Close overlay button


Syracuse University’s forum for public diplomacy dialogue


The who? Is it The Who? No, it’s the HU! Mongolia’s cultural public diplomacy takes center stage

By Ichinkhorloo Khosbayar
August 8, 2022

The audience at Coachella could have been forgiven last April if they heard the announcement that The HU was about to take the stage, prepared themselves for a nostalgia tour of “My Generation”, “Who Are You?” and “Pinball Wizard”, and were surprised instead by the cultural experience of one of Mongolia’s most popular folk rock and heavy-metal bands. The band’s introduction video at Coachella, the biggest festival they have played to date, promised the audience vibrant feelings and good energy from listening to their music – and they delivered!

The HU is a breakthrough actor in advancing Mongolian public diplomacy. It debuted in 2016, after an almost eight-year effort to develop the band. Producer B. Dashdondog spent two years alone researching and choosing the band members. The band members spent several more years working on their first music, rehearsals, and refining the music. Also, all the members are highly-educated professional musicians.

The band’s genre is hunnu rock, named after the ancient Mongolian empire. Hunnu rock combines traditional Mongolian throat singing with heavy-metal style. The artists use traditional Mongolian instrumentation – such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), the tovshuur (Mongolian guitar), and the tumur thuur (jaw harp) – and combine them with bombastic bass and modern rock drums.

The HU sing only in Mongolian – so far – and lyrics are often from old Mongolian war cries and poetry. All songs in music videos are performed with high quality English subtitles for international listeners.

Their release of song Yuve Yuve Yu in 2018 caused a sensation: it earned nearly 100 million views on YouTube and started The HU on the road to an international fanbase. Building on this success, they have now signed with the Better Noise Music company in the U.S.

The success of the HU was a perfect marriage of artistry and good planning. Their blend of Mongolian traditional music and heavy metal rock is unique and resonates with rock music lovers. Their references to the ancient war warriors of Mongolia arouses curiosity for many. They open a doorway to understanding a country – Mongolia – that most people in the world do not know well, and from whom the last thing they expect is headbanger metal and rock. The HU have also worked hard to earn their renown. They were not an overnight success, but the result of years of research, dedication, and good management. The band’s producer spent time researching and working with historians, professional costume designers, musicians, and producers for every video and tour.

That hard work has won them global attention from notable media outlets like Foreign Policy, the Guardian, Vice, the Irish Times, NME and others. British GQ highlighted them and described their music as “conquering the world” in their article from 2020. Moreover, they remade their another hit song Wolf Totem collaborating with Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach. The HU’s other successes include music for the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

The HU’s first album, Gereg, has topped the charts; it was #1 on Billboard and has won similar success in numerous countries. The title Gereg was specifically chosen: a gereg was a diplomatic laissez-passer issued by the Great Mongolian Empire during the 13-15th century, it was, in essence, the first diplomatic passport ever issued by any country. The members chose intentionally, saying, “we want our album to be our passport to the world”.

The HU toured across Europe and the U.S. in 2019 before the Covid pandemic and, in 2022, resumed the tour in the U.S. They were invited to the 2022 Coachella Music Festival and performed to enthusiastic crowds.

The HU are only one of many efforts by Mongolian artists and the Mongolian government to bring Mongolian culture to the world, attracting international attention. Khusugtun, another Mongolian band that specializes in traditional music, was a successful finalist on the television show Asia’s Got Talent in 2015. The Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Department of Public Diplomacy and Cultural Cooperation, seeks to advance foreign policy by promoting culture, art, and heritage on a global scale . The HU are currently recognized by the Government of Mongolia as a cultural envoy. Mongolia has 52 such cultural envoys in 18 countries, including the U.S, the U.K., Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, Germany, Japan and others. These envoys serve for two years and seek to create good understanding of Mongolia and promoting the country’s achievements in sports, science, scholarship, art, culture, music etc.

There is still more room for Mongolia to continue creating authentic music – and other forms of art, culture and drama – and offering them to the world as part of Mongolia’s public and cultural diplomacy. Building on The HU’s success, Mongolia may increasingly focus on exporting its own unique traditions, customs and music, rather than importing foreign content.

Ichinkhorloo Khosbayar is a graduate student in the Masters Program in Public Diplomacy and Global Communications at Syracuse University and a citizen of Mongolia.