French guitarist Mathias Duplessy put together a fascinating project called the Violins of the World. The current version of the ensemble was showcased at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo).
Duplessy and Violins of the World includes Duplessy on guitar, vocals and throat singing; Chinese erhu master Guo Gan; Mongolian horsehead fiddle virtuoso and throat singer Naraa Puredorj; and Frenchman Aliocha Regnard, who is a well-regarded nychelharpa player.
The ensemble played as first set on July 13 at the Theater Stage in front of a packed audience. The show was outstanding, exhibiting admirable virtuosity, bringing together European classical influences from Spain and France along with Chinese, Mongolian and Nordic European traditions.
A second show took place on the final day, Sunday July 14, 2019 at the Tree Stage, in front of a much larger audience.
The ensemble has several recordings available, including Marco Polo (2010), Crazy Horse (2016), Feng (2016) and Ma Goola (2018).
Equus is a multi-ethnic ensemble from the Sydney melting pot in Australia. On Tailwind Home, Equus treats the listener to a fascinating fusion of Mongolian music, Middle Eastern influences, jazz, blues and global percussion.
The Mongolian side appears in the form of the morin khuur, the Mongolian horse head fiddle, and throat singing. The album liner notes clarify that what you hear was actually produced by the human voice, there is no studio trickery.
The Middle Eastern component includes Turkish saz (lute) and ud (Arabic lute).
Equus showcases the versatility of the morin khuur, delivering exquisite melodies and rhythmic performances. Throughout the album, the throat singing vocals, the horse head fiddle, the saz and blues guitar provide alluring interplay.
Personnel: Bukhu Ganburged on morin khuur and vocals/throat singing; John Robinson on saz, ud, guitar and slide guitar; Peter Kennard on percussion, drums, nylon string guitar and dan moi (Vietnamese jaw harp); and Bertie McMahon on double bass, acoustic guitar and vocals.
Equus combine the best of Mongolia, the Middle East and the West with exquisite performances and staying power.
Urna Chahar-Tugchi, an artist from Inner Mongolia, recently released an album titled Ser, a collaboration with Polish group Kroke. Urna discusses her musical background and her latest projects with World Music Central.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
I grew up in the steppe and the infinite diversity was always a great enrichment for me as a child. The indescribable diversity of nature…The unimaginable spaces between heaven and earth…The invisible energies of the universe…
As a child, I have always been curious about the visible and the invisible. When I sing, I’m in my music (melodies) and live the connections effortlessly and gladly share that with everyone. These moments of being are indescribable and quite simply many of my compositions and lyrics are born even in such moments.
Who can you name as your most important musical influences?
My greatest musical influences are the endless nature! All the beautiful things in the world, my home, the roots of my birth earth, my wonderful grandmother, my parents and of course the always enriching life experiences …
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical development.
My very first recording was in 1991 during my studies in Shanghai Music Conservatory. We had National Folksong lessons and our teacher Ms. Bai once asked me after a lesson, if I would sing some traditional songs from my home Ordos for her, and she would record.
So we started once and she has recorded really many of my songs that I sang, I think … like hundreds? Anyway, a whole book with hundreds of pages every song I sung, all recorded with a pretty old tape recorder. It took many, many, many days.
At the beginning of the 90s, for many students and even many of my friends at the conservatory I was somehow the strange girl of the Inner Mongolian steppe. Because during my studies I was very interested and visited all possible concerts of traditional music, classical music and many other concerts. I also listened to all the different exams, from voice to violin, cello and piano… It was a nice opportunity to experience many different music and cultures. It was my great bridge from the steppe to the world with my music.
What attracted you to work with the Polish group Kroke?
There are levels when making music you can communicate with the souls. This is simply wonderful.
Kroke are great musicians and I’m lucky enough to work with such wonderful musicians, as Kroke, the Chemirani’s and others. I’m very grateful for my wonderful musician friends. Thank you!
The result of your collaboration with Kroke is Ser. How was the composing and recording process?
My basic philosophy for cooperation with people for music: free and peacefully, so will the music swing boundlessly in life. It was beautiful, we have always a lot of fun and joy working together, so we had a lot of joy in the studio. The result can be heard on my Ser CD and I wish really you all can feel it.
You currently live in Europe. Do you keep in touch with Mongolian culture?
Of course I visit my home country and spend time with my parents and family.
Do you have any initiatives to transmit Mongolian music traditions to new generations?
Unlimited music flow is timeless and touches the hearts of people. Today we have incredible possibilities to open our mind. If we look closely, the young generations are expanding great open and fast. That’s wonderful!
Free and Peacefully, we humans need the profound vibrations and frequencies of music.
I enjoy always to touch the hearts of people with my music.
If you could bring together musicians or music groups, who would you work with?
Very interesting question; it sounds like you have perhaps certain ideas? Of course I wish to do many great and different projects. It is fantastic to working with great musicians and music groups from small to big all over the world. That brings me a lot of fun and joy and is always fascinating.
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?
Yes, at the moment I have some different projects in Asia that one or the other needs something to plan and we are thereby. Therefore, I can not tell you yet publicly 😉
And about my next concert dates, when you’re interested in booking concerts, and also with new great projects to realize with me together, I’m glad if you contact my manager Oliver, call +49 172 543 2207.
Badma-Khanda was born in Inner Mongolia, China, in 1979 into a Buryat family. Her grandparents had to flee from the communist regime of the Soviet Union in the early 1930’s. The refugees kept together preserving their language, traditions and ethnic self-esteem. The songs she sings are traditional Buryat songs, forgotten by Buryats in Russia because of years of suppression of real national values and Buddhist religion in USSR, but preserved by Buryats in Inner Mongolia in its original purity.
Amar Mende – Traditional Mongolian & Buryat Music (Khankhalaev Gallery, 2004
Nayan-Navaa (Khankhalaev Gallery, 2006) Mongolian Music From Buryatia (ARC Music, 2008)
Otgonbayar Chuluunbaatar was born 1969 in the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia, where she lived with her nomadic family. Since her youth Otgonbayar is known in her homeland as a singer. Already at a young age she used to tour through Mongolia with the Ulgeriin Dalai Ensemble, and also performed at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre and the National Academic Drama Theatre in Ulaanbaatar. She was invited to participate in the recordings of the Collection of the Best Mongolian Songs (Mongolian Shildeg Duu No.4) and won several awards. Performances in Japanese TV, Mongolian, Japanese and Polish Radio.
Otgonbayar Chuluunbaatar belongs to the Zakhchin tribe, an ethnic minority with a population of 25.000 people, who speak their own dialect and keep their traditions alive up to today. An important part of Zakhchin culture is their music, which differs from that of the Khalkha majority. For generations the Zakhchin songs have been passed on orally by a few singers.
In the last years, the life of the Zakhchin people has greatly changed under the influence of the capitalistic market reforms. The youth is more interested in Western music, and many move to the city in search for a better life. Consequently, as the Zakhchin songs have never been studied nor written down, there is now a great danger that this musical treasure will be lost. For these reasons she collects material in the steppes of her homeland. At times she had to travel several days on horseback in order to visit the last still existing singers on the summer pastures in the Altai Mountains at an altitude of 3000 m.
Zastiin Nogoodoi – Tribal Zakhchin Music of Western Mongolia (self release, 2007)
From remote west Mongolia came a master of one of the most remarkable vocal traditions on the planet. One person sings two different pitches at the same time. It is the sound of the wind blowing in sympathetic vibration with Black Water Lake and echoing through the eternal snow capped peaks and valleys of the Jargalant Altai Mountains.
Listening to Tserendavaa, a maestro Khoomii (Overtone or Throat) singer as this style is called, you can simultaneously hear a clear flute/whistle like melody, which has arisen from a strong low guttural drone. In singing this Khoomii melody inspired by the sound of nature, Tserendaava has understood the nature of sound, overtones or harmonics.
Tserendavaa is a living tradition, unlike the recent rock/classical influenced throat singing groups that have been touring Europe in recent years. He was born and still lives and breathes the sounds of the legendary landscape of Khoomii. He is respected within his community as a performer and teacher of his seven styles of Khoomii and has been a key informer for both Mongolian and European ethnomusicologists.
Michael Ormiston, who was taught by Tserendavaa in Mongolia in 1993, and Candida Valentino, one of the only European woman to have traveled to Mongolia to learn this remarkable art, invited Tserendaava to perform and teach Khoomii in Europe. Tserendavaa in return asked them to perform in concert with them and to assist in the teaching of Khoomii.
The concerts and workshops were the first collaboration between Mongolian and British Musicians in Europe.
Tserendavaa arrived at Gaunts House in Dorset England directly from Mongolia. The workshop (Friday evening 21st- Sunday 23rd June 2002) was a great success with Tserendaava giving individual tuition for most of the afternoon. He was invited by Don Conreaux to give a blessing to the Starhenge that he was creating in the grounds.
The first concerts were in London (June 26th & 27th 2002) with two sold out evenings at the beautiful St Pancras Old Church. The concerts were totally acoustic and were warmly welcomed by an enthusiastic audience. A film and audio recording were made of the concert, which hopefully will be available in the near future.
June 29th/30th were the London workshops at The SOAS Department of Music. Again these were a great success. Tserendavaa’s work rate and enthusiasm for teaching almost surpassed his need to have a smoke.
The rest of the tour was a great success with a radio session for BBC world routes, library recordings with Extreme Music, concerts and workshops in Dublin, Paris, The Airvault Festival, Edinburgh and finally the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival!
Chandman’ Song is the first CD dedicated to Tserendavaa’s Khoomii singing. You can hear Tserendavaa sing traditional Mongolian melodies in his six styles of Khoomii, including his unique Hosmoljin Khoomii, which is a combination of singing words and overtones at the same time! He accompanies himself on the Morin Khuur (Horse head fiddle), the Tobshuur (2 string west Mongolian fretless lute) and metal & bamboo mouth harps.
The CD ends with a unique demonstration and lecture in which Tserendavaa explains and demonstrates about khoomii practices and his six styles of khoomii: Uruulyn (Labial) Khoomii, Tagnain (Palatal) Khoomii, Khamryn (Nasal) Khoomii, Bagalzuuryn (Throat) Khoomii, Tseejin khondiin (Chest cavity) Khoomii and his unique Hosmoljin (Combination of singing words and overtones at the same time).
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“.
Un 2018, Urna released Ser, a collaboration with Polish band Kroke.
Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.
Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?
I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.
Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.
My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.
How did this experience affect you?
I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.
Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?
Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!
The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?
Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.
Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?
I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.
Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.
I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.
Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?
I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.
For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.
What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?
I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.
The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at RomeroCreations.com.
Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?
No I haven’t. I’d like to though.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.
What music are you currently listening to?
I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.
What new projects are you working on?
Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.
The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie (Wind Music, 2017)
The Sky & Prairie is a remarkable production that brings together the talents of Inner Mongolian act The Grasslands Ensemble (天草之間遊牧樂團)and Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, producer and composer Daniel Ho. The project was envisioned by Taiwanese record company Wind Music. The label’s Judy Wu produced the album.
The album features new versions of traditional Mongolian, Buryat, Barga, Manchurian, Evenk and Daur folk songs performed by musicians based in Hulunbuir, in Inner Mongolia’s prairie region. The artists represent a wide range of ethnicities, including Mongolian, Manchurian, Evenk, Daur, Russian and Han Chinese.
Daniel Ho composed the opening song and participates throughout the album playing ukulele and piano.
On The Sky & Prairie you’ll listen to various traditional instruments such as the iconic morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), Central Asian lutes and jaw harps along with conventional singing and throat singing.
The Hulunbuir-based ensemble includes Borjigin Hasibatu on vocals; Qiqigema on vocals; Bayinhehe on vocals; Han Mou Ren on the rare chaoer (Mongolian bowed instrument) and morin khuur; Tamir Hargana on tsuur and throat singing; and the Hasar Band: Yimin on morin khuur and backing vocals; Cai Yi-Fei on morin khuur, tsuur flute, backing vocals; Bao Wuyunbilige on lead vocals and tovshuur (thorat singing); Wang Jian on doshpuluur (a long-necked lute) and backing vocals; Aqitu on lead vocals, percussion and amen khuur (jaw harp); and Bao Yue-Yong on morin khuur.
The packaging is stunning. The CD is included in a hardcover book with a beautifully designed book that contains biographies, photos and credits in English and Chinese.
The Sky & Prairie is a splendid recording featuring exquisite versions of timeless folk songs from Central Asian regions.
Souffles des Steppes is a fascinating encounter the world of the flute and Mongolian music traditions. French flute virtuoso has been involved in a series of world music encounters in the past years. On this occasion he has teamed up with Mongolian musician Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig, also known as “Epi.”
Dandarvaanchig plays traditional Mongolian instruments such as the morin khuur (horse head fiddle) and the tovshuur lute. He’s also a throat singing master. Henri Tournier plays various types of western flutes along with the Indian bansuri and the octobass.
Guests include Thierry Gomar on zarb, daf, bayan, Tibetan bowls, bells, rattles; and John Renard on violin and quinton.
The physical version comes beautifully packaged in a hard cover book format with photos and liner notes in French and English.
Souffles des Steppes – Steppes Breath is a beautiful production featuring masterful performances by two global music explorers who interweave western and Mongolian traditions.