Urna Chahar-Tugchi was born in 1969 into a family of livestock farmers in the grasslands of the Ordos district, in the Southwest of Inner Mongolia, china. Being raised among horses and sheep and surrounded by head-high grass and sand dunes, Urna was imbued with a feeling of the endless expanse of the steppe. She learned hundreds of traditional Mongolian songs from her grandmother and parents. These songs tell the real stories of everyday life that is far from routine.
Urna still collects songs and stories from her home country, touring the grassland to find old singers who still know the ancient stories behind their songs. She lectures in cultural institutions and schools, bringing the Mongolian music and stories to the Western world. Urna’s own compositions have lyrics that reflect her love for the poetry of her native Mongolian language.
The Mongolian language belongs to the Turk-Altai family and comprises a variety of different dialects. The Uigur-Mongolian written language, using very elaborate characters derived from the Arabian letters via many intermediate stages, differs very much from spoken Mongolian.
At the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Urna studied the yangqin (Chinese dulcimer). It was during this time that Urna started her career as a singer, featured in the Gaoshan Liushui ensemble, one of China’s first and most interesting world Music projects.
Urna’s musical director, Robert Zollitsch, arranges and co-composes many of the sophisticated pieces. Robert performs on a Bavarian zither, adds percussive interludes, and Asian throat singing. Urna’s ensemble, many from other cultures, plays various instruments and sensitively contributes its own musical language to this inspired music. The result is a colorful and exciting mixture of intimate tranquility, deeply moving expression and eruptive power.
Urna’s release, Hödööd (In the Steppe), on the Berlin based Oriente label, brings the listener through the many moods and feelings of the Steppe.
Her most recent album, Jamar, is the Mongolian word for “On the way.” It features new compositions and arrangements played with zither, morinkhur and Indian percussion, featuring morinkhur-virtuoso Burintegus from Inner Mongolia and Indian percussionist Ramesh Shotham.
Urna about herself:
“My homeland is the Ordos district, a high plateau in western Inner Mongolia belonging to China. It was here that I was born in the last winter month of 1968 into a humble family of livestock farmers. As a child I looked after the lambs on the sand dunes with the neighboring children. Sometimes we lost track of our flock whilst playing. So to gather them together again we tossed lumps of sand into the air. In this way we sometimes caused whole sand-banks to collapse. Later I looked after calves in the plains of Shirdegiin Tsaidam where the thick grass grows tall. And so the first ten years of my childhood quickly passed.
In my country it is customary for the children to attend a day-school when they reach the age often. My parents now expected this of me. I got on my horse, presented myself on the neighboring house-hold and began to learn the Mongolian alphabet. Where I come from ‘dayschool’ means a particular family where all the local children gather to receive instruction in writing. Later on I went to a ‘middle-school’. It was too far away to ride to every day, and so from then on I only got to visit my parents for one or two days of a fortnight.
The school was run with the strictest discipline. Each morning, as soon as the sun rose, we had to get up out of our warm beds and go to lesson. It was no longer the bleating of sheep and lambs and the lowing of cattle which awoke me but the clanging of the school-bell. The years passed quickly. Soon I finished ‘middle-school’ and set my thoughts on studying. I got in the train for the very first time in my life and traveled to Shanghai. There I was, a simple twenty-year-old Mongolian peasant-girl, wanting to matriculate at the conservatory and unable to speak a single word of Chinese! So I diligently learned the language, took lessons on the yangqin (Chinese dulcimer) and was eventually admitted in 1990 to the Institute of Traditional Chinese Music at the Shanghai Conservatory. I was fascinated by the student life and getting to know what was still for me the foreign Chinese culture proved to be an important experience. During my studies of the basic music-theory, I found myself returning more and more to my Mongolian roots.
The Ordos district has been dubbed the ‘Sea of Songs’ by its inhabitants. I am very happy to have born in this particular part of the world. In my homeland there is no-one who doesn’t know our folk music. Its range is endless and the songs are sung everywhere – in the open air, tending the cattle, whilst riding. So it was that I grew up in a sea of wonderful melodies, fairytales and legends“.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.