Huun Huur Tu - Ancestors Call
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Huun Huur Tu
Ancestors Call
World Village/Greenwave (www.worldvillagemusic.com)

In the early 1990s, the music of the Republic of Tuva caught the ears of world music listeners. Tuvan music had more than its share of exoticism for Westerners. Traces of Silk Road footpaths wind through the music, as Tuva itself sits at the center of Asia: 2500 miles east of Moscow, nestled near southern Siberia, north of the border of Mongolia. Huun Huur Tu were amongst the most important ensembles to emerge from Tuva, and the group did much to bring the unique sound of overtone singing to the concert stage. The remarkable practice of overtone singing in Tuva allows one individual to sound as if he were a choir unto himself, accompanied by a drone or even a flute. Combined with horse hair fiddles and large shamanic drums, Tuvan music remarkably transports one's mind to the central Asian steppes. Thematically, Tuvan music expresses a very particular sense of place, with traditional songs about rotten logs, rivers, mountains, herds of animals, and life on horseback; it is an explosive, intense evocation of nature and a people's relationship to it.

Ancestors Call follows on some experimentation for the veteran Huun Huur Tu group. As with the most intriguing of world music acts, the overtones and instrumentation of the band have entered the world music market first in its 'pure' form, and then chopped up and transplanted into new sonic environments (such as Spirits from Tuva [2003], a remix album; work with the experimental Tuvan chanteuse Sainkho Namtchylak [2008]; or the band's last ambient record with Carmen Rizzo, Eternal [2009]). Ancestors Call is very much a return to basics for Huun Huur Tu, one deeply informed by their global experiences, and the group revisits some of their repertoire ('Orphan's Lament' and 'Konguroi [Sixty Horses in My Herd],' and 'Ancestors').

There is a starkness to this Ancestors Call record that is especially stunning, alternately trippy (listening to 'Kozhamyk' is to feel the wind rushing in your face as you suit up for battle) and spacious (both 'Odugen Taiga,' with its embedded animal cries, and 'Ancestors' give one the impression of standing under an immense sky). The rootedness of place remains, the essential earthiness of Tuva (“If I ride a reindeer/moose will not escape me/If I ride a reindeer and hunt/elk will not escape me”). Huun Huur Tu seem to be aiming for more of an acoustic ambient balance, while re-familiarizing listeners with the wonders of their vocal skills. Both 'Prayer' and especially 'Remembering Ulaatai River' are astonishing pieces of Tuvan singing, the latter a tour-de-force of overtone singing that will leave you gasping for breath.

Sometimes, Tuvan music could be viewed as an Eastern cousin of Western country cowboy music. Huun Huur Tu feature three songs here that capture the verisimilitude of horses and horse riding, with percussion rattling like harnesses as the melodies lope along. On 'Chyraa-Khoor,' one of the band members even flaps his lips at the end of the song in imitation of a horse's lather after a traveler's long ride! That's how close Huun Huur Tu brings you in on this journey of theirs; now go saddle up. - Lee Blackstone

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