Mongolia Monday- Music, Part 3: Something Old, Something New

For the final part of this three-part series, here are three videos that, to me, show one of the most interesting and fun parts of contemporary Mongol music, the synthesis of traditional and modern forms.

Altan Urag is probably the best known group outside of Mongolia, due to their attendance at many internatinal music festivals. They play what we would call “Neo-folk” music, traditional songs uniquely interpreted. This one, “Khiliin Chadad” combines traditional Mongol instruments like the morin khuur (horse head fiddle), Jew’s harp (used by Mongol shaman), plus khoomii (throat-singing) with a Middle Eastern-sounding drum rhythmn and Spanish-style guitar. It’s quite a combination.

Hurd, whose lead singer is Chono (“wolf” in Mongolian), is one of the most famous rock bands in Mongolia. The song, Eh Oron ( which I think should have been spelled Ikh Oron), is a rock anthem, with morin khuur. The video’s visuals are a photographic journey through both the land and traditional culture of the country. Picture Led Zepplin extolling the virtues of the English countryside and the various activities at county fairs with a violin section added in the middle. But somehow, in Mongolia, it all makes perfect sense.

Javhlan, one of Mongolia’s most loved singers, has a world-class voice and then some. He only records traditional songs. But he sets them to a variety of western rhythms…samba, waltz, pop and others. He often wears traditional Mongol men’s clothing in his videos, as in this one, and usually includes lovely shots of the land. I’ve been told that these days he lives out in the countryside in a ger and I’ll bet it’s a really nice one. I have six or seven of his CDs loaded into iTunes and listen to him often while I’m painting.

Mongolia Monday- It’s My 400th Post! 10 Of My Favorite Mongolia-related Websites

Hard to believe it, but I have reached 400 posts. I started my blog on December 10, 2007. It doesn’t seem like it has been that long. It’s become part of my weekly routine and a fun way to share my art and my travels.

I also really appreciate the support and comments that I get from my readers. Thank you!

Now, on to Mongolia Monday! Today I’m going to post links to 10 of my favorite sites, ones that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning about Mongolia or who is planning to go there.

Procession of the horse tail standards, Naadam, 2009

1. News.mn: http://english.news.mn/home.shtml– News.mn has consistently been the best place I’ve found for keeping up with what is going on in Mongolia. There is also the UB Post, which is better known, but the load time on the site is glacial.

Peace Avenue, Ulaanbaatar, September 2009

2. Asian Gypsy: http://asiangypsy.blogspot.com/– He doesn’t post nearly enough, but this is definitely my favorite blog written by a Mongol. I get the email feed so that I don’t miss a post.

3. Weather Underground: http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/44292.html– Want to know what the weather is like in Ulaanbaatar? Here it is.

Lightning storm at Arburd Sands ger camp, July 2009

4. Altan Urag: http://www.altanurag.mn/en.html– One of the best known groups to come out of Mongolia, Altan Urag (which means “Golden Lineage”, a reference to the family and descendents of Chinggis Khan), describes themselves as a “folk rock band”, which means an amazing synthesis of modern western and traditional Mongolian music, including morin khuur and khoomii (horsehead fiddle and throat singing). Their music can also be heard in movies like “Khadak” and “Mongol”. And their website is waaay cool.

Morin khuur, Union of Mongolian Artists gallery, Ulaanbaatar

5. Ganbold: http://www.ganbold.com/– Ganbold, who currently lives in the USA, is a graphic designer and artist with a very impressive client list. I had clicked on a banner ad he had placed on a Mongol site and really liked what I saw. Then, sometime later, a “Ganbold” left a comment on this blog. I clicked the url in the commenter info. and. low and behold, it was the same person! We’ve stayed in touch on and off since then. The home page of his website is, literally, a work of art. Click “Enter”. Highly recommended for bird lovers.

6. Budbayar Boldbaatar: http://www.budartist.com/– I absolutely adore his work, but Budbayar is also standing in for the many, many excellent artists that Mongolia produces and who deserve to be known to the world.

Palace of Culture, Ulaanbaatar; home to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery

7. Circle of Tengerism- http://www.tengerism.org/– One thing that many westerners do know about Mongolia is what we call “shamanism” and the Mongols call “Tengerism”. “Tenger” is Mongolian for “sky”, also known as The Eternal Blue Sky or Eternal Heaven. This ancient belief system has survived centuries of persecution and suppression and today is an active part of the culture of the country.

Shaman's drum- Mongolian Modern Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar

8. Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve- http://www.ikhnart.com/home.html– My entry point into Mongolia in 2005, Ikh Nart is where I’ve been able to become actively involved in conservation and working with local herders. The reserve is home to the world’s only argali research project.

Argali ram- Ikh Nartiin Chuluu

9. Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve- http://www.argalipark.com/– Very different habitat from Ikh Nart, but also home to a population of argali sheep. This reserve was set up by the local government and is administered by a community association. Visitors can ride a horse or in a yak cart, try Mongol archery, take a boat out on the river and hike the surrounding area.

Camel ride?- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

10. Nomadic Journeys- http://nomadicjourneys.com/– Finally, a tip of the hat to the tour company that I have relied on to get me around Mongolia since 2006. The website not only describes their trip offerings, but is a wealth of information about Mongolia, the country, land, people and wildlife.

Tahilgat Hairhan (a sacred mountain), Tsenkher Tenger (blue sky) and Gazar Zam (earth road); Minii Mongol (my Mongolia)

Mongolia Monday- Contemporary Music, Part 3

This is the last part, for now, about the music scene in Mongolia. This time I want to show what a variety of musical styles there are.

First is Nomin Talst (which I believe means “azure crystal”). They seem to have started as literally a boy band in around 1995 and are much loved. An Italian guy who married a Mongol girl started a fan page for them on Facebook. The first video is  for what I think was their first hit “Bid”, which means “We”.  At least it’s the first cut on their greatest hits CD. They score way high on energy and cuteness.

This next one came to me from a blog that I subscribe to, AsianGypsy. I still tear up when I watch it because it encapsulates so much of what I have come to love about Mongolia. It’s called “Minii Mongol Naadam”, which means “My Mongol Naadam”.  “Naadam” means “festival” in the general sense, but specifically it’s the big national holiday. The main celebration takes place in Ulaanbaatar, but there are local versions all over the country. I got to do both this last July. You can see photos on my blog here and here. Naadam is centered around competitions in the Three Manly Sports – horse racing, wrestling and archery, all of which are represented in the video.

Here they are, all grown up.

Next is Altan Urag, which means “Golden Lineage (of Chinggis Khan). There are seven members. They are trained in both traditional instruments like the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle)and bishgur (traditional horn) and singing methods like throat singing and long song. The group has traveled to music festivals internationally and may be the musicians best known outside of Mongolia.

The next one is just the music with no video, but well worth a listen, of course.

Finally, one of the best traditional pop vocalists, Javkhan. I only recently found out about him and then realized how often I had heard him on my driver’s CDs or radios as I’ve traveled around Mongolia. He really ought to be a big international star like Julio Inglesias or Tom Jones. Jaw-dropping voice.

Finding this last video solved a mystery for me. I’d heard a particular song about once per trip, but could never find out what it was because I didn’t speak Mongolian and was never with someone who spoke English. I sort of memorized a couple of bars of the chorus and hummed it for a few people, but no luck. Then I saw this and the mystery was solved. Great visuals with old film footage, too. A short course in Mongol culture, complete with warriors on horseback. But it mostly seems to be tribute to Mongol women (busgui) from socialist times to the woman who won a Beijing Olympics shooting medal, plus teachers, nurses, and some gorgeous fashion models.

If you’re interested in more, visit the blog Mongolian Music.