- Khovalyg Kaigal-Ool (throat singing, vocal, igil, doshpuluur, khomus)
- Sayan Bapa, (throat singing, vocal, three-strings plucked doshpuluur, two-strings bow igil, guitar)
- Alexei Saryglar (throat singing, vocal, big drum “kengirge”, leather sack with bones “khapchyk”, hoofs of horse “duyuglar”, igil).
- Radik Tyulyush (throat singing, vocal, four-strings bow byzaanchy, vertical flute “shoor”, khomus)
“The Tuvans will ride into your brain and leave hoofprints up and down your spine.”
The San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Imagine cool, fresh air, high altitudes, the wild open spaces of the steppes, rushing rivers, singing birds, galloping horses, yurts, and a culture that combines Buddhism with shamanism, and then imagine that you hear the sounds of all these elements in the music. With a beat. That's what it sounds like.”
UnionNews (Springfield, Mass)
The khöömei quartet Kungurtuk was founded in 1992 by Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, brothers Alexander and Sayan Bapa, and Albert Kuvezin. Khovalyg had been involved on the khöömei scene since 1979. Not long afterwards, the group changed its name to Huun-Huur-Tu, meaning “sunbeams” (literally “sun propeller”). The focus of their music was traditional Tuvan folk songs, frequently featuring imagery of the Tuvan steppe or of horses.
The name of this group describes the effect of vertical rays of light which shine down from the clouds at dawn and dusk – a familiar sight that inspires awe wherever it occurs. No doubt it's given added drama when projected over the stunning landscapes of Tuva. This landlocked republic at the heart of Asia is the home of the four-piece Huun-Huur-Tu, whose music represents a re-imagining of traditional Tuvan folklore and is strongly evocative of the natural world.
Their trademark sound derives from the use of various over-tone or “throat-singing” techniques which were invented by nomadic hunter-herders of the Tuvan steppes and mountains. Traditionally, these were largely performed a cappella, but Huun-Huur-Tu were one of the first groups to combine them with ancient acoustic instruments such as the cello-like two-stringed igil, the four-stringed byzaanchi, the three-stringed doshpuluur and the khmomuz – a local equivalent of the Jew's harp. Using these with percussion and voice, they create eerie harmonics and otherworldly noises, even mimicking animals.
The ensemble released its first album, 60 Horses In My Herd, the following year. The album was recorded at studios in London and Mill Valley, California. By the time recording began for the follow-up, Kuvezin had left the group to form the more rock-oriented Yat-Kha. Kuvezin was replaced by Anatoli Kuular, who had previously worked with Khovalyg and Kongar-ool Ondar as part of the Tuva Ensemble. The new line-up recorded The Orphan's Lament in New York City and Moscow, and released it in 1994.
In 1995, Alexander Bapa, who had produced the first two albums, departed the group to pursue production as a full-time career. He was replaced by Alexei Saryglar, formerly a member of the Russian state ensemble Siberian Souvenir. A third album, If I'd Been Born An Eagle, recorded in the Netherlands, followed in 1997. This time, in addition to the traditional folk music, the group performed some rather more contemporary Tuvan songs, from the latter half of the 20th century.
In early 1999, the group released its fourth album, Where Young Grass Grows. For the first time on a Huun-Huur-Tu album, non-Tuvan instruments (except for the guitar) were featured, including harp, tabla, Scottish small pipe (performed by Martyn Bennett) and synthesiser. The album also features two excerpts of recordings made of Kaigal-ool and Anatoli singing whilst riding horseback on the Tuvan grasslands.
Huun-Huur-Tu participated in the 2000 BBC Music Live event, performing the opening and closing songs for a live, early morning broadcast from Snape Maltings. The following year, the group released their first live album.
In 2003, Kuular quit the group and was replaced by Andrey Mongush, an experienced teacher of khöömei and Tuvan instruments. Mongush's tenure with the group was short and in 2005 he was replaced by Radik Tyulyush, formerly of Yat-Kha fame.
Since the group's inception, Huun Huur Tu has collaborated with musicians from many genres, such as Frank Zappa, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the Kodo drummers, The Moscow Art Trio, the Kronos Quartet, Hazmat Modine, The Chieftains and Bulgarian women's singing group, Angelite. Their recording “Eternal” is a collaborative effort with underground electronic musician, Carmen Rizzo.
“Huun Huur Tu successfully achieves a mimetic energy in the combination of voice and instruments, sounding like a descending wind traveling down a snow-peaked mountain… The harmonic implications and depth of Khovalyg’s sustained melodies are simply amazing.”
“At times joyous, at times sorrowful, it is an epic journey… With rhythms reminiscent of galloping horses, and the famous throatsinging forming a deep and resonant backdrop… we gain a keen insight into a vibrant, rich and profound culture. Satisfying, evocative and relaxing.”
4 Stars, The Epoch Times
“The baritone and whistle-warbles issuing from a single throat on 'Remembering Ulaatai River,' the speedy gallop of 'Eki Attar'… Ancestors Call makes one thing clear: Even without the benefit of hindsight and international exposure, Huun Huur Tu would still sound regally, ruggedly like itself.”
A-, The A. V. Club
“'Ancestors Call,' showcases the many things the band absorbed along the way… In this setting, [Chyraa-Khoor is] almost chamber music, though without losing the rustic edge… The classical and avant-garde experience can be heard strongly in the swooping glissandi and elongated melodic lines of the new version of 'The Orphan's Lament.'”
AOL Spinner, Around The World
“It's music that can seem alien (especially the throat singing) but there's a deep beauty to it all. For all that it sounds ancient, inspired by the rhythms of horse's hooves on the steppes, this is modern music, inspired by the tradition. It's a wonderful soundscape.”
iTunes & All Music.com
“This is living, breathing, modern folk music… this album will affirm your excitement for a fascinating musical tradition brilliantly updated.”
“The galloping sounds of [Huun Huur Tu] are revisited as more modernized sound palettes accentuate the group's characteristic style of ancient melodies… The addition of the guitar eloquently steers the songs into a glorious setting of listenable comfort… Huun Huur Tu 'step'pes it up like no one else!”
Inside World Music
“'Ancestors Call' is a powerful piece of music, masterfully put together… a seamless harmony between the earthly and the divine. Innocent, imaginative and peaceful.”
“Ancestors Call feels more like a universal spiritual experience than a recording… I recommend this recording for anyone fascinated with folk cultures from around the world… Take this one, it's well worth it.”
Whole Music Experience
“Incredible voices. If you’ve heard throat singing… these guys are the best. If you haven’t heard it, you’re in for a major treat.”
WRIR Global A Go-Go’s Bill Lupoletti