When Shanachie issued Huun-Huur Tu's debut album, 60 Horses in My Herd, in 1993, few industry insiders could have predicted that these cultural ambassadors from the remote Siberian republic of Tuva would hook the ears of world-music fans throughout Europe and America. The quartet's unusual and distinctive throat-singing style, which can produce up to four concurrent overtones from a single note -- allowing a vocalist to harmonize with himself -- comes across in guttural growls and birdlike whistles.
Shanachie's interpretations of traditional Tuvan melodies are fairly catchy, and a whole lot of fun to imitate -- which must account, in part, for the group's relative renown. This is an interesting twist, because Huun-Huur Tu often creates tunes by mimesis, mimicking the sounds of their natural environment. Galloping equine rhythms played on tuyug (horse hooves), xapchyk (bull testicles), and hand drums are standard fare on the group's fourth and latest Shanachie release, Where Young Grass Grows. Tuva, Among the Spirits (Smithsonian Folkways), an amazing and at times hilarious new ethnographic study, further explores the music's mimetic elements as the Huun-Huur Tu vocalists parrot the whinny and snort of horses, the caw of carrion crows, and the burble of a stream. It's certainly some of the strangest music you'll likely ever hear, but it's also profound in ways you'll never fully understand until you try it yourself.