The most distinctive characteristic of Huun Huur Tu's music is throat singing, in which the singers sing both the note (drone) and the drone's overtone(s), thus producing two or three notes simultaneously. The overtone may sound like a flute, whistle or bird, but is actually solely a product of the human voice.
The group primarily uses native Tuvan instruments such as the igil, khomus (Tuvan jaw harp), doshpuluur, and dünggür (shaman drum). However, in recent years, the group has begun to selectively incorporate western instruments, such as the guitar. While the thrust of Huun Huur Tu's music is fundamentally indigenous Tuvan folk music, they also experiment with incorporating not only Western instruments, but electronic music as well.
The xöömei quartet Kungurtuk was founded in 1992 by Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, brothers Alexander and Sayan Bapa, and Albert Kuvezin. Not long afterwards, the group changed its name to Huun-Huur-Tu, meaning "sunbeams" (literally "sun propeller"). The focus of their music was traditional Tuvan folk songs, frequently featuring imagery of the Tuvan steppe or of horses.
The ensemble released its first album, 60 Horses In My Herd, the following year. The album was recorded at studios in London and Mill Valley, California. By the time recording began for the follow-up, Kuvezin had left the group to form the more rock-oriented Yat-Kha. Kuvezin was replaced by Anatoli Kuular, who had previously worked with Khovalyg and Kongar-ool Ondar as part of the Tuva Ensemble. The new line-up recorded The Orphan's Lament in New York City and Moscow, and released it in 1994.
In 1995, Alexander Bapa, who had produced the first two albums, departed the group to pursue production as a full-time career. He was replaced by Alexei Saryglar, formerly a member of the Russian state ensemble Siberian Souvenir. A third album, If I'd Been Born An Eagle, recorded in the Netherlands, followed in 1997. This time, in addition to the traditional folk music, the group performed some rather more contemporary Tuvan songs, from the latter half of the 20th century.
In early 1999, the group released its fourth album, Where Young Grass Grows. For the first time on a Huun-Huur-Tu album, non-Tuvan instruments (except for the guitar) were featured, including harp, tabla, Scottish smallpipe (performed by Martyn Bennett) and synthesiser. The album also features two excerpts of recordings made of Kaigal-ool and Anatoli singing whilst riding horseback on the Tuvan grasslands.
Huun-Huur-Tu participated in the 2000 BBC Music Live event, performing the opening and closing songs for a live, early morning broadcast from Snape Maltings. The following year, the group released their first live album.
In 2003, Kuular quit the group and was replaced by Andrey Mongush, an experienced teacher of xöömei and Tuvan instruments. Mongush's tenure with the group was short and in 2005 he was replaced by Radick Tyulyush, formerly of Yat-Kha fame.
"The members of Huun-Huur-Tu continue to amaze with their acrobatic throat singing and the eerie, haunted overtones it produces. While this continues to be their trademark sound, it's easy to overlook the fact that they're also excellent instrumentalists and composers who have moved well beyond the traditional music of the region to create their own songs -- not all of which involve throat singing. At the core of it, as with all Tuvan music, is the irresistible rhythm of the hoof beat, since the culture of the horse is so greatly ingrained in the national psyche, where horses are currency, transportation -- everything.
On this album they forge a Scottish connection through the addition of harpist Mary MacMaster and young and adventurous piper Martyn Bennett; the combination of musics might initially seem unlikely, but it works. Bennett is especially fine, skillfully integrating his small pipes into tracks like "Ezir-Kara" and making them sound as exotic and unearthly as the igil. The brief live recordings of bandmembers throat singing while on horseback on the steppes are the essence of Huun-Huur-Tu, however, doing what their people have done for centuries; they capture the sound of history, while the new material brings it into the present."