Recently, we chatted with Pavel Stabrov, director of Hartyga – a leading Tuvan rock band. Pavel is extremely experienced in Tuvan folk musical management and has been with Hartyga from their inception, leading them onto the international stage.
The band name, “Hartyga” means “Hawks”, and that they are! In a very short time the band has performed across Russia and beyond, touring European countries from Hungary to Norway. They have also released several albums, the latest of which, “Agitator” is an expert blend of the roaring 30s jazz with Tuvan tradition and elements of modern rock. Other experimental albums included blending throat singing with the Church organ and separately with jazz. Hartyga gives us a glimpse of history in a new and exciting form.
About Hartyga’s Performing Experience
How are you usually greeted by international audiences?
We enjoy touring abroad very much and intend on forming new routes for tours. Recently, we went to a music festival in Finland and found that Finish folk music has something familiar to it. The most popular elements were the same as in Russia – the curious hybrid of the igil string instrument, saxophone and throat singing captured the audience. Towards the end of the concert we heard confident calls for “encore!” Other places were all interesting in their own right, not one being the same as another. Once we performed in a little church, which fit no more than 100 people, so we only used calm acoustic instruments. Our audience was of the older generation who would presumably enjoy more classical performances. We gave them this, blending Tuvan music with the organ. They loved it and drowned us in applause.
How would you describe your average fan or concert attendee?
I don’t think there is an average. I’ve seen all ages and individuals from all walks of life at our concerts. That being said, there is a trend I can describe. We seem to take a bit of the fanbase from all the other genres. Jazz fans like our saxophone fusion, rockers like the electric elements, classical fans like our use of the organ. For example, if we are at a concert with songs predominantly being improvised and deploy the saxophone, we see that a lot of our audience are there for the jazzy element. On large festival stages we usually play old fashioned honest rock. No matter the audience and the genre – our listeners are always impressed with the Tuvan igil. It looks like two strings and a stick, but the range and variety of sounds it can give out is huge. Sometimes listeners ask, who was on the cello or violin! I would also add that so far, we have sold out all our concerts!
What advice would you to those trying to grow folk culture across the world and in Russia?
It is imperative to work with young people. I always found it strange when students of musical colleges, even in nearby cities like Irkutsk or Krasnoyarsk haven’t heard of folk musical instruments like igil (a two-stringed violin-like instrument, also referred to as the morrin huur). I am certain that if you give the right information to musicians and their audiences, folk music will be much more popular than it is. That being said, it may not survive without being part of musical education. Children will form the future and they are as important to folk culture as it is for them. The growing generation will need to carry folk traditions forward, also our old songs tend to transmit good and kind values. We must work in this direction!
Hartyga often performs in kindergartens or schools for free. The band and I enjoy these concerts greatly. We give children their ancestors’ culture face to face, just like it would happen in old times. It feels like living through history itself or through a fairy tale. And you should see the reaction of the children. If they hear a song about a horse or a great hero, they instinctively start galloping around, as if connected to the music. After our performances, we let them try the instruments, to get them used to them and get them interested in folk music. One little boy enjoyed our concert so much that he now drags his mother along to all our concerts in his area and has started learning igil! These are the stories which keep us going!
About Hartyga and their album Agitator
Please describe how the group was formed.
I’ve been in the music industry for a while, and worked with many Tuvan musicians including the Tuvan University of Arts in Kyzyl. One sunny day in 2012 my phone buzzes with the name of the Tuvan State Philharmonic’s director shining brightly. He told me he had some guys who were ready to get onto bigger stages. And that’s how I was introduced to the very talented group who formed Hartyga. We started regionally, in Krasnoyarsk and other Siberian cities. We played a bunch of concerts under the brand “Music of the Great Steppe”. We shared the stage with heavyweights like Yat-Ha and Huun Huur Tu. The band thus gained character and experience, then together with the famous Albert Kuvezin we conquered stages far and wide. With some shuffling around of the musicians, I think we have Hartyga’s membership set for the long term and we have a bright future ahead!
Why did you name your new album “Agitator” and how did the music for it come about?
We thought hard about how to call it. We needed a name universally understood at home and abroad. I had my Newton-and-Apple moment when I was listening to the Tuvan state orchestra performing the song Agitator. It was in the festival Ustuu-Huree in Tuva. The crowd suddenly lit up and the energy in the air was palpable. Thus, we called it Agitator, the context of which may be missed by some of the audience, but luckily it is a word and concept we share. We mixed age old songs with newly written ones and recent classics. The modern rock pieces included in the album were written by the Tuvan legend Alexander Sarzhat-Ool in the 1990s. The majority of the songs originate in bygone eras, some even hundreds of years ago. Two songs are from the 30s of the previous century however, they are Agitator and Chavydak, if you listen to them you can hear the roar of industrialisation! The album cover resembles the straightforward social-realist forms of the contemporary propaganda posters. And another cool aspect of the album is that if you play it start to finish, it forms a coherent line, in that we adapted the all the songs from different periods into mutually compatible forms.
What plans are in store for the band going forward?
In August we are going to Hungary for a music festival, then to Serbia. Between our main fixtures we have a plethora of small concerts and shows. We will see Prague this year too, and weirdly enough play in a zoo! They have a stage there just like in Krasnoyarsk and actually we got invited after being spotted playing in Krasnoyarsk. So all in all, this year is pretty much fully booked.
What else would you like to tell our readers?
We are always happy to meet new people and are open to be contacted! We will continue flying around Russia and the world, bringing a bit of Tuva with us. Watch out for our concerts in your city, wherever you may be, dear reader!
I hope that after reading this interview you are as optimistic about folk culture in Russia and Tuva as Hartyga are! So, let us re-examine the songs in Agitator. We can take Chavydak as an example.
The song Chavydak originates in the early period of the 20th century. It is about a tractor driver called Chavydak himself. He was a hero-worker, constantly raising up his native land’s agriculture. He was so revered that his memory was forever inset into an amazingly energetic song. This all happened during a period when new genres like jazz were slowly seeping into Tuva, and contributed to making it a unique piece, mixing the marching sound of the red revolution with lighter notes of the exciting jazzy saxophone. Have a listen of it from Hartyga and then a rendition of the song in traditional Tuvan style from the National Orchestra of Tuva. Full lyrics in English can be requested from the band directly or from our website’s team.
We wish Hartyga every success and to always fly higher!