Mongolian sound finds new fans around the globe
Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin is known for working on iconic albums from Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Deep Purple. About five years ago, he came to Beijing to work with Chinese folk singer-songwriter Sa Dingding.
Sa, the winner of the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music for the Asia-Pacific region in 2007, had a party for Ezrin and she invited some local musicians. Ilchi, the vocalist and tobshuur (two-stringed lute) player of Hanggai, a band of ethnic Mongolian musicians, was there.
“Hi, I am Ilchi from Hanggai,” he said to Ezrin.
“I know you and your band,” replied the producer, who had heard Hanggai years earlier with Grammyaward winning musician Peter Gabriel.
“Really? Would you work with us?” asked Ilchi.
“Absolutely yes,” Ezrin said.
Two and a half years later, they started collaborating on Hanggai’s album Horse of Colors, which was released in May.
“I love traditional folk music. I see a direct connection between Mongolian culture and American-Indian culture. They were telling stories to their people and they were telling the stories about grasslands, mountains, animals and rivers,” the 67-year-old producer says in Beijing, where he is working with the band on an album that will be released next year.
Speaking of Horse of Colors, Ilchi, 36, says: “The horse is an important part of Mongolian culture. It seems like just a horse but it’s more than a horse — it’s a horse with stories.”
The album features traditional throat-singing (a single vocalist produces two distinct pitches simultaneously), folk instruments and Mongolian lyrics.
It includes the band’s original songs, such as Samsara, and renditions of traditional Mongolian folk songs.
The band has just concluded a 12-city tour. In November, they will go to Nashville, Tennessee, to record a new album, which again will be produced by Ezrin.
“All the members are excited to record the new album in Nashville, which is the home of country music,” says Ilchi.
“The band is rooted in Mongolian music but we are open to different music.”
The band, whose name in Mongolian refers to a scenic place with beautiful pastures, mountains and rivers, was formed by ethnic Mongolian musicians in Beijing in 2004.
Nowit has eight members, including Ilchi, throat-singing vocalist and morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) player Batubagen, and vocalist and guitarist Yilalata.
Introducing Hanggai, the band’s debut album, was released in 2008. Dominated by traditional Mongolian instruments such as the tobshuur and morin khuur, the band has added more modern and rock style elements, like guitar, bass and drums.
Erzin first experienced traditional throat-singing around 25 years ago, when Tibetan throat singers and Tuvan singers performed in Los Angeles.
“I wish I could do it. It sounds like ancient history. It sounds like the beginning of the world,” he says.
With his career in music spanning four decades, Erzin says every song is like a book in four or five minutes, and he wants to take people on a journey, to touch them emotionally and intellectually.
“I like working with creative people, musicians and people of principle. They believe in something. They are smart and interesting. They inspire me. With Hanggai, the bonus is I am learning another culture, which I love to do,” he adds.
Hanggai band members include throat-singing vocalist and horse-head fiddle player Batubagen (left) and guitarist Yilalata.