Music

Hanggai: Introducing Hanggai

Deanne Sole

Introducing Hanggai is more than an introduction to Hanggai: it could also serve as an introduction to indigenous Mongolian music on the whole, a gateway Mongolian folk album for non-Mongolians.


Hanggai

Introducing Hanggai

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2008-07-29
UK Release Date: 2008-07-28
Amazon
iTunes

Horses! The music of the Central Asian nomads has to be the horsiest music on earth. No matter what Hanggai are singing about -- flowers, alcohol, or banjos -- the gait of a horse almost inevitably works its way into the tune. No wonder I once saw a set of liner notes that tried to explain a picture of a Tuvan to its American audience by referring to him as a cowboy. You can see where the writer was coming from, even though the readers might have emerged with the wrong idea of the album they were about to listen to. The horses that charge through Introducing Hanggai are not the lone laconic cowpoke horses of American cowboy songs. Instead, they're gregarious animals, full of dart and dash. Please admire their swiftness, their beauty, their riders' nice white hats! The idea of people on horses moving across an open landscape has filtered into the musical blood cells of the entire region. These are centaur songs, with human faces and equine brains. They trot, they canter, they gallop.

The members of Hanggai are based in Beijing. Some are Han Chinese, some are ethnic Mongolians, but in performance, they all wear a traditional costume from the Inner Mongolian steppes: long coats closed at the throat, hats with peaks and flaps, giving them the flattened, solid look of diplomats. Co-producer Robin Hailer reports that he first stumbled across the group and its mastermind, Ilchi, "in a small bar in one of central Beijing's oldest hutongs."

"There was only a small audience in Beijing for folk music, no serious promoters organizing performances and no labels in the country that put out good-quality recordings." So he decided to record them. "One of the first challenges [co-producer] Matteo and I identified was how we should go about giving the album enough variety whilst maintaining the integrity of the songs. In their traditional versions, the songs are essentially all in the same key and all accompanied by the same small ensemble … We also wanted to keep the intimacy of the band's live act, but build up layers in the songs with percussion and other instruments that the band didn't normally use."

The "other instruments" stay in the background, building up the layers in a way that keeps them comfortably invisible. At the front stands the morin khuur fiddle, a two-stringed lute known as a tobshuur, and the male Mongolian voice. Ilchi plays the tobshuur, two other men named Bagen and Hugejiltu play the fiddles, and all of them sing. Sometimes they enunciate plainly, sometimes they switch to the vibrating two-toned growl of hoomei throat-singing.

Introducing is not an album that makes a big deal out of its hoomei. In Hanggai's songs the low, froggy burr and high whistle are often quite subtle, spritzing the voice and blending into the rest of the noise rather than standing in the spotlight. Nuances of growl add body to a song like "Wuji", an ensemble piece that brings several voices together, alternating them at different pitches while the morin khuur moves at a quick gallop.

"Wuji" has the good, simple kick of a rock song, a repeated riff from the fiddle coupled with lyrics that make you feel as if you could sing along. It's universal, and at the same time completely Central Asian. You wouldn't mistake it for music from anywhere else. The rest of the album pulls off this same balancing trick between the local and the worldly with a good degree of success. "Drinking Song" would be a drinking song even without the title to alert you to it, and the sweet, heavy grandeur of "Four Seasons" is unmistakeably moving. Here, in the album's closure, is the place where Hanggai's music comes closest to the idea of an American cowboy, this song with its melancholy yodels, its lonely cries, the sound of people facing a long horizon. Introducing Hanggai is more than an introduction to Hanggai: it could also serve as an introduction to indigenous Mongolian music on the whole, a gateway Mongolian folk album for non-Mongolians.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.