The Huun Huur Tu Throat Singers from Tuva Play to a Packed House in Pittsburgh

By Anita Stewart, Rock At Night Pittsburgh

VENUE: First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh-October 10, 2019

First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh

It was a great night for a show in downtown Pittsburgh; perfect autumn weather and a cool, crisp chill lingered in the air. I met a friend for dinner and we walked around the Shadyside neighborhood, shopped and then took a Lyft to the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, not far from the shopping area. The church was large, welcoming, plenty of seats, beautiful stained glass windows and a large pipe organ garnished the stage. Outside at the side entrance, a big golden banner was displayed that said “Black Lives Matter.” Pittsburgh is a beautiful and very progressive city. We had our tickets two months in advance for the world renowned Huun Huur Tu and glad we did as we got there early and had our pick of the general admission seats. After we were settled in, we found out that a line went around the block of people waiting until the last minute to get tickets to see this show.


Because of the line outside, the band got a late start and once everyone was seated, the musicians came in from the side door and started to play and sing. I knew of other throat singers from the Inuit communities in Northern Canada, Siberia and other places and had seen them play and sing on video but was not prepared for this magical and mystical performance by Huun Huur Tu. The band comes from Tuva, a wild area in Russia on the Mongolian border and their name means “Sunbeams” or “Sun Propeller” in their native tongue.


Three of the band members play various traditional instruments similar to flutes, violins and other stringed instruments and one guitar is used. The igil, khomus (Tuvan jaw harp), doshpuluur, and dünggür (shaman drum) are some of the traditional instruments. The Shaman drum was lost during the band’s flight into town. So the drummer was using some small shakers, bells and one big bass drum (western style–from a standard drum kit).

This particular art form, similar to yodeling or yoiking is prevalent with the ancient nomadic and indigenous peoples–and the songs always have a connection to a person, place or thing. An art form that these people could take with them as they traveled place to place, herding horses, reindeer or other animals while moving in harmony with the weather and nature. Throat singing is done by the singer holding the note and singing a second corresponding “drone” tone and sometimes another tone is added in or this could be the sound of animals, insects, thunder, rain, for example. All of these vocal sounds are made by the one singer with no electronic enhancement or additional notes by the instruments the band is playing.

Huun Huur Tu has been performing since 1992 and has had a few changes through the years. The current band members have been together since 2005. The band has collaborated with other musicians and bands such as Frank Zappa, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the Kodo drummers, The Moscow Art Trio, the Kronos Quartet, The Chieftains and the Bulgarian women’s singing group, Angelite.

The energy in this church during this performance was one of altered states–very spiritual. Sometimes nature was represented by the vocals, such as bird calls or the snorting of horses. The songs were deeply connected to the flora, fauna and these wild places where the musicians live. Indigenous music that can transport the listener. Difficult to explain unless you were there.
I could not access their official site that is maintained in Russia at the time of this writing, so I will not link it here. However, you can find this band linked on all the socials such as, Spotify, Facebook, etc. This is a show you need to experience. The band heads to Europe next and their tour information is HERE.
Anita Stewart
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