The Hu: a wildly successful Mongolian rock band

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Here's the official video of their viral hit, "Wolf Totem":

First things first:  hu means "human" (they call their music "hunnu rock").  Parenthetically, I wonder whether there is any possible connection between Mongolian "хүн" (khün) and English "human".

From Late Middle English humayne, humain, from Middle French humain, from Latin hūmānus m ("of or belonging to a man, human, humane", adjective), from homo ("man, human"). (Wiktionary)

mid-15c., humain, humaigne, "human," from Old French humain, umain (adj.) "of or belonging to man" (12c.), from Latin humanus "of man, human," also "humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized." This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally "earthling, earthly being," as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- "earth"), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam "man," from adamah "ground." Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) "man, male person." (Etymonline)

Musically, I'm taken by their use of Mongolian throat singing and their instrumentation featuring the morin khuur (морин хуур).  Since the name means "horse[head] fiddle", it calls to mind the centrality of the horse for Mongolian culture and all that it implies (see under "Selected readings" below).

The cinematography of their music videos is captivating, nay breathtaking.

A historical sketch of the rapid rise of The Hu:

The Hu (stylized as The HU) is a Mongolian rock band formed in 2016….

Two videos on YouTube released in the fall of 2018, "Yuve Yuve Yu" and "Wolf Totem", had garnered over 25 million views by October 2019. On 11 April 2019, "Wolf Totem" reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hard Rock Digital Song Sales, making The Hu the first Mongolian musical act to top a Billboard chart. In addition, "Yuve Yuve Yu" reached No. 7 on the same chart while "Wolf Totem" debuted at No. 22 on Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart.

On 17 May 2019, The Hu met Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, who congratulated the band for their accomplishments in promoting the country.

On 6 June 2019, the band released the lyric video for their third single "Shoog Shoog". In June and July 2019, they performed twenty-three concerts in twelve European countries. The band released the music video for their fourth single "The Great Chinggis Khaan" on 23 August 2019.

The Hu released its first album on 13 September 2019. The album's title is The Gereg, which is the term used for a diplomatic passport from the time of Genghis Khan. The Gereg was internationally released under Eleven Seven Records. The band will embark on their first North American tour from September 2019 through December 2019.  On October 4, the band released a new version of "Yuve Yuve Yu", featuring new vocals by Danny Case of From Ashes to New. In November, their song "Black Thunder" was featured in the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. On December 13, the band released a remix of "Wolf Totem", featuring Papa Roach lead vocalist Jacoby Shaddix.

On 27 November 2019, The Hu were awarded the highest state award for Mongolia, the Order of Genghis Khan, for promoting Mongolian culture around the world.

Source

The Hu continue their meteoric rise, now attracting even the attention of political scientists:

"Why Does China Have 1.4 Billion People and No Good Bands?  Mongolia rocks out while its giant neighbor slumbers." By Lauren Teixeira, Foreign Policy (

Can't help but think of Genghis Khan*.

*Historians of the Mongol empire generally prefer the spelling Chinggis Khaan, which more closely approximates the name in Mongolian, Чингис хаан [t͡ʃʰiŋɡɪs xaːŋ] (About this soundlisten). The English spelling of his name came originally from Italian, hence the pronunciation /ˌɛŋɡɪs ˈkɑːn/, which is similar to the Italian pronunciation; the second G has a following H to produce the sound [ɡ], as in spaghetti. But because G before E in English is ambiguous (cf. get vs. gel), this leads to the common pronunciation of /ˌɡɛŋɡɪs ˈkɑːn/, with both Gs producing the sound /ɡ/, which has led to the alternate spelling Jenghis Khan to try to prevent this.

The Middle Mongol pronunciation was IPA: [ˈt͡ɕʰiŋːɡɪs ˈkaχaːn] or IPA: [ˈt͡ʃʰiŋːɡɪs ˈqaχaːn].

Source

Pride of the past, power of the present, fountain of the future.

 

Selected readings



24 Comments

  1. /df said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 1:56 pm

    No word on whether the band's name is also a nod to a phonetically similar but 50 years older British outfit? Do they smash their horse-head fiddles against the speaker stacks?

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 1:57 pm

    Wolf Totem is also an absolutely first-class film. Very sad in parts (especially when they kill the wolf cubs) but also beautifully told.

  3. Bathrobe said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 4:21 pm

    There are quite a few other bands that very successfully make use of Mongolian instruments and singing styles in other genres, including rock, although not necessarily heavy metal. In Inner Mongolia there are Khangai, Ajinai, and Andaa Union. In Mongolia Altan Urag ( just to name one). And Namgar ipresent a mesmerisingly updated version of Mongolian / Buryat music in Buryatia. There is much more out there. The HUU owe their success to their skilful use of Mongolian musical elements and powerful historical and natural images within the framework of heavy metal, a genre that maintains a strong fan base amid changing trends in music.

    While they are musicians, not politicians, the HUU's tough-guy image no doubt appeals to the current nationalist, somewhat shady president of the country.

  4. Ed said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 4:58 pm

    Saw them in Philly in November. They were really great live. I had never heard of them before that but a friend dragged me along. Glad he did.

  5. Bathrobe said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 5:11 pm

    Wolf Totem was a total disappointment.

  6. Bruce Humes said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 5:49 pm

    For a brief but amusing critique of "Wolf Totem," the movie, see:

    https://paper-republic.org/ericabrahamsen/wolf-totem-the-movie-they-forgot-to-make/

  7. Chris C. said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 6:11 pm

    I found The HU in my YouTube recommendations, probably because I had been watching videos for the Inner Mongolian folk rock band Hanggai. They're quite good, but the difference in their choice of lyrics is immediately noticeable. Glorifying Chinggis Khaan and their other ancestors seems to be such an embedded part of Mongolian culture and runs through all of The HU's lyrics, but it's entirely absent from Hanggai's music as far as I can tell. Would this be something that might perhaps run them afoul of Chinese authorities?

  8. Andrew Usher said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 6:47 pm

    I must agree with the first comment: why is there no mention of the obvious phonetic connection with 'The Who'? Even if it's a complete coincidence. Or, for that matter, whether the title 'Wolf Totem' has anything to do with the movie others have mentioned, similarly.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  9. Bathrobe said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 7:20 pm

    Yes, Hanggai, not Khangai.

  10. Bathrobe said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 7:27 pm

    Glorifying Chinggis Khaan and their other ancestors seems to be such an embedded part of Mongolian culture and runs through all of The HU's lyrics, but it's entirely absent from Hanggai's music as far as I can tell.

    An obsession with glorifying Chinggis Khaan is a part of modern Mongolian nationalism, having been heavily suppressed by the Soviets during the Socialist era. I don't think it's so much suppressed in China as perverted to serve the interests of the Zhonghua Minzu ideology ("Chinggis Khaan was Chinese. He is one part of the Mongols' contribution to this great nation"). I personally find the Hanggai appeal to genuine ethnic roots more attractive than the macho nationalism of the Chinggis Khaan cult.

  11. Bathrobe said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 7:28 pm

    "so much suppressed" > "not so much suppressed"

  12. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 2:55 am

    No comment:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzmI3vAIhbE

  13. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 8:03 am

    Well, "glorifying Chinggis Khaan" is not necessarily the exclusive province of Mongols, or even the Chinese:

    "MR. L. PROSSER was, as they say, only human. In other words he was a carbon-based bipedal life form descended from an ape. More specifically he was forty, fat and shabby and worked for the local council. Curiously enough, though he didn't know it, he was also a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, though intervening generations and racial mixing had so juggled his genes that he had no discernible Mongoloid characteristics, and the only vestiges left in Mr. L. Prosser of his mighty ancestry were a pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for little fur hats.

    He was by no means a great warrior; in fact he was a nervous, worried man. Today he was particularly nervous and worried because something had gone seriously wrong
    with his job, which was to see that Arthur Dent's house got cleared out of the way before the day was out.
    […]
    "Oh, shut up," said Arthur Dent. "Shut up and go away, and take your bloody bypass with you. You haven't got a leg to stand on and you know it."

    Mr. Prosser's mouth opened and closed a couple of times while his mind was for a moment filled with inexplicable but terribly attractive visions of Arthur Dent's house being consumed with fire and Arthur himself running screaming from the blazing ruin with at least three hefty spears protruding from his back. Mr. Prosser was often bothered with visions like these and they made him feel very nervous. He stuttered for a moment and then pulled himself together."

    https://www.npr.org/programs/totn/features/2005/hitchhikers/hitch_chapter_1.pdf

  14. Nelson Goering said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 9:51 am

    Since Hanggai has been mentioned a couple of times, it might be worth pointing to their noteworthy appearance on a Chinese song-contest show, which (as I understand it) really helped them gain recognition in China and internationally:

    https://youtu.be/UvW8JEuIo58

    I like The HU well enough, despite the sometimes offputting lyrics and imagery, but like some of the other commenters I too prefer Hanggai on the whole. Youtube has a few recordings of them from festivals and live shows, some of which are very good.

    On the etymology, this would seem to be one of those instances where the further back you go, the less similar the forms appear, suggesting that the modern correspondance is entirely accidental. Juha Janhunen says that xun shows an old alternation between forms with -m- (Oirat kümn) and those with -x- (whence xun), and derives this divergence of *kümün vs. *küxün from older *küpün. The *p either becomes fully nasalized, or (via *ɸ) turns into *x. This is from The Mongolic Languages (2003), p. 6. Assuming that's right, then the oldest Mongol stage we can reconstruct bears almost nothing in common with Indo-European *dʰǵʰmon-.

    There's also the complication that IE *dʰǵmon- is only known (as an independent word for 'human') from Italic, Germanic, and Baltic, and is strictly reconstructible only as a dialectal, 'Western IE' word. (Vedic does have pári-jman-, but in a compound form, and with a distinct meaning. It might suggest that the ingredients for the Western IE word were there in PIE, but it's not a good basis for reconstructing it as a word in PIE proper.) Combined with the almost total historical phonological discrepancy, and I think we can rule out any connection between these particular words.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 11:03 am

    [https://youtu.be/UvW8JEuIo58] — Well, I liked it (very much). But I did find the appearance of the red-headed guitarist at about 00:02:30 more than a little incongruous — it was almost as though he had walked onto the wrong set.

  16. M. Paul Shore said,

    January 15, 2020 @ 7:44 am

    Needless to say, a Mongolian band aspiring to some significant degree of popularity in the English-speaking world can't afford to have too many strikes against it; and in that regard, I think some savvy music-biz person ought to advise The HU to avoid releasing any further songs with titles like "Yuve Yuve Yu" and "Shoog Shoog", since, as is also the case with reduplicative Chinese nicknames, whatever charm that kind of reduplication has in its original Asian context tends to get mostly lost in the Anglosphere, coming across as merely puerile. Although I'm basically not a follower of popular music, it's nevertheless come to my attention over the years that both ABBA and Justin Bieber, and no doubt many others, have been ridiculed in the English-language press for their reduplicative song titles. Note that one of Justin Bieber's latest efforts, a mind-numbingly simplistic sort-of-song (though with a quite amusing video) that based on its lyrics could've been entitled "Yummy Yummy", has in fact been released simply as "Yummy".

  17. BillR said,

    January 15, 2020 @ 12:38 pm

    Another Mongolian band who've been around for a long time is Huun-Huur-Tu, a Tuvan group I've heard a couple of times live. They're more typically characterized as. "World Music" group rather than rock. They feature folk tunes with lots of throat singing.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huun-Huur-Tu

    https://youtu.be/l9u-njCha7s

  18. Victor Mair said,

    January 15, 2020 @ 1:32 pm

    @BillR:

    Here we go with the "хүн" (khün) ("human") again. I don't know what the "xүртү (hürtü)" means, though.

    Hmmm, wait a minute. The Wikipedia article says that Huun-Huur-Tu means "sunbeams" (literally "sun propeller"). I wonder about that, since GT gives нар for "sun" and сэнсний for "propeller".

  19. Chris C. said,

    January 15, 2020 @ 10:37 pm

    It's actually good to know my thinking was wrong there. I'll put it down instead to the differences between rock and metal.

  20. Rodger C said,

    January 16, 2020 @ 7:52 am

    Tuvan is a Turkic language, isn't it?

  21. Victor Mair said,

    January 16, 2020 @ 8:12 am

    @Rodger C

    That's a good suggestion, and I was thinking along the same lines myself.

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    January 17, 2020 @ 6:11 am

    Wolf Totem, the film. My wife and I watched Wolf Totem in bed last night (her first viewing, my second or third) and both thought that it was extremely well made, and it was even sadder than I had remembered. Bathrobe, can you say what it is about the film that caused you to comment that "[it] was a total disappointment" ?

  23. Bathrobe said,

    January 17, 2020 @ 10:09 am

    The book is a saccharine, almost Hollywood version of a more hard-hitting book.

    The book was set among the Mongols, who formed the bedrock of the story. The French director seems to have followed Chinese state ideology to the letter: Inner Mongolia is (Han) Chinese and the Mongols play the marginal role of providing a bit of ethnic colour, speaking in accented Chinese and delivering a few words of ancient wisdom.

    The ending is also totally different from the book. In the book (if I remember rightly), the wolf cub does not survive.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    January 17, 2020 @ 5:08 pm

    Well. to address your last point first, I for one am very glad that the cub survives in the film; had the cub died (as in the book), the film would have been too heart-breaking for me to enjoy at all, and I could certainly never have watched it more than once. But I cannot agree with you that "the French director seems to have followed Chinese state ideology to the letter: Inner Mongolia is (Han) Chinese and the Mongols play the marginal role of providing a bit of ethnic colour, speaking in accented Chinese and delivering a few words of ancient wisdom". I felt that he portrayed the Mongols in a very positive light, emphasising that their oneness with nature was something much to be admired, whilst the Han Chinese (at least, as epitomised by the cadre member), in his blind obedience to party doctrine, was not only a fool but positively dangerous (e.g., setting fire to the steppes).

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