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

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image