Meet the musical group Huun Huur Tu….bringing a memorable and unique sound, and no doubt the feature that led to invitations to collaborate with everyone from Frank Zappa to Ry Cooder to The Chieftains, is their astonishing polytonal throat-singing.
In Tuvan throat-singing, or drone, is produced at the same time as a range of overtones, some shrill and high-pitched, some deeper. Many singers can several notes at once. It’s an astonishing feat of vocal acrobatics, with a mesmerising and unearthly effect.
There are countless sub-divisions of styles; the two that Huun Huur Tu are best known for are probably the impressively baritone boom of the Kargyraa style, a bassier form of singing where the overtone is close in pitch to the drone; and the Sygyt, where a shrill higher melody can be picked out by the singer even as they continue their drone.
All four members of Huun Huur Tu sing. They mostly use native Tuvan instruments, like the two-string igil, played with a bow; and the khomus, a type of mouth harp.The result is music infused a sense of place: horses galloping and wind whistling through grasses are presented so strongly that they’re almost visual in songs like Chyraa-Khoor, which translates as Yellow Pacer, an ode to a favourite horse.