UB

Khovd 1

Khovd2

Khovd3

Khovd4

Khovd5

Chandman

Sum

Journeys page

 

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 Heathrow airport.

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, Mongolia’s 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.

 

 

UB

Khovd 1

Khovd2

Khovd3

Khovd4

Khovd5

Chandman

Sum

Journeys page