Musique et Chants de Tradition Populaire Mongolie (various artists) Grem G7511 (recorded September/October 1985)

If you can get hold of it this is another must CD for Mongolian Music enthusiasts. There are seven tracks with khöömii, lots of jaw’s harp playing, an unbelievable imitation of the flute with the voice, a stone xylophone, masterly tsuur playing and lots more, all from local musicians invited to Ulaanbaatar in 1985.


1     Altayn Magtaal ‑ Ode to the Altay mountains (4'15")

       Vocal duo ‑ Accompaniment on the tobshuur (lute). Mr Barmived and

       Mr. Tseren­davaa, natives of the region of Khovd. (western Mongolia), use two vocal 

       techniques in this song: khailakh, the strained, guttural voice, alternating or 

       superimposed with khöömiylakh vocal harmonies.


2    Altayn Magtaal ‑ Ode the Allay mountains (cont.) (1'50")

       Vocal solo, interpreted using the khöömiy technique, by Mr. Gantulga, native of the 

      Altay. Using the same theme as in no. 1, Mr. Gantulga demonstrates the vast  

      possibilites offered by vocal harmonics,


3     Khangayn Magtaal ‑ Ode to the Khangay mountains (1’16 ")

       Tsur (four‑holed end‑blown flute) and simultaneous singing. Interpreted by an elderly

       musician from western Mongolia. He is one of the last masters of this style of playing,

       which combines vocal technique with that of the flute.


4     Gooj Nanaa (0’40’’)

       Trio of khulsan khuur (Jew's harps) played by three children from the region of

       Darkhan (central Mongolia). Using their bamboo Jew's harps with string, these

       children interpret the melody of a song dedicated to a beautiful woman by the name of

       Gooj Nanaa.


5      Jukai G'eldene (1’08’’)

        Ikke (fiddle) solo. Melody or a humorous popular song whose rhythm is reminis­cent of a horse race.


6     Jaakhan Siharga ‑ The chestnut horse (0’45")

      Vocal solo. Throaty song interpreted by a woman from central Mongolia. The theme of this song is a tragic adventure, which led two brothers on chestnut

       horses to the region of the great Gobi Desert. During their hunting party, one brother killed the other who was disguised as an antelope.   

      This song expresses his sadness.


7     Demen Khar ‑ The ambling horse (1’10’’)

       Jimbuur (fipple flute) solo.


8     Garyn Arvan Khuruu(1’10’’)

       Isgerekh (dental whistling/ singing) teclinique. Melody of a popular song about the beauty of a woman's hands. Performed by Mr. Hamsrandori from the region

       of Bayan Khongor. This vocal technique, involving dental whistling, is becoming increasingly rare.


9     Mandakh Nar ‑ Popular melody about love (1’28")

       Lithophone solo, Mr. Bayandelger plays a very rare instrument of ancient origin: the shuluun tsargel. The original instrument, of which there are a few examples

       in museums, offers fewer possibilities than the 14‑stone model designed by this musician from Bayan Khongor (southern Mongolia).


10  Gunan Khar ‑ The swift horse  (0’50’’)

     Nyasalgoa (striking a stick). This melody, whose theme is a popular song, is inter­preted by Mr. Gatulga, who strikes a piece of wood held tightly between his



11   Mureedil‑The dream (1'33")

       Dömbra (two‑string lute) solo interpreted by a Kazakh musician from the region of Bayan Olghiy (western Mongolia).


12   Morin Tuvurgen (2'40")

       Solo on the morin khuur (horse‑head fiddle, the national instrument) by Mr. Radnaa. Melody from south western Mongolia about an old man who is nostalgic

      for his lost youth. In this interpretation, the musician uses his instrument to evoke a running and whinnying horse.


13   Er Bor Khartsag ‑ The eagle (4’11")

       Long song and morin khuur. This long song, of ancient origin, which is interpreted only on rare occasions, is executed by Mr, Dashzeveg, a shepherd from the

      Gobi region of central Mongolia. He is accompanied on the fiddle by Mr. Chirmenbazar.


14   Urtyn Duuny Kheceg (1’29’)

       Solo on the morin khuur by Mr. Radnaa, who interprets an excerpt from the melody of a popular long song.


15   Geelee (0'40")

       Vocal solo. Short song interpreted by Ms. Zulaa, a native of western most Mongolia. Geelee is a story about a man who offers a handkerchief to a Young

       woman on a river bank.


16  Erchiuudyn Magtaal ‑ Ode to men  (1’02’’)

      voice and ikkel (fiddle). This song about the man's role in the family is interpreted by Ms. Schululm from the region of Khovd.


17  Kerlen G’in Barya (3’06’)

      Long song accompanied on the morin khuur, interpreted by Ms. Tervish. It is devoted to the beauty of the landscapes of an eastern region dominated by the

      Khentii mountains and crossed by the Kerulen River.


18   Morynii Alkhaa (1’18’’)

       Solo on the morin khuur. This popular melody, which evokes the fine gait of a horse, is interpreted by a musician from western Mongolia.


19  Tumen Ekh  (2'12")

      Long song accompanied on the morin khuur. Excerpt from a 13th century epic telling the story of a horse that won all the most important races. This traditional

      song opens all the major ceremonies and is interpreted here by Mr. Dandorj, aged 81 years, from the region of Khentii (eastern Mongolia).


20   Ezen Teng’er Khan (4’30’’)

       Epic sung in tile khailakh style. The performer accompanies himself on the tobshuur (lute). This ancient epic tells of the creation of the world and the history of      

      the first Mongols. In its complete version, it can last an entire night. It is performed less and less often.


21  G'eryn Magtaal ‑ Ode to the Mongol tent (3'53")

Interpreted in an alternation of khailalch and khöömiylakh styles, accompanied on the tobshuur. This song, whose melodic line is similar to that of no. 1, is devoted to the g'er, a round one‑roomed tent made of felt over a wooden frame, which is used by Mongol nomads. This ode is sung when a tent is put up for the first time, to praise its beauty and its comfort.


22   Bukhyn Tsol ‑Wrestling song (2’20’’)

       On the occasion of wrestling competitions, the leaders of each team (zassuul) present their best wrestlers to their opponents and sing their praises. After each

       match, the winner performe the “eagle” victory dance around the zasauul.


23   Three pieces interpreted on a brass Jew's harp by Ms. Ukhuurkenduu (2’23’’)

       a ‑ Temeenii Alkhaa ‑ Camels walking (0’50’’)

       b ‑ Temeenii Uraldaan ‑ A camel race (0’40’’)

       c ‑ Gobiin Undur ‑ Ode to the Gobi Desert (0’50’’)


24  Garyn Abvan Ki1uruu‑ Air on the beauty of women (1’22’’)

      Melody of a popular song interpreted on a bamboo Jew's harp with string. Also interpreted by Ms. Ukhuurkenduu.


25   Soyol Erdene (2'17")

       Solo on a brass Jew's harp with string. Melody composed by Mr. Dagvadorge to a text by D. Navaan Yunden, a famous 20th century Mongol poet.


26   Sarlag ‑ Melody about yaks (0'45")

       Solo on the Jew's harp played by the Darkhad (group from north western Mongolia).


27   Yokhor (0'38")

       Solo on the Jew's harp. Melody of a Buryat dance.


28    Two popular melodies interpreted by a group of six children and one woman playing a reed Jew's harp with string: (1’23")

        a ‑ Chivee Khiagte ‑ Theme recalling the 1921 Revolution (0’55’’)                                                                           

        b ‑ Hummun Turlukhtun ‑ Women's liberation. Theme composed during the 1930s (0'35")


29    Temeen Jonjoo ‑ Camels walking (1'04")                   

        Tsur flute and simultaneous singing. Same interpreter as for no. 3.                                                                                


30    Gurvan Aya (2'20")                                                     

        Three melodies for tsur flute and simultaneous singing.


31    Durvun Uul ‑ The four mountains (0’52’’)

        Khöömiy: Ms. Tserendavaa from the region of Khovd interprets this song as well as no. 32 and 33.


32    Derven Nastai Khliun ‑The four‑yeas‑old chestnut horse (1’32’’)                                                                     

        Illustration of khöötoin khöömiy (throaty “Jew's harp voice”).


33   Tooroi Dandi (1'30")

       Illustration of tseesni khendi (khöömiy and abdominal technique). This melody, from eastern Mongolia, recounts the tale of a man who fought for freedom and 

        social equality in the early 19th century.


34   Khoomiylakh (1’40")

       Illustration of khöömiy techniques, including through the nose (khamryn kheemi),executed by Mr. Toigoo from the region of Uvs.


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This exceptional selection of recordings of popular music from Mongolia clearly illustrates the predominance of music in Mongol society. As the fruit of secular traditions, it has attained a degree of perfection that is incomparable, particularly in vocal techniques.

The present recordings were made in Ulan Bator in September 1985 during a festival of traditional music that followed the seventh tribune of Asian music. Both events were organized by the cultural authorities, of the People's Republic of Mongolia with the participation of UNESCO and the International Music Council.

A vast number of Mongol musicians, both amateurs and professionals, were invited from all corners of the country to participate in this unusual festival, which brought together all types of performers, from shepherds of the Altay mountains, to children from the central regions accompanied by their teachers, and men and women from the Khenti mountains or the Gobi Desert. Together, they presented an incomparable panorama of popular musical traditions of their part of the world, which would otherwise have required long years in the field to record.

Thanks to the close collaboration of Mongolia's National Music Committee and the outstanding kindness of the musicians, we were able to make the first series of digital recordings, of which a large selection are offered on this disc.

For centuries, the Mongols lived close to nature, moving with the tide of empire or the seasons, across steppe-land and forest, covering mountains and deserts on their powerful steeds.


The Mongols' lifestyle is the most probable explanation for the fact that so many themes are dedicated to their faithful companion, the horse. Songs and melodies also evoke the beauty of their surroundings: the majestic Altay and Khangay mountains, the vast steppe with its occasional lakes and forests, the Gobi Desert crisscrossed by camel caravans.

Along with wrestling and archery, music and song are the leading attributes of the nomadic Mongolian peoples, who have refined a vocal art based on breath control. Melodies and songs perpetuate the national heritage, relating tales of yesteryear, including epics, love stories, hunting adventures, fables, and legends. Music, which is omnipresent, sets the pace for daily life, accompanying everything from group dancing to the long days of the lonely shepherd.

The musical art of Mongolia, which is based primarily on the pentatonic system, assumes a variety of forms through a large number of expressive, vocal, and instrumental techniques. A given melodic line can serve as the basis for different songs (no. 1 and 21), and a given theme can be interpreted using different vocal techniques or instruments (no. 1 and 2). Finally, the cultural contributions of the different ethnic groups, from regions such as Khalka, Buryatia, Kazakh, Durvud, Bayad, Öö1d, and Tsaatang have enriched Mongolia's musical heritage.




In the Mongolian popular tradition, musical instruments are often used to accompany the voice. They provide a rhythmic foundation or they support and embellish the melodic vocal line (no.20).

Among the string instruments, the most appreciated is probably the morin khuur or bowed two‑string “horse‑head” or “spike” fiddle (no. 12, 14, 18). The strings are made of horsehair and the upper part of the long neck is decorated with a sculpted horse head. The trapezoidal body is covered with sheepskin. The morin khuur is traditionally used to accompany the so‑called “long” songs, and it is often tuned to a low register. There are several models of the instrument, varying according to size and construction materials. The ikkel (no.5) is another fiddle with similar characteristics, but minus the sculpted horse head.

The Mongols play a small two‑string lute known as the tobshuur, which is tuned to the interval of a fourth and used for the ostinato accompaniment of odes and epics (no. 1, 20, and 2 1 ). A long‑necked fretted lute, the dömbra is also used. The dömbra is tuned to a fifth and is used mostly by the Kazakhs (no.11). The musicians of Mongolia occasionally use other plucked or bowed string instruments, such as the yatqa (zither) and the khotchere.

Among the wind instruments, the flute is frequently played by shepherds, as in many other countries. The most common of these is the limbe, a bamboo transverse flute. While the fipple flute (no.7) is especially popular among young people today, others that are technically more difficult to master are beginning to disappear. This is true of the tsur, an end‑blown bamboo flute (four top holes, one bottom hole) to which we have devoted particular importance (no. 3, 29, and 30). The flutist produces a vocal drone over which he executes the melodic line on the tsur.

The “lithophone” is one of Mongolia's rare instruments (no. 9), comprising fourteen stones arranged in a lattice and attached to a frame using cords. This instrument is played by striking the stones with sticks.

The lack of percussion instruments in present‑day Mongolian folk music couid well be due to the fact that they were originally played by shamans during magic and religious rites. In Ulan Bator, we viewed beautiful specimens of single headed frame‑mounted drums, often decorated with an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figurines (such as horse heads).


Jew's harps are common instruments in Mongolia; learning to play the Jew's harp goes hand in hand with learning breath control and vocal techniques. Several types of Jew's harp exist: those made of bronze (no. 23 and 25) or bamboo (no. 24), with or without (no.26) strings. This instrument is sometimes played in groups (no. 4 and 28). Mastery of the Jew's harp is the gateway to khöömiylakh (vocal harmonies).




The art of singing is highly cultivated and appreciated by all Mongols. The performance of epics, odes, fables, legends, and poems is an important part of festivities; they are often sung, with or without instrumental accompaniment, using the different techniques specifically adapted to the different genres. The following techniques are used:

Khailakh (shouting), characterized by the production of a strained, guttural voice often used in the performance of odes (no.20).

Duulakh (singing), using the natural voice in a more melodious way. This technique is used particularly for the so‑called “long” & “short” songs.

Khöömiylakh, which is the technique of producing vocal harmonics (no. 2, 31, and 34). This most unusual technique, which takes the human voice to its limits, entails the production of two sounds: a drone or fundamental that is rich in harmonies and reminiscent of the Jew's harp (the reason why this technique is also known as “Jew's harp voice”) over which a high pitched flute‑like sound is superimposed. This technique is strenuous for the performer, who must tauten his muscles and swell his cheeks. Different sounds are obtained by varying the air pressure across the vocal cords, the volume of the mouth cavity, and tongue placement. In this way, variable pitch harmonies are produced to form the melody. The fundamental is produced in the back of the throat, passing through the mouth, and exiting through the slightly parted lips and to a lesser extent through the nose. In order to produce special sound effects, there are four basic variations, which the Mongols call taqnayn khöömiy (tongue turned downwards), khamryn kheemi (through the nose) (no. 34), khööloin khöömiy (through the throat) (no.32), and tseesni khendi (abdominal) (no. 33). Upon mastering all the variations of vocal technique, the performer can imitate and reproduce any melody without the help of a musical instrument. Khöömiylakh can be executed alone or in alternation with khailakh (no. 1 and 21). The technique of producing vocal harmonics is most common among the people of Tchandmans (the region of Khovd).

‑Isgerekh is a technique of dental whistling, less frequently used than the others (no.8).

The urtyn duu (long song) and bogino duu (short song) are the two main genres performed in Mongolia. The long song is executed over a very broad tessitura that can reach three octaves. It uses rich vocal ornamentation whose sound effects resemble those of the instruments that accompany it (most often the morin khuur, (no. 13, 17, and 19). When performed, this song is punctuated by meaningless syllables for aesthetic purposes. It differs from the short song, which uses plainer ornamentation, shorter words, and faster rhythms (no. 15). In both cases, the pentatonic system predominates. In both genres, improvisation is highly important, leaving the singer full freedom in performing his art.


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