Mongolia 17th August to 17th October 1993 Ulaanbaatar page1
I had first heard Mongolian
Khöömii (Harmonic Overtone Singing) in 1988 at a concert of Mongolian Music and
Dance in London
organised by Carole Pegg. (There is a cassette of the Cambridge performance). It had taken five
years, a change of career, and a lot of bravery for me to get on the plane at
After a horrible change at the awful Moscow
airport in the chasing of the morning sun I caught my first glimpse of Mongolia. A
continuous undulating of hills/mountains, green, brown and grey. As we
descended towards Ulaanbaatar,
capital I could just make out some white dots, which became Gers (Mongolian
felt tents) and dirt tracks/roads all merging towards the city. We followed a
river, banked steeply & then tracked a railway line, which I presumed was
the Mongolian branch of the Trans Siberian Railway.
I was met at the airport by
my hosts, in 1993 you needed an invite from an official body to get a Visa, I
had met Arbis, Secretary of the Mongolia Union of Artists & Yangema his
wife in London
& they had invited me. They kindly provided me a flat in one of the drab
block of flats that was only a 10 minute walk from the centre in the north east
of the city.
I need to get to the aimag
(province) of Khovd in the west of Mongolia where Khöömii singing has
a strong tradition. However there was quarantine for the plague! The British
Embassy would furnish me with details as to when it had been lifted. Meanwhile
I could explore UB as Ulaanbaatar
is sometimes called.
Breakfast was usually at the
UB hotel, and this is where the foreigners hung out. One of the most
interesting was Kevin Kling a photographer from the USA
who was making a book about Mongolia.
She (yes!) had travelled all over the country, especially the Kazakh province of Bayan Olgii in the far west. As far as I
know the book never came out, just some postcards.
One day walking on Sukhebaatar Square
(the red square
of UB) I noticed some
horsemen galloping across, one stopped near the statue of Sukhebaatar. If you
look closely at the photo on the left you will see the horse and rider. In 2006
when I last visited Mongolia,
all animals were banned from inside the city limits. In 1993 I saw a cart
pulled by a camel, sheep, goats and cows grazing.
Enkhe, The daughter of my
host invited me to the Lenin Club, which as at the bottom end of the square.
There we met Gana a Mongolian pop singer who was into “world music” and had
just been judging the voice of Asia song contest in Alma Ala, Kazakhstan, his wife, Sara won,
although he could not vote for her. By the way I happened to have bought the
double CD of the previous year’s contest which included two Tuvan groups for
all you Tuvan throat singing audiophiles. He invited us (an Englishman John had
attached himself to me but was more interested in Enkhe, that’s a whole other
story!) to his wife’s flat nearby & we started a long drinking &
chatting session. This was where I had my first taste of Airag (fermented
mare’s milk) it was not too bad, not as good as the fresh country airag.
Tumen Ekh, a traditional
Mongolian Music Ensemble had visited the UK in 1992 where I had met up with
their khöömii singer Gereltsogt. He had led a lecture demonstration which was
their idea of a workshop. I had gained some knowledge but not the practical
workings of khöömii. I could sing overtones which I had basically taught myself
so I called my khöömii, “ mini angli khöömii” (bad Mongolian for my English
khöömii!). I headed for the children’s Park just south of the main square &
caught up with the ensemble. Gereltsogt gave me a few lessons while I was in UB
& most importantly said he would contact his brother in law who live in
Khovd who would host me & take me to a khöömii teacher in Chandman Sum (district).
He wrote two letters in lower case Mongolian which I could not understand, one
for each of the above mentioned. This proved invaluable and I am forever
grateful to Gereltsogt for this.
I became great friends with
the ensemble, bought their cassettes; they let me into their concert for
nothing. When I returned to UB they helped me buy a Shanz, two Tobshuurs (2
string fretless lute), a Khuuchir and Dorvon Chikhtei Khuur. I already had a
Morin Khuur & managed to get a yatag and shaman drum of which later.