Huun-Huur-Tu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Until the 1990s, the only Westerners who knew much about Tannu-Tuva were stamp collectors bemused by the diamond- and triangle-shaped stamps that came from the small Russian republic on the Mongolian border. That began to change in 1987, when musicologist Ted Levin recorded the 1990 Smithsonian Folkways album Tuva: Voices From the Center of Asia, America's first exposure to the eerie but entrancing world of Tuvan throat singing. Through some well-practiced glottal gymnastics, a singer produces two or three notes simultaneously--often a low, steady drone paired with dynamic whistling. Rescued from the doldrums of philately, Tuva has found a new cultural ambassador in the quartet Huun-Huur-Tu, throat singing's best-known practitioners. The almost uncanny strangeness of their singing style is offset by the familiarity of the music's loping, cowboy-song rhythm, and the simplicity of instrumentation: drum, Jew's harp, stringed instruments plucked and bowed. Thanks to the surprise success of Genghis Blues, the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary on Tuvan music, and Huun-Huur-Tu's own work with Frank Zappa and the Kronos Quartet, there's now a sizable audience for the group. Their appearances are genial, user-friendly affairs--part concert and part clinic on the finer points of the singing styles xoomei and kargyraa. Western success, however, apparently means suffering the indignity of the remix: the group's most recent album, last year's Spirits From Tuva (Paras), funked up and trancified their catalog to no useful effect. When dealing with a style of music whose essence is the sounds and rhythms of nature, such tweakings seem especially misguided. Better introductions: 1999's Where Young Grass Grows, 2001's Live 1 and Live 2, or either of these two concerts. Friday, January 30, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment