Naariits Biilye (Let’s dance) by Ensemble Altai-Hangai : Pan records Pan 2061 CD (Recorded November 1997)

This is a very well recorded CD focusing on dance tatlagas called bii tatlaga, song tatlagas called duut tatlaga, legend tatlagas called domogtoi tatlaga, and solo horse‑head fiddle tatlagas called dan morin khuuryn tatlaga. The pieces are masterly played and well arranged. 10 of them feature Ganzorig’s fine khöömii, which is interesting as Tatlaga’s do not usually have arrangements with khöömii, so a whole new traditions is being created in front of our ears.


1) Ambling Horse (joroo mori)

Bii tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian, Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

An imitation of the sound of an ambling horse’s regular quick pace. The playing of this song requires a quick bowing technique. Ganbold plays Ambling horse according to the we techniques of the Bajad people, playing on each bow a string of staccato tones of the same duration. The Hoton people usually play each staccato note of the same duration on a single bow. Dancing the Ambling horse one uses quick staccato shaking shoulder movements


2) Tsatsai, A Sprinkling Act Full Of Devotion (Tsatsal)

Bii tatiaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

In the Countryside or the city, out of the windows of flats or gers (Yurts), Women every morning throw four spoonfuls of the first batch of milky tea before drinking any of it, as an act of blessing. Each spoonful is aimed in one of the four directions of the wind, honouring the divine mountains and rivers of the area. There is a saying, which tells 'sprinkling in the four directions makes eight', thereby including north­ east, south‑east, south‑west and north‑west. For tsatsal a special spoon, correspondingly called tsatsal, is used, most often carved out of wood. The grip is decorated with abstract Mongolian symbols and in the hollow there are nine small pits. These pits are the nine precious stones of desire. By sprinkling milky tea with the tsatsal spoon the nine wishes of the family are given space. When a member of the family or a close friend departs on a long journey a tsatsal is also made, throwing milky tea on the path of the departing person, blessing the countries he has to cross and securing a safe journey and healthy return home. In Ulaanbaatar, formerly Urga, the morning milk is sprinkled in the direction of the four mountains enclosing the city: Bogd Khan, Bajanzurkh, Tsingeltei, and Songino Khairkhan. The tsatsal dance is a pantomime on the tsatsal act of devotion.


3) Joyful (Jargalan)

Duut tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle and singing: Ganbold Muukhai, Bjambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Toyshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee

a) Elegant beauty (Govolog khöörkhii)

A song to tease your lady beloved who is more beautiful and elegant than the trees

More beautiful than the melted clear waters of mountain springs

A gentle melodic song incorporating light 'attacks', harmonized by Altai‑Hangai and played in different octaves.

b) Sounds of shaking (Shigshirgiin aya)

The steps of the brown fat horse sound like tovor tovor

Three strings are shaking, shake, shake, shake


4) Magnificent Tatlaga (Ikh tattlaga)

Bii tatlaga, Hoton‑ Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

Considered to be the father of all Hoton tatlagas. In the Magnificent tatlaga dance generally abstract movements of daily work activities are depicted. For example, animal husbandry, agricultural activities and the making of felt.


5) Baltsin's Horse (Baltsin kheer)

Domogtoi, bii tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai

'Baltsin's father was an old man when he died. Baltsin, his only son, grieved deeply after hearing the news of his father's death. Trying to forget his sorrow, drinking became his daily activity. In need of money he sold his property to a Chinese trader keeping nothing but his ambling horse. He became a legend, continuously drunk while mounting his horse, riding day and night visiting families. He was able to ride at a full gallop with a full cup of airag (fermented mare's milk) placed on the back of the horse and did not spill any of it.' The sound of Baltsin's horse is put to music using a few tones and extensive use of appoggiaturas. Using quick leg and hand movements Baltsin's horse dance reflects the cadence of Baltsin's gallop. It is customary in western Mongolia that during competitions related to Baltsin's Legend, full cups of airag are placed on the head, bended legs and open palms. Whenever any of the airag is spilt the performer should drink all of the cups. Those who manage to stay sober are the winners.


6) Let’s Dance/Come! (Naariits biilye)

Folk dance song, Baiad‑ and Dorvod‑Mongolian. Accordion: Ganbold Muukhai. Horse‑head fiddle and singing: Ganzorig Nergui, Bjambihishig Lhagva. Tovshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee.

Palamjaw Childee orchestrated this song, which contrasts two songs that are different in mood. Combining two totally different songs is a common musical practice in his place of birth. Starting and ending with a fast, uncontrolled drunkard's gallop, there is a contrast in the middle part with a more tempered melody of the Baiad people, Elkendeg. It's a song by which people are asked to come and join in the dancing, holding and waving different coloured handkerchiefs. Dancing with eightcoloured dollis, fluttering arms and sleeves.


7) Five Kazaks (Tawan kazakh)

Damogtoi tatioga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

'An eight‑year‑old restrained five Kazakhs from plundering his village and family by playing in his ger (yurt) on his highly valued horse‑head fiddle, The song he played and sang mirrored the five Kazakhs who tried to plunder the Hoton village, wanting all five kinds of animals. In his song the boy urged the Kazakhs to take all the animals except the one fertile female of each breed.'

Ganbold, being a Hoton‑Mongolian, plays this boys song because, who knows, maybe the Kazakhs are coming.


8) Handsome Smart Young Man (Seden zaluu)

Dan khuuryn tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

A song to make people feel happy. In the early days it was accompanied by a particular dance, which has now been forgotten. These days people start improvising their dance on the melody, each in their own way. Dancing beautifully, handsome, smart, as artists.


9) White Tooraan (Tooraan tsagaan)

Duu tatlaga, Hoton‑ Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle and singing: Ganbold Muuukhai and Ganzorig Nergui. Singing: Palamjaw Childee.

White Tooraan, White Tooraan sands

            Whiter by far, whiter by far in the distance

Whew jet‑black, whew jet‑black, black marble

Come this way, come this way, my lovely

A tatlaga on a waltz rhythm continuously repeating the same melodic theme.


10) Blue Black Horse (Jonon khariin yawdal)

Don khuuryn tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

An average quick tempo piece played with a delightful sound colour in honour of the blue black horse, which was a good horse.


11) Red Ox (Uyeiin ulaan tsar)

Domogtoi tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

'Once upon a time there was a family, known because of their talents in cattle husbandry. Sometimes they exchanged animals and animal products for other necessary items with passing traders at market places. One day they exchanged a red castrated bull. However, the bull never got used to his new owners. Remembering his place of birth he escaped and ran back to his old home, leaving the trader with a bad deal.' This tatlaga depicts the bull's journey back home.


12) An Orchestration On Göölöö And Gem Gom (Göölöö, Gemgormiin tsomorlog)

Folk tune, Dorvod‑Mongolian. Singing and horse­ head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai, Bjambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Tovshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee.

a) Göölöö (Göölöö)

'On a mountain near a mountain spring, a girl named Göölöö used to meet her lover. Each time they met he gave her a coloured cloth, every time a different colour. He was not the only one admiring the girl. Jooja, a young man, loved her too, following her wherever she went. Göölöö never met or knew about him, but one day suspected somebody was following her up the mountain. Knowing it could not be her expected lover, she returned home in a hurry, troubled by the idea that another man showed interest in her. At home she decided to sing a song to remember her lover while pulling out of a bag the coloured cloths he had given her, piece by piece. In this way she hoped that, Jooja Would get the message and would not surprise her on the hills one day and take her away, an act that would make her his.

b) It's no mistake so do not blame (Geni goill)

To holdand plav the tovshuur is not wrong so do not blame.

To live together and start our life, is no mistake so do not blame.


13) The Baby Camel Is A Moon-White As The Mother Camel (Sarig tsagaan ingenii, yarig tsagaan botgo)

Don khuuryn tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai

 'In the distant past there was it khan who had to send 1000 camels as a tribute to China. Having only 999 camels he decided he had no choice but to send a mother camel vith the caravan to complete the tribute. Her baby camel, left without a mother, cried and looked for her ever after, but never found her again.

' Listen to the young baby crying oil the morin khuur!.


14) Mongolian Bull (Mongoliin bukh)

 Domogtoi tatlaga, Hoton‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

'Once upon a time there was a poor person who had only one bull. Other people desperately wanted to obtain this fertile and strongly built bull. As expected the poor person had to sell his bull. Selling the bull to a Chinese trader he lost his fast precious property (the Chinese have traded extensively in the west of Mongolia bringing tea, silk and cotton with them.) Eventually things turned out well for the poor man. The bull felt homesick (or didn't like the grass in China) and escaped to find his way back home where his eventual return was celebrated by the poor man. Ever since Mongolian people have loved fertile male animals.' At first glance this story seems the same as that of the castrated bull but there are differences. The castrated bull isn't considered very useful and so in all probability he was eaten after his return home. The journeys of these two bulls also sound different. The fertile bull makes a lowing sound as soon as he sees a family gathering of gers on his way, the castrated bull remaining quiet, leaving only the sound of his steps behind.


15) Shuvtardag (Shuvtardag)

Duu bii tatlaga, Bayad‑Mongolian. Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai.

Shuvtardag, translated as 'to stroke', refers to a playing technique. Shuvtardag involves light caressing strokes over the strings using the left hand, creating flageolets. This is not like the playing of glissandi notes to move from one specific tone to another tone. These are arbitrary strokes, which ornament the music and soften the sound. The Shuvtardag dancer dances with the palms of the hands held upwards, back straightened and legs bent up to an angle of 55 degrees.


16) A Suite Or Medley Of Tatlagas And Folk Songs (Hoton archin tatlagarim tsomorlog)

Bii duu domogtoi tatlaga, Hoton, Dörvöd, Bayad  Mongolian. Singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai, Biambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Tobshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee

a) Dance of worship (Mörgöl bii) A Hoton group dance in which only the upper part of the body is moved, while the knees are bent and legs spread. The standing position does not change.

b) Dancing sun white (Naaraan tsaaraan duut bii)

'Who is this dancer, I can't tell.

He dances with such quick movements, faster than the wind,

his body melting away, disappearing in the air.'

c) Magnificent tatlaga dance (Ikh tatlaga bii) 'Long, long ago there was a Dörvöd igil musician visiting a Hoton family where he spent one night. The whole night he amused the people by playing tatlagas on his instruments, while the Hoton family members danced. Since this igil tatlaga music was new to them they improvised a dance that they later named Magnificent tatlaga dance. Western Mongolian music and dance unites in this Magnificent tatlaga dance and its music, so some Dörvöd people say.'

d) Blessed Zhuuraa (Zhuuraa gelden duut bii)

'She was born out of corn and her name is Zhuuraa, the most beautiful of beauties.

When she dances she is like a gold coloured camel.

When she dances and plays igil (a kind of fiddle) she's like a female camel.

When she belly dances she's like the walk of a baby camel.'.


17) The Ridges Of Khan Khökhug Mouni Ain (Khan khökhiig nuruu)

Improvisation on nature sounds. Horse head fiddle: Biambahishig Llhagva (horse neighs and bird whistles), Ganbold Muukhai and Ganzorig Nergui (overtone singing). Tovshuur and animal sounds: Palamjaw Childee.

Saaral, a legendary horse‑head fiddle player, was capable of telling a story on his instrument from beginning to end, without using words. He could produce the sound of a horse coming from a far, arriving at a family settlement where dogs bark in warning and horses neigh in surprise, and the hosts bring their ritual greetings to the guest. The ridges of Khan Kökh Mountain is a song improvised by Altai‑Hangai and comparable with Saaral’s music, leading the listener in sound as if on horseback over the mountain pass of Kökh Mountain in Western Mongolia. Listen carefully and see if you can recognise the clanging sound of iron stirrups.


18) Lullaby (Buuwein Duu)

Overtone singing Ganzong Nergui.

Now you little toddler stay fine,

So that you grow up and become a hero


Buuwei, buuwei, buuwei

Lullaby from Hovd province


19) A Dance Together (Tsotgaan Biilye)

Bii tatiaga, Oirat‑ Mongolian, Horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai. Tovsshuur and dancing: Palamjaw Childee

This musical melody has no legend attached to it. Accordingly the melody is danced to freely, without restrictions on the body movements or dance figures.


20) Among Real Friends (Bögöödjei yackaw)

Folk Tune, Dörvöd-Mongolian, Singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai, Biambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Tovshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee

A song about how the love for life blossoms among friends.

Among more than sixty thousand friends,

Certainly there is the red fire of love,

Among more than a hundred thousand young people

            Certainly there, is love at first sight


21) Horse from Khotgoid (Khotgoidiin unaga)

Folk Tune, Dörvöd-Mongolian, Singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai, Biambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Tovshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee

In Zanabazar’s era (Mongolia’s religious leader and artist from 1639 until 1723), the khotgoid people, known as hard working people, worked as frontier guards, since they were also known as people who like to keep sheep within the fence. Once one of the peace keepers brought with him a big shanaga (saucepan) which he used to feed the army of people. On a dull day he carved out of this shanaga an instrument like a horse head fiddle, but with a deep bass sound and a dragons head on top. The song Horse from Khotgoid, which is about the Khotgoid horses that were undefeated in horse races, was most likely played on a shanaga fiddle.


22) Song in Praise of the Hangai Mountains (Hangain Magtaal)

Magtaal, Singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganbold Muukhai, Biambahishig Lhagva. Overtone singing and horse‑head fiddle: Ganzorig Nergui. Tovshuur and singing: Palamjaw Childee

A song refecting on the natural surroundings of the Hangai mountain range. Hangai is located in Arhangai province, central Mongolia.




Mongolia can roughly be divided into three main areas of musical practice, representing western, eastern and central Mongolia. Tatlagas are most popular in Western Mongolia alongside magtaals (praise songs). The Gobi area of Central Mongolia is particularly famous for its long songs, but tatlagas, mostly unaccompanied by dancing, are practiced as well. In the east of Mongolia magtaals are generally played. The Western and Gobi styles of playing tatlagas differ from each other. In the Gobi the sound is more melodic. The musicians use fewer of the double‑string bowing techniques that characterize tatlagas and instead make more use of single strings, enabling them to move smoothly up to higher pitches. In the Western Mongolian style it is uncommon to use such an extended diapason, and relatively small intervals in one octave are employed. The differences and variations in style complicate the true definition of a tatlaga. More accurate than the extensive use of double‑string techniques as a way of describing tatlagas is the definition hidden in the name 'tatlaga', meaning 'strong pull', which refers to the strong accents made while bowing, creating a strong cadence. This cadence is intensified by the frequent and cyclical repetition of rhythmic and melodic phrases, and by the repetition of song text lines. In the Dance of worship (song #16a) cadence creates the impression of a mantra recitation.


Tatlaga dancing of Western Mongolia

A fine tatlaga dancer is able to express the same rhythmical accents that are found in the music, requiring a completely different muscular control than, for example, is needed in classical ballet dancing. Imagine yourself trying to catch a fly. First you are watching, concentrating without any tension in the arm muscles, but then ... all of a sudden you need to tighten the muscles in a grasping movement. The same sudden tension and use of energy is applied in tatlaga dance movements. The dancer performs, using these 'attacks', repeating phrases like the musicians, catching a strong cadence. Historically tatlaga is not a religious or cult music, like magtaals or long songs for example. It’s music is designed for entertainment, relaxation and social purposes. Here, entertainment does not imply a constant flow of happiness and fun, but something more sensitive than that. While performing the dancer communicates his or her own feelings and emotions. A dancer's performance is considered beautiful if the dancer is able to dance in a modest and honest way. Everyone can join the circle of tatlaga dance and music, and one may be a dancer, musician, singer and listener all in the same evening. At the end of the evening everybody is supposed to feel better thanks to the divergent range of emotions that have been celebrated, both happy and sad. And some will say with a wink, 'without the horse‑head fiddle the evening wouldn't have been as good'. In Western Mongolian dancing the performers mainly dance with the shoulders, upper arm, under arm, wrist, fingers, head and eyes. The legs are relatively unimportant. Palainjaw, the dancer of Altai‑Hangai, thinks this is due to dancing a lot inside the ger (yurt) which reduces free movement. Western Mongolian dances start slow and end with faster movements, or they start with faster movements, have a slow middle part and then end with faster movements once again.


Legends, stories and dancing

The different ethnic groups in Mongolia treasure different legends and interpretations of these connected to tatlagas. A tatlaga dance expresses these stories with a kind of pantomime. The dancer makes abstract movements recalling work activities (making felt, grinding grain, harvesting or making tea) or by imitating nature (the movements of trees, water and the wind).


Mongolian song texts

Traditional Mongolian music is seldom purely instrumental, song texts being a basic musical component. Even when music is purely instrumental as in some tatlagas, words are connected to it through legends or ideas, and these will be expressed in musical sound. In long songs, texts poetically praise the beauty of nature. These words are fixed and will not be replaced by others during the performance. The text and general melodic lines are the toys with which the performer may improvise. Each musician introduces variations and ornaments the text‑based melody in their own preferred tune and rhythm by extending the duration of the words. In magtaals and yarig tuuls (speech like epic singing) words are also central to the creative process. The poetic qualities of a musician should be shown by the spontaneous uttering of words and the ability to vary the melody and text, as well as the contents of the story. Long songs are sometimes sung without instrumental accompaniment, sung tatlagas never so. This is because tatlaga is primarily a string music genre, the use of song texts having a different application than in long songs, magtaals or yarig tuuls. The tatlaga song texts are neither improvised nor tools for improvisation, and their poetic quality is not so important. The tatlaga song texts are chosen for their sound rather than their content, to match the melodic cadence played by the horse‑head fiddle player, In tatlaga, it is the thematic idea or legend that matters above all, creatively expressed in instrumental music and if possible accompanied by dance.



Mongolian rhyme is alliterative, and stanzas are built up of two, three or four lines. Sentences are built up of adjectives, all having nearly the same meaning, and often lack verbs, which makes them hard to translate. The content of tatlaga songs is both serious and playful. As in other traditional Mongolian songs the texts appear to be joyful and sentimental, never giving direct expression to death, illness or pain. Mentioning bad things in songs is avoided. This springs from a deep cultural belief that uttering words of pain attracts the latter to you. At the same time repetition of synonymous good and joyful words is seen as a kind of magic formula. Care is taken in the use of numbers in song texts too. Certain numbers being a bad omen ‑ like seven ‑ are banned from the texts, while lucky numbers like three and nine and other less important uneven numbers are used in abundance. Bad subjects are sung about, covered in more pleasant ironic terms, as in political songs dating from the times of Chinese rule.


Horse‑head fiddle

The horse‑head fiddle is decorated with a horse's head carved from wood, and has two strings made of horsehair. The instrument has a hoarse voice, combined with an unexpectedly clear tone. While resonating the independent hairs in each string create a diffuse sound of overtones through interference. In Mongolia these secondary tones are admired. In tatlagas this diffuse sound is strongly emphasized by the simultaneous playing of natural flageolets, ' broken flageolets and double‑string techniques and by making light strokes with the left hand over the strings while bowing. Listen carefully and you will be surprised to hear so many tones seemingly unintentionally jumping around the general melody. The clearness in sound produced by the instrument is a recent achievement,' having come about in the 1960s. Influenced by the European cello the look and the sound of the horse‑head fiddle have changed. In former days the sonorous sound was mainly produced through the small high‑pitched flageolets and the sound did not reach far. Nowadays sounds approaching those of a cello can be obtained. Replacing the skin cover on the sound-box with wood is one example of change. The change in sound is not only due to changes in the instrument itself. European string‑playing techniques have acquired growing popularity alongside traditional techniques throughout the country since the 1960’s.



The tovshuur is a plucked instrument with an oval sound‑box covered with skin, and is a familiar instrument in Western Mongolia. It is used for the simple but charming accompaniment of singing without having a virtuoso repertoire of its own. In ensembles together with the horse‑head fiddle, the instrument is tuned the same way as the latter, being a fourth apart (F‑Bb), though sometimes it is tuned a fifth (F‑C) apart as in the songs Red OX and Mongolian bull. The exact height of the tuning pitch is decided upon according to the singers' voices. On the whole the tuning shouldn't be too high.


Legend of the tovshuur

The first tovshuur was made from a saucepan, called a shanaga milk pan in Mongolia. 'A long long time ago there was a woman called Nonjgoi, known for her beautiful voice. She lived with her parents near a lake with eight swans (swans always move in couples). The young woman used to go to the lake in the mornings to wash her face and hands in the fresh cold water. One morning walking towards the river the girl, suffering from bad health, collapsed and died on the spot. One of the swans, happening to he at that very same spot, flew away, not to be seen again for' three Years. This swan returned after three years, circling around the fatal spot ready to die. A young mail who had loved the woman saw this happen and, regarding it as a precious omen, decided the girl's voice should be kept for eternity. He went home to get his family shanaga, which he dressed with strings. As a scroll on top of the handle he carved a human's head. In memory of the swan he made a second shanaga khuur 'with a swan's head decoration.


Throat singing

In Mongolia a broad variety of singing styles and techniques are used. The most famous of these is throat singing ‑ creating a bitonal sound. In general this singing can be divided into three similar techniques. Khöömii: the 'high' technique, the overtone melody is strong and the bass tone soft; shakhai: the 'middle' technique, the bass sound and overtones are both equally strong; kharkhiraa: the 'low' technique, a strong rough chest sound. A singer develops his own suitable way of singing, possibly a combination of the high and middle, or middle and low techniques. The exceptional singers are able to perform all three of the techniques. In Mongolian non‑bitonal singing ‑ generally referred to in Mongolia as folk styles as opposed to European opera singing techniques ‑ a nasal and guttural sound is produced as well. Altai Hangai musicians call this 'singing with free escaping sounds'.


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