Did you know that Mongolian Rock is a thing!? I suppose it would be disingenuous to say that ‘Rock’ would be an exclusively Western product, despite it’s origins and cultural association largely framed by Elvis, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Metallica… you get the idea. The evolution of Rock, however, has largely included a lot of interesting new sounds, connections with the very roots of culture and the universe itself. Rock has a different sound and meaning to every person you ask – it is a fluid form of art that doesn’t limit one’s ability to express. A band I recently discovered take inspiration from across the world of rock and heavy metal, but more significantly, the elemental sounds from across the Eastern Steppe. They call themselves ‘The Hu‘, hailing from Mongolia, the band’s first two videos (“Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem”) immediately went viral garnering the band over 30 million views (about 40mil today on their most viewed). The band’s, ‘Hu’, is the Mongolian root word for human being.  They call their style “Hunnu Rock”, taking inspiration by the Hunnu, also known as the ancient Mongolian empire (the Hun) of Genghis Khan. Lyrical compositions include old Mongolian war cries and poetry, but they are known for fusing their lyrics with themes and elemental spirituality reflecting the vastness of the plains across the Eastern Steppe. In short:

‘The HU combines Rock Music with traditional Mongolian instrumentation like the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), Tovshuur (Mongolian guitar), Tumur Khuur (jaw harp), guttural throating singing and the bombastic bass and drums of rock.’[1]

The Hu, Official Website

I discovered this band through YouTube, composing a soundtrack piece for the video game ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘, but, this was so different from a series of stories arguably defined by the grand scores of John Williams: the band had worked with Lucasfilm to construct a new language for the Star Wars universe. Initially, the song “Sugaana Essena” [“The Black Thunder“] was written in Mongolian, then translated into a modern interpretation of ‘Tengri’ – the manuscript culture of Tengrism, the ancient prevailing religious origin of the Turks and Mongols dating around the fourth-century[2]. When I think of creatives imagining a new language, fusing nature and spirituality, I think Tolkien and his works for the Elves of Middle Earth: reading into the appendices of the LoTR broadened my appreciation of Tolkien’s attention to detail and the lore that was built around language as the impetus of the storytelling. The modern interpretation of Tengri as a language traces through Turkic Tengri, made famous by the 8th century Orkhon Inscriptions which present trace elements to Bulgarian, Azerbaijani, and Mongolian. Tengri was the supreme Sky God (Eternal Sky God) which dominated the steppe environment and steppe religion, with the sunrise, lunar phases and astrology all prime tenets of early Turkic, a brief history follows:

‘Protecting the purity of water was vital and impure objects or people were purified by various fire rituals… Tengri was supremely important in the imperial manifestation of Turkic religion under the Turks, Uighurs, and Khazars. Like the Chinese emperor, Turkic khagans (qaghans) were considered to rule by the favour (qut) of Heaven; the khagan and his consort the khutan were viewed as emanations of Tengri and Umay [the Mother Goddess]…’[3]

Nicholson, Oliver, The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2018), p1533

The Hu’s lyricism of Tengri for “Sugaana Essena” seems to be based on Old Turkic/Orkhon alphabet – breaking down consonants and vowels through a rune-culture, largely discovered through historic work on Sanskrit and the origins of the Runic alphabet[4]. Being a student of history, I am simply compelled by the fusion of artistry, culture, emotional and expression, and I am stunned to be able to tie together Star Wars, the History of the Eastern Steppe, and Lord of the Rings in a single blog post. What unifies them is central to all peoples: language, whether written or oral, physical or spiritual, represents connections, commonalities and nuances in the histories of people. And here I was thinking of this, something that had I discovered it sooner, I thought anyway, would have made the perfect study into transnationalism – like Esperanto (without being disrespectful) – constructed languages like those discussed above have the power to bring people together from across the world. After listening-in on a ‘Transnational Mondays’ seminar, hosted by the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History (ITSH), back in early April, I thought of an important question of the conditions for tracing Esperantists. Aside from the customary methods of ‘tracing’ individuals across the world, what stands out from a transnational perspective is the exchange and adoption of cultural markers, aspects of identity and association. Modern pop-culture, like some of the more famous literature from the 19th and 20th centuries, is a uniting force that can reach just about anyone anywhere. Maybe, just peripherally, that is the great triumph of ‘modernity’ as a social construct: we are all eminently closer. The implications of that statement are vast and quite contentious, and a lot of the theory perhaps plays in nicely with what I am currently writing at a more laborious level than what a simple blog post can present. My point simply is, this is a prime topic that I think represents a niche but extremely interesting example of ‘Doing and Practicing Transnational and Global History in the Late Modern World’, it is about people and the simple ideas of community and individuality.

[1] https://www.thehuofficial.com/

[2] https://www.revolvermag.com/music/how-mongolian-band-hu-made-song-star-wars-alien-language

[3] Nicholson, Oliver, The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2018), p1533

[4] Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems & languages <https://omniglot.com/writing/orkhon.htm>

Mongolian Rock