February 26th, 2015
I look outside to find the last remnants of snow in my yard. Last week we got about a foot of the white stuff. Still a few inches left to be washed away by the rising temperatures and rains of the coming March.
It’s Thursday morning. I have spent the last hour or so listening to Huun Huur Tu, a quartet of Tuvan throat singers. I am obsessed with a song called “Camel Caravan Drivers Song”. I heard a snippet of it over twenty years ago.
I heard it near the end of a BBC documentary about Frank Zappa. Zappa hosted a party at his house a few months before he died in 1993. Invites went out to Irish folk group The Chieftains, bluesman Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and among others Huun Huur Tu. You can find the raw footage of this event if you google “Zappa Salad Party”.
I saw the documentary in ’94, and it shows Zappa enjoying this unlikely collaboration between Irish folksters, Mongolian folksters, an American blues legend, and who knows who else. I only heard a snippet of a song sung by Huun Huur Tu, and never thought I’d hear it again. It never occurred to me do any further research. Perhaps they had conceived the song on the spot, I figured. A one-time event never to be repeated.
The jam session/salad party was a one-time event but it was not a one-time composition, as Huun Huur Tu were singing a song, “Camel Caravan Drivers Song”. I have not heard any part of this song in any other than what was in the Zappa documentary.
It gave me some joy to hear it again. Two decades have gone by. My life has changed so much. I went from teenager to legal adult to college graduate to crazy rapper to bitter, depressed crank. The folk tradition is not something I understood at sixteen. I may get it a little more now. The authentic soul of a distant land, a different people. The folk tradition lives but it will not be found at an award show. Music is life. This is life I’m hearing. A cry that is joyful and pained by the same token. It took a long time to get to this place. The music took a long time to get to my and your ears. Our lives have taken us here after such a long journey. The journey never ends, either. Not for life and not for music that embodies the folk tradition.
Did you know Huun Huur Tu tours frequently? I just learned this. They will do U.S. dates in April and again in the fall. If you can see them, you should.