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The Rise of Mongolian Folk Music: Star Wars, Horror, and a Venetian Explorer
October 2, 2020 — It’s difficult not to get caught up in the distinct, raspy vocals and catchy guitar riffs of Mongolian folk rock. So, why is it that I’m only now learning about The HU, a self-described heavy metal Mongolian folk band that does things to my ears that few English-speaking musicians do? The HU is a relatively new addition to the music scene, having found popularity in 2018 with the posting of two music videos – “Wolf Totem” and “Yuve Yuve Yu.” However, within the past 365 days, the band has found itself glistening in the spotlight.
Comprised of lead throat singer Gala (TS. Galbadrakh) and fellow bandmates Enkush (B. Enkhsaikhan), Jaya (G. Nyamjantsan), and Temka (N. Temuulen), The HU was approached by Respawn Entertainment to provide a track for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The action-adventure title expanded on Star Wars lore not only with the introduction of a new Jedi, Cal Kestis, but with the track composed by the Mongolian folk band.
The HU’s “Sugaan Essena,” which translates to “Black Thunder,” opens the latest Star Wars title as players pan in on our hero, who has the track blaring in his ear. It may seem weird for Cal, a mystical being in a universe where Mongolia likely never existed, to be listening to a Mongolian folk band. However, Gala isn’t singing in his native tongue. According to an NPR article, the band is singing in a “Star Wars HU language” explicitly created for the game.
Respawn’s audio director, Nick Laviers, gushed about the unique song, stating the band “put together a track that really hit the mark on everything we were looking for.” Since its debut on YouTube in February 2020, the official music video for “Sugaan Essena” has scored over 8.6 million views.
Putting effort into creating a language for the track has surely paid off. According to the band’s manager, Gala’s older brother Tuga Namgur, “additional Star Wars collaborations are coming.” Whether that’s a reference to the upcoming Star Wars: Squadrons or the second season of The Mandalorian is yet to be known, but anticipations are high for another track sung in the fictional language created by the band.
Star Wars isn’t The HU’s only brush with pop culture. The band will also appear in The Retaliators, a horror film from newcomer Better Noise Films. The studio is headlined by well-known rock band manager, Allen Kovac, and will include Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, Tommy Lee, Escape the Fate, and The HU in its first movie. Each band will make cameos throughout the movie and provide music. The HU has already debuted one of its tracks on YouTube with a video cut with scenes from The Retaliators.
“Wolf Totem” is an undeniably fantastic track that highlights the sounds of Mongolian folk rock. Gala’s throat singing and the prevalence of the morin khuur blend perfectly with the rhythmic guitar for an intoxicating sound. It’s the kind of song that sticks with you and leaves you obsessively hitting the “replay” button.
If we’re talking notable Mongolian artists, then it’s imperative to also mention the work of Batzorig Vaanchig. Unlike The HU, Vaanchig is a soloist that specializes in throat singing and mastery of the morin khuur, as seen in his collection of YouTube videos. His stunning vocal range is astounding, which is likely what landed him as part of the official soundtrack for Netflix’s Marco Polo streaming series.
“The Beautiful Steppe” may not have the power of The HU behind it, but the slow pacing is intoxicating and fitting for the series’ subject matter. For the song, Vaanchig was joined by Ethnic Zorigoo, a Mongolian pop star.
Hopefully, the use of Mongolian folk music isn’t merely a trend that will fizzle out. As The HU, Vaanchig, and even Zorigoo have proven, there is a market for these incredible vocalists and the awe-inspiring music they make.