Singer Gala says, “We want to share our music with everybody in the world.”
The HU are coming. No, not that Who — this HU, the Mongolian one. And yes, the band has heard that joke before.
The reason the hard-rocking Mongolian quartet chose a name that sounds the same as the iconic British band is that “hu” is the Mongolian root word for “human being.” “It doesn’t matter which country you’re from,” states lead throat singer Gala, who also plays morin khuur (aka a horsehead fiddle). “We’re all human beings, brothers and sisters. So we want to share our music with everybody in the world.”
Since last fall, The HU has quickly become a YouTube sensation (nearly 39 million views and rising) and already has toured Europe. Its music serves up an enticing brew of its homeland sounds blended with Western rock sensibilities. In April, the song “Wolf Totem” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Digital Song Sales chart with 6,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music, and also debuted at No. 22 on Hot Rock Songs; “Yuve Yuve Yu” reached No. 7 on Hard Rock Digital Song Sales. The tracks are included on The HU’s debut album, The Gereg, which will arrive Sept. 13 on Eleven Seven Records.
Billboard spoke with the group’s members Skype, assisted by their manager and highly fluent interpreter, Tuga Namgur. They hail from Mongolia’s largest and capital city, Ulaanbaatar, itself a mixture of traditional and modern culture, and Mongolia has seen an expansion in terms of rock groups both in the inner and outer parts of the country. The HU, which respects all of their efforts, distinguishes itself by calling its style “hunnu rock,” playing on its cultural heritage. “We came up with something new,” explains Gala. “It’s a mix of modern and old, Eastern and Western.”
The HU formed in 2016 in collaboration with Dashka, the band’s co-producer/co-songwriter, who had a vision for this folk-rock act. Several years ago, he started researching traditional Mongolian music and journeyed to his father’s home in the western part of the country. He sought to form a band that could combine the past and present, but with a limited number of musicians available who could play traditional music, he had to find the right players, which he eventually did.
The group has released videos that showcase the beauty of Mongolia and are imbued with a rock attitude. For instance, the clip for “Wolf Totem” shows The HU riding iron horses with biker members of the Mongolian Choppers Brotherhood MC, led by an actual horseback rider. The videos also are interesting in their lyrical content. (Yes, there are subtitles.) “Wolf Totem” is an anthem of resistance, while “Yuve Yuve Yu” deals with upholding the Mongolian heritage — themes that other musical countrymen, such as Tengger Cavalry and Altan Urag, have echoed. Today, The HU debuted the video for “The Great Chinggis Khan.” Watch it below:
“Every song has its message, and we like to sing about something meaningful to help other people,” says member Jaya, who plays jaw harp, tsuur and flute, and also provides throat singing. “We want to inspire other people’s courage. With the songs that we sing, our main message is, ‘Love and cherish your elders, and be respectful and cherish this nature, this world.’ ”
Although they are expressing their Mongolian culture through their traditional instruments and throat singing, “there are so many beautiful things hidden in this world that need more attention,” says Jaya. “There are so many beautiful cultures that we can cherish. Most of all, our songs are telling people, ‘Be strong,’ because we believe that every person has a warrior in her or in him. We’d like to wake that warrior up to have the courage to stand against injustices in this world and stand together… to do something good for the world.”
Jaya adds that they believe their message of loving one’s elders and this world is crucial, especially for younger fans. “We’d like to be the voice for this message, and as Mongolians, we’d like to preserve and protect our culture and keep it the way it is, as we received it from our ancestors,” he says. “We want to hand it down to the younger generation [like] we received [it]. Every beautiful culture from Brazil to Antarctica should do this. We want everybody to be proud of who they are, regardless of country or race.”
Their dedication to this cause and their rapid global success impressed the Mongolian minister of foreign affairs, who asked The HU in April to be the official cultural envoy of Mongolia. Given the band’s crossover appeal, it made sense. They formally accepted the responsibility on Aug. 9.
The songs on The Gereg range from Western-style rock anthem “Shoog Shoog” to the pastoral tranquility of “Shireg Shireg” to the bold, almost bluesy swagger of “Yuve Yuve Yu.” Gala hears similarities in the type of power and energy exuded by other Western rock singers and Mongolian throat singers, who can sing two things at once. “Of course, the hunnu has a different technique,” he remarks. “When you make two sounds using your one voice, it’s special. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years.”
He also observes that The HU’s traditional music has rock elements, such as the way some of their instruments like morin khuur use tunings employed by rock guitarists. “We see so many similarities in rock singing and playing with our traditional music,” says Gaya. “It helps us to create an original and meaningful sound.”
The internet and media have given Mongolians easy access to worldwide current events, and, conversely, more artists are visiting the country. “Once in a while, we get bigger bands that come to Mongolia and play,” says Enkush, who handles lead morin khuur and provides throat singing as well. “The last one was Sepultura in April in our home city, and we were there.”
One international group that inspires The HU is Rammstein, the German juggernaut that retains a global following despite using mostly German lyrics. Temka, who plays a Mongolian guitar called the tovshuur, feels that Rammstein’s vibe is what attracts its fans, and his group aspires to achieve the same effect. “Our music has a lot of meaningful messages and heart to it,” he says. “We believe that our music can go not only from our mouths to others’ ears, but it can travel from our hearts to our listeners’ hearts.”
The Hu played its inaugural show in Ulaanbaatar in June, followed by its first international concerts in Europe and the United Kingdom in June and July. Gala says the band played 23 cities in 13 countries, and nine shows were at major festivals like Rock im Park, Rock am Ring, Tons of Rock, Graspop and Download. All of its headlining shows sold out, and the act was humbled that such a new group could attract that much attention.
“We were just so honored, especially when we opened for Rock im Park and Rock am Ring,” recalls Gala. “At noon, there would be thousands of people showing up for the opening band, waiting for us. Ten minutes before the show, they would start chanting, ‘HU! HU!,’ as if we were a band that has been around for so many years. We got so many things from this tour. Most of all, the love we received gave us this desire to make more music, perform better and perfect our sound.”
Although Gala and Enkush have previously visited the United States, The HU collective is coming for the first time on Sept. 13 to kick off a three-month tour in Milwaukee, and it is excited to show American fans what it can do live: In concert, The HU expands to an eight-piece configuration that includes guitar, bass, drums and percussion.
“We would like to say to our American fans: ‘We’re on our way to you, and we’ll bring a lot of good messages, good energy and a lot of Mongolian history and beautiful music,’ ” declares Gala. “We’re bringing this inner power with us, which we would like to share with you and will help you with every aspect of your life. Be positive, be brave, and do the right thing.”