You might say, Mongolia? that’s not China! and I agree, it is absolutely not China but these couple of men are actually based and signed in Beijing China. They’re one of my big passions and they made me love China even more. So today I’m going to introduce you to Mongolian folk music of the band Hanggai, hoping to inspire you just as much as they inspire me.
Hanggai is a band who frequented The Netherlands for many years, Though I haven’t seen them for quite some time now. I first came in contact with them when I was living in Shanghai myself and they had invited a Spanish band called La Pegatina ( I had fallen in love with 6 months before) to tour with them. I was a little bit sceptical when they came on stage, They wear full on Mongolian traditional clothes and they mixed the folk music with rock. It took me less than half a song to fall absolutely in love with them. Their energy and the way the people reacted on their music infected me beyond believe and I was blown away.
The term “Hanggai” itself is a Mongolian word referring to an idealized natural landscape of sprawling grasslands, mountains, rivers, trees, and blue skies. The band was created when leader Ilchi, captivated by the sound of throat singing and wanting to rediscover his ethnic heritage, travelled to Inner Mongolia to learn the art. It was there that he met fellow band members Hugejiltu and Bagen.
The members of Hanggai Band come from diverse backgrounds with singer Ilchi having once been the front man of punk band T9 and their musical influences ranging from old rock artists to traditional Chinese and Mongol music. These eclectic experiences have come together to give Hanggai Band a particularly unique sound blending Mongolian folk music with more popular forms such as punk. Though the core sound of their music is based of traditional instruments (the Morin Khuur and the Topshur), the Mongolian way of singing and throat singing (a Mongolian technique in which the artist emits two different pitches at the same time). They’re able to incorporate their different backgrounds and music preferences into their music to create their own unique sound. In their each albums, the band also made heavy use of electric guitars, computer programming, bass, and banjos in order to create a more seamless and modern sound.
Yiliqi (Ilchi) – vocals, tobshuur
Yilalata (Ileta/Sheng Li) – vocals, guitar
Batubagen (Bagen) – vocals (throat singing), morin khuur
Hurizha (Hurcha) – vocals
Ailun (Allen) – guitar
Niu Xin – bass
Meng Da – percussion
Morin Khuur, Topshur and Throat singing
(Information from wikipedia)
The topshur (топшур) is a two-stringed lute played by the Western Mongolian tribes called the Altai Urianghais, the Altais, and the Tuvans. The topshur is closely tied to the folklore of Western Mongolian people and accompanied the performances of storytellers, singing, and dancing. According to descriptions given by Marco Polo, the Mongols also played the instruments before a battle. All topshur are homemade and because of this, the materials and shape of the topshur vary depending on the builder and the region. For example, depending on the tribe, the string might be made of horsehair or sheep intestine. The body of the topshur is bowl shaped and usually covered in tight animal skin.
If you’d look at it from an unknown’s eyes, it’s kind of like a small, traditional fat guitar.. Check the video below, two of them are being played and Bagen is playing the Morin Khuur.
The morin khuur (морин хуур), also known as the horsehead fiddle, is a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. It is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation. The morin khuur is one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity identified by UNESCO.
The instrument consists of a trapeziform wooden-framed sound box to which two strings are attached. It is held nearly upright with the sound box in the musician’s lap or between the musician’s legs. The strings are made from hairs from nylon or horses’ tails, strung parallel, and run over a wooden bridge on the body up a long neck, past a second smaller bridge, to the two tuning pegs in the scroll, which is usually carved into the form of a horse’s head.
Morin khuur vary in form depending on region. Instruments from central Mongolia tend to have larger bodies and thus possess more volume than the smaller-bodied instruments of Inner Mongolia. Also the Inner Mongolian instruments have mostly mechanics for tightening the strings, where Mongolian luthiers mostly use wooden pegs in a slightly conic shape. In Tuva, the morin khuur is sometimes used in place of the igil.
Mongolian throat singing is one particular variant of overtone singing practiced by people in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Tuva and Siberia. It is inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO, under the name Mongolian art of singing, Khoomei.
In Mongolian throat singing, the performer produces a fundamental pitch and—simultaneously—one or more pitches over that. The history of Mongolian throat singing reaches far back. Many male herders can throat sing, but women are beginning to practice the technique as well. The popularity of throat singing among Mongolians seems to have arisen as a result of geographic location and culture. The open landscape of Mongolia allows for the sounds to carry a great distance. Ethnomusicologists studying throat singing in these areas mark khoomei as an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practiced today. Often, singers travel far into the countryside looking for the right river, or go up to the steppes of the mountainside to create the proper environment for throat-singing.
The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of objects in nature, not just in their shape or location, but in their sound as well. Thus, human mimicry of nature’s sounds is seen as the root of throat singing. An example of this is the Mongolian story of the waterfall above the Buyant Göl (Deer River in Tuvan), where mysterious harmonic sounds are said to have attracted deer to bask in the waters, and where it is said harmonic sounds were first revealed to people. Indeed, the cultures in this part of Asia have developed many instruments and techniques to mimic the sounds of animals, wind, and water. While the cultures of this region share throat singing, their styles vary in breadth of development.
- Hanggai (Beijing Dongfang Yingyin, 1 April 2007)
- Introducing Hanggai (World Music Network, 28 July 2008)
- He Who Travels Far (World Connection, 18 October 2010)
- Four Seasons (Starsing Records, 1 May 2012)
- Baifang (Harlem Recordings, 7 February 2014)
- Horse Of Colors (Tian Hao Entertainment, 9 May 2016)
- Homeland (Tian Hao Entertainment, 5 December 2017)
I have to be honest and say, Hanggai isn’t for everyone. I’ve showed them to multiple people who were absolutely not able to get into it, I’d tell them “Just go see them play live” there’s nothing better than seeing a certain artist play live. Especially them, their music reaches every bit of your body and for me the Morin Khuur sends goosebumps flying across every bit of my body. As someone who is incredibly conscious about everything going on around me, from people moving to looks being given, I get lost in their sound. It sounds cliché but that’s what they do to me. Their slow traditional songs but also their rock side.
Besides from that, these guys are one of the most nice and approachable people you can imagine. Even though it’s hard to communicate since english isn’t their strongest point. At least not when I had the chance to see them live. They remembered me every single time and hugs and chats were plenty.