New York Debut of Chinagrass Innovators Hanggai


New York’s World Music Institute begins its 25th season with a program featuring Hanggai, the group that has achieved a cult following in China with its new interpretations of traditional Mongolian songs. The concert will take place Friday, September 18, 2009 at 8:00 PM at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, Broadway at 95th Street, New York City. Mamer, who was originally scheduled to appear as a special guest artist, will not be performing at this event. He will not be touring the United States this fall.

The ensemble, composed of young musicians from Beijing and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, is at the forefront of a modern Mongolian folk revival in the heart of Beijing. The musicians are pioneers of “Chinagrass” – contemporary Chinese folk music (often performed by or influenced by Chinese minorities) that reclaims roots music from the grasslands. Mixing khoomei (throat singing – a fascinating vocal technique in which a single musician produces two notes simultaneously), morin khuur (horsehair fiddle) and tobshuur (2-stringed lute) with rock instruments, the group draws on a repertoire that all but disappeared during China’s recent turbulent past. This concert marks Hanggai’s first New York appearance.

Hangai’s interpretations of traditional songs from the grasslands are attracting an ever-increasing following as a kind of antidote to Chinese Pop and Western boy bands. The group’s leader, Ilchi, fronted a punk band until he experienced a conversion after hearing traditional overtone singing. He traveled to his father’s homeland of Inner Mongolia and started to learn the technique – rediscovering the music and repertoire of songs that had faded but not disappeared. There he met Hugejiltu and Bagen, both music students, who joined the group. Hugejiltu plays lead fiddle and Bagen sings deep bass using a overtone singing technique whereby he produces a note one octave below the note he is singing.

Many of their songs are adaptations of traditional songs from the grasslands, sung in Mongolian; many use khoomei, a throat-singing technique that has been handed down over hundreds of years. At the heart of the music are two traditional instruments – the morin khuur (horsehair fiddle) and the tobshuur (strummed 2-stringed lute). Some of Hanggai’s arrangements sound traditional and others are more complex. One of their songs, Five Heroes (which tells of vigilantes stealing from the rich and giving to the poor), includes jangly electric guitar, conjuring up cowboy movies and creating a connection between East and West. Another song, Lullaby (Borulai), is a stunning mix of vocal harmonies, providing a familiar feel of a gentle lullaby with a strong atmosphere of the grasslands.

The group takes its name from an ancient Mongolian word that describes an idealized grassland landscape of mountains, trees, rivers and blue skies. Its CD, Introducing Hanggai, is on the World Music Network label. The group has performed throughout Europe and is touring the United States for the first time this fall.

Buy the debut CD:

$25; students with college ID $18 Box office (212) 864-5400
Info/tickets (212) 545-7536

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central


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