Mongolian folk music
A few sounds I wanted to share with you.
I have a broad musical taste, ranging from classical to metal, from ethnic to industrial. I am drawn to all these kinds of music because of the physical and emotional impact. Music has to move me – I have never been a follower of hit lists. It’s not about the song texts, more important is the atmosphere conveyed by the song text. I like to be surprised by sounds I have never heard before, or a musical direction that is new to me. Ethnic music especially appeals to me – perhaps because as a young child, my dad used to let me listen to cassette tapes full of eastern and african music.
On the topic of ethnic music, which is what this post is about, what I appreciate in music is when it achieves a fusion of cultures. For instance, combining traditional ethnic melodies and instrumentation, with contemporary music and production. In a broader sense, mixing the old with the new. That is what keeps the old music alive and gives the contemporary music a new soul. Germany is full of bands that create an exciting mix of medieval and ethnic song structures with electronic or rock music. Musical purists have a hard time appreciating these blends… I have had discussions with friends and family about how old music is being killed by fusing it with modern rhythms. Well, to each their own taste. I enjoy myself immensely and to me that is the important bit.
I rarely listen to radio stations these days. When I was young, I was hooked to my stereo because that was my source of musical education. Now of course there is the endless ocean that is the Internet… I visit a lot of music blogs and let myself be inspired by the stories told. If you’re interested, you may want to look at the Totally Fuzzy music blog aggregator.
Recently, I have been listening to some contemporary Mongolian folk music that was mentioned on one of these blogs. Mongolia is a country that has been influenced by its big neigbors China and Russia, who both ruled there in the previous century. Several hundreds of years earlier, Mongolia’s culture was touched by Tibetan Buddhism, but of course we all know it best for Genghis Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire some 800 years ago.
I was intrigued by the discovery that contemporary Mongolian bands practice the same “throat singing”, also called “overtone singing” or “höömii” that I was familiar with… but assumed to be limited to Tibetan Buddhist monk chants. What do you know.
A nice example of the art of throat singing, accompanied by an ancient mongolian musical instrument (in this case, a morin khuur) is displayed in the following video (exemplary is the comment “cameraman at 4:38 trying to identify where that sound is coming from – then he’s like WTF?!?!“):
I was pleased to learn that there is a thriving musical scene in Mongolia, centered around its capital city Ulan Bator. I also found that I missed several concerts in the Netherlands and Germany that I could have attended if only I had known… but there are some good video registrations which I will link to further below.
Egschiglen is a group that has been around for some 20 years now. Their music has a trance-like feeling to it. It is inspired by works of classical Mongolian composers, and their instrumentation is fully acoustic and authentic. Quite different from the more modern sounding folk/rock groups I will discuss next, the two albums by Egschiglen I heard (Zazal and Gereg) touched me on a deep level. Perhaps because I have not really experienced a lot of traditional Chinese music? I found it magical.
I found a recording of a live performance in Berlin (the band has a second home in Germany) by three of Egschiglen’s members, followed by a larger set where you can experience the full band including their female singer:
Of the bands that produce contemporary music, perhaps I like Altan Urag best. There’s so much energy and originality here! The song “Khukh Tolboton (Blue Mark)” of their album “Made in Altan Urag” featured during the closing credits of the movie “Mongol” (2007). Here is a link to a video that was made by joining shots of that movie with shots of the band (the song is played at a slightly higher pitch than the original album version, probably to make it fit with the movie credits):
Completely different atmosphere in their song Requiem:
And then there is Hanggai – a Beijing based group founded by a former member of a punk band who rediscovered his Mongolian roots. If I interpreted correctly, they are the most successful Mongolian band outside Asia.
Hanggai make quite an appearance! See this video which is a live performance at the Midi festival in Beijing of the song “Xig Xile” from their 2010 album “He Who Travels Far”:
A studio take of the same song can be seen here:
The unique aspect of these bands is how their music successfully fuses their own cultural roots with the world they live in today. In China, that is certainly an achievement. To me, this was a worthwhile addition to my musical library.