Heavy metal band The Hu are taking their mix of Metallica-style thrash and Mongolian steppe music to rapt audiences across Europe this summer.
The four long-haired leather-clad Mongolians, who have been hailed for their mesmerising live performances, grew up listening to a mix of metal and rock, from Metallica and Sepultura to the Foo Fighters.
But while their Western idols belt out songs about love lost and the meaning of the universe, The Hu, who rocked the Eurockeennes festival in the eastern French city of Belfort Thursday, sing about upholding Mongolian traditions and respect for the ancestors.
What makes the head-banging foursome particularly compelling though is that three of the four – Gala, Enkush and Jaya – do traditional Mongolian throat singing or “khoomei”, usually only performed during ritual ceremonies.
“That style, we call it ‘hunnu rock’. ‘Hunnu’ means ‘human’ in the Mongolian language. But it is also inspired by the Hunnu, the ancient Mongolian empire,” Gala, who plays the “morin khuur”, a two-stringed fiddle prominent in Mongolia’s nomad culture, told AFP.
Among the other traditional instruments being brought to European festival audiences by The Hu this summer are the “tovshuur”, a two-stringed lute, and a “tsuur”, a long, wooden flute which features on Unesco’s list of intangible heritage.
“Thousands of years ago, our ancestors played the instruments we use on stage, even the percussions. That’s how we mix Eastern and Western culture, old and new, and in this way everyone can appreciate our art,” said Gala.
It was a shared love of heavy metal which brought the band together when they formed in 2016.
“We met at music school and spent our free time listening to a lot of records. We listened to a lot of different music, but heavy metal united us and we wanted to play some,” Gala said.
The Hu’s unique sound and look – a mix of tasseled leather jackets, bandanas and traditional top knots – has reached a global audience thanks to the Internet.
Their first videos, “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem”, shot in dramatic, rocky Mongolian landscapes, have racked up 33 million views on YouTube.
After their set at Eurockeennes, the band went to Switzerland and the Czech Republic before a nine-date tour in the US in October.
“Touring outside our country is an honour and a great satisfaction,” Enkush said. “We’re discovering all these different audiences that don’t know us either, it’s exciting. We try our best to impress!”