This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
“I never knew I needed Mongolia folk metal in my life, until now.”
Another comment echoed the same sentiment: “Yuve Yuve Yu is the best random YouTube suggestion I have gotten in the last few months.”
And still another user: “In a world full of Taylor Swifts. Be a Mongolian Metal Band.”
The comments sections on the Yuve Yuve Yu music video on YouTube are a stream of positive responses. As of publication time, the video has garnered almost 17 million hits in just 8 months, since it was published in September 2018.
It’s a hit single from Mongolian band The HU, four young men from Ulaanbaatar who came together in 2016 to make folk and heavy metal rock music. They’ve since gained prominence on the Internet after releasing two videos. Their singles Wolf Totem and Yuve Yuve Yu (What’s Going On?) has amassed almost 27 million views in less than a year.
The number is especially impressive given that Mongolia’s population hovers just above 3 million.
In Yuve Yuve Yu we see aerial shots of barren landscapes, the band vigorously bobbing their heads, long braided hair flying in the wind, leather boots stomping on rugged landscapes. But a closer look shows what makes this band particularly special: the energetic strumming is on traditional Mongolian guitars, hands ferociously fretting through horsehead fiddles. A deep guttural roaring escapes them, and they sing about how strange it is that the generation today has forgotten about the history of their ancestors. The band’s lyrics also include old Mongolian war cries and poetry.
It all began when music producer and songwriter B. Dashdondog, also known as Dashka, was travelling in the province of Khovd in Mongolia, admiring the massive jagged Jargalant mountain, when a moment of inspiration hit him: he wanted to write a song about his ancestors to preserve the culture of his nation and the beauty of its nature in music. And so The HU was formed.
Its members are all institutionally trained to play traditional Mongolian instruments. The symphonic metal quality of their music is so unique that the band insisted on calling it its own genre: "Hunnu rock." The name was inspired by the Hunnu, better known in Western culture as the Huns, an ancient Mongolian empire.
"We researched ancient Mongol history, music, poetry and instruments. Then we married the traditional with modern to create this unique Hunnu rock sound and look that has become The HU," N.Temuulen, also known as Temka, told VICE. Temka plays the tovshuur, or the Mongolian guitar.
In Hunnu rock, there is a rich sound formed by the mastery of their Mongolian string instruments, an adventurous narrative melody and energetic propulsion in the music that is exciting and intense. It sounds thoroughly modern, but it is also very much rooted in their traditional ethnic songs—a powerful chanting that is expressive and emotional. When you listen to Mongolia’s ancient music, it is easy to see why rock music is what Mongolians were most drawn to when the country became a democracy in the early 1990s and opened up to western influence.
Because of Hunnu rock, the country has seen increased interest in Mongolian instruments.
"Over the last few years, the number of young kids learning traditional instruments such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) is growing. But it wasn't a common thing to learn traditional instruments when we were growing up," TS. Galbadrakh aka Gala, who plays the violin-like instrument with strings made from horsehair, told VICE. "For us to play on a professional level, we needed to study and learn for several years at the Mongolian State Music and Dance Conservatory and Mongolian State University of Art and Culture."
Gala and Temka were classmates at the Conservatory since they were 12 years old. The other two members – G.Nyamjantsan aka Jaya who plays the jew's harp or tumor khuur, and B.Enkhsaikhan aka Enkhush who also plays the horsehead fiddle – learned to play traditional Mongolian instruments in school too. Two of the members even hold Master's degrees in performing arts. They all grew up listening to Mongolian music, they said, but also listened to some Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Slipknot, and Lamb of God.
Hunnu rock has undoubtedly captured a global audience, spreading their transcultural sound across borders. The group is currently touring Europe, with 23 shows across 13 countries. There are talks of a North America tour as well.
The band is also poised to release their first album, Gereg, this year. It is named after the diplomatic document used for travel during Genghis Khan’s time.
On their sudden rise to fame, Jaya said he feels it is the unique nature of their music that has caught the world’s attention. "Mongolia is a big country with a small population of 3 million people. We think the world loves our music because it's something new and fresh," he told VICE.
In Yuve Yuve Yu, the lyrics call for Mongolians to remember:
It has been so long eating and drinking being merry
How strange, How strange
Taking our Great Mongol ancestors names in vain
How strange, how strange
Yet, would not honour our oath and destiny
How strange, how strange
Why [have] the valuable ethics of ancestors become worthless?
How strange, how strange
Because of The HU, the rest of the world, not just Mongolians, will remember as well.