Tag Archives: Urna

Voice of the Steppes: Interview with Urna Chahar-Tugchi

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.

Urna Chahar-Tugchi

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!

Urna and Kroke – Ser

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.

More about Urna and her discography.

Headline photo: Urna Chahar-Tugchi by Kerstin Stelter

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Urna and Kroke, a Well-Designed Collaboration

Urna and Kroke – Ser

Urna and Kroke – Ser (Urna Chahar-Tugchi / Uct, 2018)

One would think that teaming up a singer born to nomadic herders on the Ordos grasslands of Inner Mongolia and a Polish band known on the world music scene for their forays into Klezmer, Jewish music, folk, jazz and fusion as an unlikely mix or, perhaps, just unadvised. Good thing for us that vocalist Urna Chahar-Tugchi and Kroke band members Tomasz Kukurba (viola, percussion, vocals and flute), Jerzy Bawoł (accordion) and Tomasz Lato (double bass) are cleverer than any of us.

The recording, Ser, out on the Urna Chahar-Tugchi/Uct label is simply stunning. Conjuring up a seamless expanse of evocative musical imagery by way of new takes on traditional songs and freshly penned tracks, the Mongolian singer and the Polish band make for a perfect match.

Ser is an elegant collaboration that opens with the traditional song “Zandan Hureng (My Sandalwood Brown.” Framed by the Mr. Kukurba on violin, Mr. Bawoł on accordion and Mr. Lato on double bass, Urna’s vocals soar like a bird and adding some equally impressive vocals by Mr. Kukruba makes the track sweeter. Ser just get better with an accordion opening on “Nojiyaa” and Urna’s lovely vocals, but one can hardly go wrong with a song where the opening lyrics are “On the banks of the Green River a horse waits.”

Title track “Ser” is another stunner in its simplicity of vocals and double bass written by Urna and Mr. Lato. The jazzy simplicity on this track woven out of voice and double bass is achingly lovely. Equally delicious is “Baigal Dalai (Infinite Nature)” another track written by Urna.

Ser further unfolds with traditional song “Undur Uul (On the Summit of a High Mountain) that thrums as if on the back of a horse riding across the grasslands. “Jigder Nana” is a sweetly sassy number that downright catchy with some jazzy interplay between vocals, accordion, violin, double bass and some snappy percussion. It’s simply impossible not to wowed by tracks like”Shirdegiin Chaidam (Flowers of the Steppe)” the charming “Altan Altan Jigjuuhai (Golden, Golden Little Bird)” and a capella track “Erdenis (My Wishes for Humanity).”

Finely worked tracks like “Jergelgeen/Kukurna (Fate Morgana)” a piece written by Urna and Mr. Kukurba, where the melding of vocals against a kaleidoscope of viola and electronica proves the power and depth of this collaboration, where the work is done and there is nothing left but to fly. It’s an ethereal soulfulness.

Ser is your lush ride across the grasslands.

Buy Ser.

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Artist Profiles: Urna

Urna Chahar-Tugchi

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.

Discography:

Crossing (1994)
Tal Nutag (1995)
Hödööd (Oriente, 1999)
Jamar (2001)
Amilal (2005)
Urna – Portrait The Magical Voice From Mongolia (Network Medien, 2012)
Ser, with Kroke (Urna Chahar-Tugchi / Uct, 2018)

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