Dhani Harrison Was Moved Musically and Spiritually by Tuvan Throat Singers Huun-Huur-Tu on New Album ‘Dreamers in the Field’

By 2019, Dhani Harrison found himself captivated by Huun-Huur-Tu and was obsessively listening to the quartet from Tuva, a Russian federative republic located on the border of Mongolia. The musicians, also known for their distinct throat singing, moved Harrison musically and spiritually. “I was using it as my sort of morning and evening meditation, and I wanted to know what they were saying, so I started trying to learn to Tuvan,” Harrison tells American Songwriter. “I translated a bunch of their songs and it just made me cry because they were so much more sad and intense than I had imagined.”

The lyrics to the group’s “Fly Fly My Sadness,” the title track of their 1996 album featuring the Bulgarian women’s choir, (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares/The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices) were “heart-wrenching,” says Harrison, who then started trying to play their style of music. “It’s like some cool Mongolian blues from a time before blues,” he says. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Indian classical music, Chinese music, Tibetan throat singing, Japanese music—all kinds of world music.”

A connection to Huun-Huur-Tu, which means sunbeams or sun propeller in Tuvan, seemed destined. When Harrison was a child the Bulgarian choir performed at his father George Harrison’s Friar Park Studio in Henley-on-Thames, England when Dhani was a child. “The two most intense frequencies I think you could find in music at the moment, and in the past couple decades, are Huun-Huur-Tu and the Bulgarian choir,” says Harrison. “It affects you on a cellular level, a water level, a cymatic level, a DNA level. It’s healing music.”

More kismet moments for Harrison when the Huun-Huur-Tu, kept resurfacing. “They just kept turning up,” says Harrison. “I couldn’t avoid them. It was like a divine gift. It just came into my life, and it brought so much joy. I can’t tell you how much I love these guys and their music.”

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Once Harrison had already started collaborating with Huun-Huur-Tu, they even came up in a conversation Harrison was having with Sean Lennon. “He [Lennon] said, ‘I’ve been listening to this Altai throat singing band, and I’ve become obsessed with that they’re called Huun-Huur-Tu,’” shares Harrison, “and I was like, ‘I’m doing a record with them right now.’”

Harrison first connected Huun-Huur-Tu through producer Carmen Rizzo, who had previously worked with the group on the 2009 albums Eternal and Lal Meri. Rizzo first suggested they collaborate with the quartet on something, which sounded like “a dream,” to Harrison. By 2021, Harrison had moved from Los Angeles back to England and Rizzo relocated to Prague. Within closer quarters, the two began collaborating with Huun-Huur-Tu on what would become Dreamers in the Field.

Recorded in Los Angeles, around Europe, in Russia, and the F.P.S.H.O.T. Studios at Friar Park and co-produced by Harrison and Carmen Rizzo, Dreamers in the Field travels through seven healing and enchanting tracks. Christened with guttural vibrations, each track is near perceptible, a meditative trip through the present moment and somewhere far away, from “Remembering Ulatay River,” an ode to the body of water in the Davst District, Uvs Province in Mongolia, through the sonorous story tracing gypsy passages, “Song Of The Caravan Rider,” and “Kaigal-ool Prayer,” titled after Huun-Huur-Tu founder Kaigal-ool Kim-oolovich Khovalyg. 

Part of collaborating on Dreamers in the Field was also finding a common frequency, musically, where they could all meet. “I didn’t want to be listening to this record and hearing me all over it,” says Harrison, “but at the same time, the interesting part is that we all managed to make it in there in some way.”

PATTAYA, THAILAND – DECEMBER 15: Radik Tülüsh, left, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Carmen Rizzo, Sayan Bapa and Alexei Saryglar of Huun-Huur-Tu perform during Wonderfruit 2018 on December 15, 2018 in Pattaya, Thailand. (Photo by Brent Lewin/Getty Images)

After recording his parts for the track “Boidus,” Harrison remembers the song completely transformed once the group touched it. “When Carmen came back from meeting with them, he played me ‘Boidus,’ and I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t even remember playing the piano to it,” shares Harrison. “It turned into this nature call, day-night traveling music.”

Unified by manifold instrumentation by Harrison and Huun-Huur-Tu, Dreamers in the Field was the ground where music, the spiritual, and nature met. “Nature’s such a great healer,” he says. “These guys have got a way of becoming nature.” He adds, “You hear them playing percussion with horse hooves, and it’s so far out. And they’re all such beautiful gentleman, but they look like the characters out of a kung-fu film. When you see them with the mustaches in the full dress, they look like they’re gonna kick your a–.”

Nature also helped them complete the penultimate “Land Of My Mother,” remembers Harrison. “[It] ended and we were like, ‘That’s not it. That’s too short,’” remembers Harrison of the more tranquil track. “I remember we had the door open in the studio, and it was pouring down with rain. It was the middle of winter in England, just hammering with rain, and I could hear it running through the gutters, and all the roof tiles.

He adds, “It was like some weird noir, futuristic ‘BladeRunner,’ ‘Ghost in the Shell’ vibe, so I just said, ‘Let’s record the rain out of the window.’ When you hear the end of ‘Land of My Mother’ you can start hearing this pulsing rain and then it kind of goes off into like this piano ‘Blade Runner’-y style outro.”

[RELATED: Dhani Harrison Discusses New Album, ‘Innerstanding,’ and the Joys of Working with Blur’s Graham Coxon]

While trying to capture specific soundscapes, Harrison was careful not to get caught over-producing the natural fibers within each song. “I didn’t want to get too involved, but I want to be able to make sure I put my heart and soul into it,” says Harrison. “You’re just lucky to be on a record with people who are that talented, and you don’t want to get in the way.”

Dreamers in the Field closes on the symphonic “Mazhalyk.” Harrison, who started collaborating with Huun-Huur-Tu after they had already recorded strings for the track, later added more instrumentation from Friar Park, including vocals, guitars, and keyboard along with all the classical piano on the album. 

The timing couldn’t be better for Dreamers in the Field, which progressed around the same time Harrison was working on his third solo album Innsterstanding, released in 2023. “It’s evident that people need this healing,” says Harrison. “Everyone that listens to the record ends up sobbing, so I think it must be a good access point for your feelings. If you really want to get into this kind of music, you’ve got to be ready to feel, which is hard for some people.”

Everything about Dreamers in the Field is “heart-based,” says Harrison, and discovering Huun-Huur-Tu is something he says changed his life. “There’s plenty of stuff out there where there’s an algorithm,” he shares. “There’s an equation for pop music. There’s an equation for a lot of stuff, but there’s no equation for this.”

Harrison adds, “Discovering their music changed my life because I’m way more particular about what I listen to now. If it’s not on that frequency, that’s beautiful and healing, then I don’t want to know.”

Photo: The ‘Dreamers in the Field’: Huun-Huur-Tu (l); Dhani Harrison (top right), and Carmen Rizzo, Courtesy of 2b Entertainment

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