

Q: Interested listeners can already now buy many CDs and DVDs with your music, either recorded live in your concerts or in studio performances. Quite often you are also performing with other American groups and European ensembles, such as tonight with Stimmhorn. I also understand that a few weeks ago you have recorded an album together with Tuvan female singer Sainkho Namtchylak, who is personally well known to us and who had once told us that Tuvan lady Kara-kys Namzatovna Munzuk was her great singing master and model. I would like to know how her music and your music ‘fit’ together, and how this new, purely Tuvan combination has been working out.

A: Sainkho has been performing since perhaps 1985 with jazz musicians, with the Russian avant-garde, with contemporary classic ensembles, and we very much like her music. As far as I know, Sainkho has not done very much throatsinging in the past many years, she is now starting again to perform traditional Tuvan music styles. Actually throatsinging in Tuva so far was usually an art for men only. When we performed together with her in St. Petersburg a few weeks ago, she was mainly singing traditional Tuvan songs, and she was very good at it, we did enjoy it. This CD with her was recorded in a basilica in St. Petersburg with wonderful acoustics, and it is called “Mother-Earth! Father-Sky!”, which refers to words of the great Tuvan story teller Sotpaa Sat.

Interviewer: Thank you very much, Sayan Bapa, for this interview which will appear in TuvaOnline sometime next week, as soon as Dina Oyun has reviewed it. We thoroughly enjoyed both your performance tonight and this conversation, and we wish you and your wonderful colleagues all the best. Hopefully we shall see you again in Germany sometime soon.

Juergen Boden (Oststeinbek), photos by Bianca Schoebel (Bergen)
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