America's fascination with world music has reached incredible heights of absurdity with the popular ascent of Tuvan groups like Huun-Huur Tu. Capturing Western ears with khssmei -- a regional form of throat-singing that produces up to three concurrent overtones from a single note, allowing a vocalist essentially to harmonize with himself -- the Tuvans have surpassed the rain forest pygmies of Central Africa for bizarre folk appeal. Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music From the Wild East, a book/CD compilation from ellipsis arts' "Musical Expeditions" series, actually offers step-by-step instruction on how to whistle and groan your way to authentic khssmei. The key is to "tighten your throat" and "imitate the voice of Kermit the Frog" (or Howlin' Wolf or Popeye the Sailor). Amid the trendy, often comic allure (and subsequent annexation) of this Western "discovery" rides Huun-Huur Tu. If I'd Been Born an Eagle, their third stateside release, combines sensational khssmei techniques with catchy contemporary melodies and traditional Tuvan motifs -- loping, equine rhythms on gut-string instruments -- a sure-fire draw for urban cowpokes with a hankerin' for strange sounds from unusual places.
-- Sam Prestianni
Huun-Huur Tu performs on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell. Tickets are $19.50 per show; call 885-0750.