Vocal & Instrumental Music of Mongolia (Various artists) : (orginally 2 tangent LP’s) Topic records TSCD909 (Rec. April/May 1974)

These fascinating field recordings were made by ethnomusicologist Jean Jenkins. The Two khöömii tracks feature the great late Sundui. Unlike most Mongolian CD’s, the milking songs, finger/bone game songs and praise songs give a insighrt into the way song is an intrinsic part of traditional Mongolian life. There are solo recordings of most of the Mongolian musical instruments including a great bamboo jaw’s harp played by Chimmidorj (maybe the khöömii singer).


Vocal music


1 Long song  The sun that shines above the earth (Uyahan Zambutivin Naram)

   Duet, sung by Sumya and Orchibat, accompanied on the morin xuur or horse head fiddle. The  

   one couplet given here speaks of  the warm sun which rises again & again throughout the entire

   world,  unendingly. This is a good example of the extended range & elaborate vocal

   ornamentation of the song. Rec. Arvay Heere, Overhangai Aimak, Central Mongolia

2a Shortsong The ten fingers of the hand (Garyn Arvan Huriin)

    Sung by Monyi, a camel herder of south‑west Mongolia. This popular song, with its small

    range and simple melody is dramatically different from the older form of the previous band.

    The words tell, in the two verses sung here, of the long straight fingers with the ring of pure  

    gold, and then ask why he has hemmed his sleeves in black silk and given his love to a

    foreigner. It is sung frequently on the  radio, from which Monyi probably learnt it.

b Another short song by Monyi The fifteen day moon (Arvan Tauni Sax)

    The text speaks of the 15 day old moon, which is the lantern of the sky as the 15 year old girl

    is the lantern of her parents; the 25 day old moon, however, lights all the universe as the 25

    year old woman light's her lover's life.

  Both rec. in Khalium, Gobi Altai district, South West Mongolia


3 Long song My Beautiful brown horse (Ort Saikhan)

   It is sung by a famous long song singer, now in his seventies, Dorj Dawa, and is accompanied    on the Morin xuur and flute. The words tell of a devoted horse, who ran 2000 kilometres back from Peking to die in his native Mongolian homeland

   Rec. in a permanent encampment near the capital ofMongolia, Ulan Bator


4 Praise song In praise of horses (Morni magtaal)

   Chanted by Jambal, now, in his seventies. It praises the strong and fast horses of the Gob! Altai region which have been running in the national horse races. This

   form of song, sometimes sung and sometimes chanted, is common in Mongolia. The singer is given a subject and after a few minutes must produce a praise song

   on the topic. Many of the traditional phrases are re‑employed by singer after singer, but the more original the contribution the more highly esteemed is the singer  

   and his praise song.

   Rec. Biger, Gobi Altai region, South West Mongolia


5 Praise song in praise of life in a ger (Geriin magtaal)

   In which Tserendulam enumerates the parts of the ger (Mongolian tent, which is called yurt in Russian), how they are made, what they remind her of, how good

   luck stays in the family ger, each motif or decoration and how it resembles the natural flowers and animals of the Gobi.

   Rec. Away Heere, Overhangai region, Central Mongolia



6 Long song My little light bay horse (Djaham sharakh)

   Sung by Lamja, and accompanied on the morin xuur or horse head fiddle. Both the singer, a professional musician, and the song, are from Sukhe Bator in the

   Eastern Gob!. The song, only one couplet of which is given here, tells of a bay horse, now tired and running slowly, and compares it with the young girl he loved,

  and for whom his heart grieves. The vocal embellishments and extended range of the long song are notable here.

   Rec. Ulan Bator, Central Mongolia


7 Mouth music (Khöömii or xöömii)

   This is a complicated technique producing the vocal equivalent of the Jew's harp by means of considerable tension and strain on the uvula and pharynx, and using

   the mouth cavity for resonance. As with the Jew's harp (in Mongolia as in south east Asia and the Far East, traditionally made of bamboo) changing the shape of

   the mouth cavity changes the notes by allowing different resonances to predominate. Few people today can produce this type of mouth music. Here Sundui, who

   comes from the province of Kobda in the extreme western part of Mongolia and who is now a professional musician, performs the melody of first, a love song,

   and second, a song about the high mountains of the Gobi.

   Rec. Ulan Bator


8 Milking songs

   These differ not only from place to place, but more important differences occur with each type of animal.Each man or woman sings to his own animal, to soothe

   her; the combined voices gives a polyphonic (or possible heterophonic !) effect.

a Goats; women sing Rec. Khurimt, near Khalium, Gobi Altai district, S. W. Mongolia

b Cows and the hybrid cow/yaks; men sing

c Camels; men sing and keep the newly‑born calves away from the mothers. Rec. Teriget, E. of Biger, Gobi Altai district, S. W.


9 Wrestler's song (Buohiim taal)

    The wrestler announces his team for the great match; he praises the skill, determination, bravery, tricks and strong muscles of each wrestler. This type of praise

    song precedes each wrestling match, and wrestling is a traditional sport in Mongolia. The announcer is Dolamjov.

    Rec. Arvay Heere, Overhangal district, Central Gobi


10 Finger games (Dembee and Khualakh)

     Finger games (each player holds out a number of fingers and the one who correctly predicts the total wins). The opposing players, and onlookers as well, use

     sung rhymes to count up the points. These vary from place to place and even from family to family. The men's game is called Dembee, the woman's Khualakh.

    Five types are indicated briefly to give an idea of the varieties.

    Men a) Rec. Arvay Heere b) Rec. Ulan Bator c) Rec. Ulan Bator

    Women d) Rec. near Ulan Bator e) Rec. near Ulan Bator


11 Shagai‑harvah

     Shagai harvah is an old and traditional game played by men, in which a box with bones "tenpins" are hit or "shot" with a bone projected at them from a distance

    of four to five yards. The players are divided into teams and both they and those who are watching hum in chorus. Here too there is considerable regional

    variation; two fragments are given here.

    a Rec. Arvay Heere b Rec. Gobi Altai


12 Long song My beautiful Hangai land (Seruun saikhan Hangai)

     Long song, sung by Sumya, who is accompanied on the morinxuur played by Orchirbat. The extended range, the vocal ornamentation, and the love and longing

     for the homeland of the long song are beautifully in evidence in this song.

     Rec‑ Arvay Heere, Overhangai district, Central Mongolia


Instrumental music


13 Morin Xuur Solo

     The two‑stringed fiddle with a trapezoidal body and skin face has a long, thin neck ending in a horse head scroll; the strings are of twisted horsehair. Formerly all

     men were expected to be able to play the morin xuur,' today in towns it is a more specialised activity and the modern professional musician uses a greatly

     strengthened fiddle with wood replacing the skin face, and employing modem bowing techniques. Here are two versions of Morayi Tovorgoon or "The Galloping

     Horse", the first played on an old‑style fiddle and the second by a professional on a new fiddle.

  a Solo by Demidinsun Rec. Biger, Gobi Altai province, S. W. Mongolia

  b Solo by Gemain Gornbodrij Rec. Ulan Bator


14 Limbe solo

     The limbe is the transverse flute, usually made of bamboo but occasionally nowadays of metal. This type of flute is found throughout the Far East, and the best

     ones still come from China. This one has 6 finger holes and one hole covered with a membrane; the player of solo (a) learned from his father in the Middle Gobi

     forty years ago. Two Solos are presented here. The first, Durvamtsag or "Four Seasons" is played by a professional musician; the second is played by a


 a Solo by Dorj Maidar Rec. near Ulan Bator

 b Solo by Cholumbat Rec. Biger, Gobi Altai district, S. W Mongolia


15 Hoxuur solo

     The hoxuur has a small cylindrical body, face usually covered with snakeskin, and a long thin neck. The bow is fastened between the two (or sometimes two

     pairs of) strings, and the strings are pressed from below or from the side rather than onto the neck. Found throughout the Far East, this form probably originated

     in China. The song is Sungidma, a girl's name, and is played by Dambijantson Gogoy. Rec. near Ulan Bator


16 Shanz Solo

     The shanz is a long‑necked instrument, whose rectangular body (edges slightly rounded) is made of heavy wood and its face covered with snakeskin. The three

    strings are plucked with a plectrum, and it is played by women. Like the hoxuur, the shanz is a Chinese instrument. Here Khahtar is playing a tune of the Torgut

    people, entitled Chadar.

    Rec, Gobi, S.W Mongolia


17 a Yatga solo

     The yatga belongs to the family of long zithers found in many variants throughout the Far East. The Mongolian orchestras at the ancient Chinese courts played the

     yataga or yatga. The local Mongolian type seems to have disappeared in the past few decades, and can be seen only in museums. Its use is now being revived

     with instruments and teacher imported from Korea, where as in China, Japan and  Vietnam, it was used in court ensembles. Here Monghur plays Hoir sit gild or

     "The love of two young men"

   b Tsenherien Haragdah Uul or The faraway blue mountains A love song by Monghur, accompanying herself on the yatga.

      Both rec. Gobi Altal, S. W. Mongolia


18 Morin xuur solo

    Another version of The Galloping Horse (see band 13a and 13b) here played by Aiyush. Rec. Gobi Altai, S. W. Mongolia


19 Long song

    Accompanied by morin xuur played by Orchibat; the singer is Sumya. Here the morin xuur plays its role of following, Intertwining with, and ornamenting the vocal

    line, already richly decorated. The song is Bor Toirmun Byalzuhai, in which, as so often, the love of the countryside, the beloved and the horse are intermingled.

    Rec. Arvay Heere, Overhangai province, Central Mongolia


20 Long song Domun, (the name of a horse)

     Sung by Dorj Dawa, accompanied by morin xuur and limbe, both of which follow the main melody. Rec. near Ulan Bator


21 Jew's harp solos

     The small rectangular bamboo Jew's harp is often used by girls and women, who can attract a man with this music. (The large steel Jew's harp, with a tongue of

     silver, copper or bronze was mostly used by shamans to call the spirits.) Here a professional musician, male, named Chimiddorj, plays on a bamboo Jew's harp

     the melody of:

  a Tsenherien Haragdah ‑ The hazy mountains

  b Goji Nanna (The name of a man) Both rec. Ulan Bator


22 Mouth music (Khöömil or xöömii)

    Although this is not instrumental music; it is an imitation of the Jew's harp music, and is presented here for comparison. (Mongols of the west also have mouth

    music which imitates the flute, limbe, or the 3‑holed whistle flute tzur into which the player also hums.) The original place of Khöömii in Western Mongolia is

    where a river passes between two cliffs and the people tried to imitate the sound; this is a local legend.

    The musician here is Sundul and the melodies are about a horse. Rec. Ulan Bator


23 a Yenchin solo

     The Yenchin is a trapezoidal dulcimer, struck with light beaters. The instrument originated in Persia and spread both westwards and eastwards into China, where

     it was called Yang 'chin or foreign zither to differentiate it from the long zither with an arched soundboard found throughout the Far East. Although a fairly recent

    arrival, it is popular throughout China as well as the whole of Central Asia, and the heavy, elaborate type is now coming into use in Mongolian ensembles. The

    melody here is "The Black Horse" and the player is Endenchimig.

 b  The yenchin, played by Endenchimig, and the shanz, played by Sarantsetseg, accompanying the love song "The Blue and Hazy Mountains sung by Horlov.

     Both rec. Khalium, Gobi Altai province, S.W. Mongolia


24 Morin xuur solo

     A tune of the Hotan people, played by Nonar. Rec. Gobi Altal, S. W. Mongolia


25 Morin xuur solo The boundless space (Sarvetol)

     It is played by Gemain Gombodrij, and it is a song of his birthplace in the Eastern Gobi desert. Rec. near Ulan Bator


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Lyrical Translations


1Do you not know that the gentle warm sun rises again and again

throughout the entire world without setting?


2a(Your) ten fingers are not crooked but straight,

Your ring is not impure but pure gold.

Why have I hemmed my sleeves in black silk?

Why have I given my love to you the foreigner?

The moon on the 15th is the lantern of the sky;

The 15‑year old girl is the lantern of her parents.


2b The moon on the 25th is the lantern of the universe.

     The young lady, 25 years old, is her lover's lantern


                       3.My beautiful slim brown horse,

Has been running from far away;

I have been staying far

From my sweetheart, of whom I have never tired.


     4You (race horses) are symbols and omens of our developed nation,

You are the horses of our beautiful strengthened country;

You are the mounts of the rich Altai,

Who have raced relentlessly in the happy Naadam (National Holidays)

You (race horse) have beautiful ears like a doe

Four legs (as strong as) an elephant's

Four legs like sandalwood, (i.e. beauty)

Six vertebrae in your neck.

Your head is your beauty.

There is no question about your fitness

Your chest is like a male antelope's

And your hips are Wide.

You can run a far distance.

You are like a lion,

You come first among the thousand geldings,

You can stretch an iron bit,

You approach the great tent (end of the line)

 Through far away mountain passes.

Running fast as the wind, relentlessly running in the race.

The dust stirred up in your heart,

you are the symbol of a fine gelding.

The sound of hooves is sweet,

You are the beauty of beauties.

You have a beautiful bird's forehead and male antelope's horn

Wild asses (stir up ) high dust.

You are like a flying arrow.

The outstanding one.

Bless our ten thousand mounts


5 Although the beautiful doorframe was made with a tree from the Hangai (Mountains), it has the shape of a seal.

     Although the beautiful tent poles were made of nicely fitted split pines they have the shape of leaves and flowers.

Although the lucky thread‑shaped lattice was made of criss‑crossed willow wood,

Happiness and joy are full in it.

Although the firm smoke hole of the tent was made with many gaps.

It looks like shining precious stones.

       After building the frame with timbers, the (felt) cover was made of young sheep and lamb's wool seven inches thick,

Which was wetted with graceful heavenly water and stretched by a racehorse.

 (When the Mongols made felts they spread the wool first and wetted it, rolled it and pulled it by a strong horse).

 (The felt) is beautiful

It looks like a white Printed letters are decorated

Creations of a goddess.

 (I) Am holding a long pair of scissors in my skilful hand;

I was taught by my mother and directed by my elder sister

Regarding my skill and knowledge I was educated by the Nation;

Regarding the structure and shape (of the tent) I have built it better than anyone.

Heart and mind have been satisfied with the structure,

Covered it with the best felt which flaps like the King Bird. (Garuda is the king bird in Indian Mythology)

(The tent) is protecting the people from the world's powerful winds and bondless whirlwind.

The hair rope (for tying the tent) was made of the wild chestnut horse and the long hair of the mating bull camel.

The hair ropes were nicely reinforced and tied down firmly.

The twelve leather ropes are like the People's heroes' bowstrings:

Four top ropes of the tent. Have been tied down with ten ropes.



6.My little bay horse,

  Runs slowly, panting tired.

  Thinking of the girl I loved,

  My heart grieves.


7 The chants for Ewes and mother goats Not to reject their lambs and kids. This is the meaning of the song, the words of which are not actually sung. See sleeve note.



8Hark, hark! The western side herald. Shall we announce our wrestlers.

On the 54th anniversary of our People's Revolution of the (Mongolian) People's Republic.

I will announce Dotgorsuren as our wrestler who is a National Nachin (falcon ‑ occupies 5th rank in wrestling)

of our Great National Holiday, and who is from Khujirt Sum of Overhangai Aimag.

He has brought much happiness to his local people and he is an outstanding heroic wrestler

with strong muscles and brave determination.

You must wrestle with all your might and come first in the Great Naadam.

The brilliant forefront, you will make all the people happy

(I shall introduce) the young Nachin Dolgorsuren. (The Herald of the eastern side says)

I will have Sosorburam, who is from Taragt Sum of Overhangai Aimag,

He is an Arslang (the first winner of an aimag wrestling)

and he has completed three rounds and he will test his skills and tricks.



9a  1  Only one, just one thumb

      2  United two; loving two

      3  Solely three (three year old cow)

      4  Beat you by four

     5 Guess by five

     6 Racing by six

      7  Seven high, beat you by seven

      8  Eight friends; beat you by eight

      9  Nine blue, secret nine

 10 Ten in all, all out ten,

 11 Nil (he did not show any finger)


9b Only there is eight

(It) has two eyes three feet.

Who is going to drink the cup of spirit ?

Who is going to guess it is five ?

If you say it is five, who of us can guess ?

If you say it is seven it will be the same.

If you say it is eight then we are the same

If you say it is five, it is alright

If it is steel iron, it has no harm,

We have to follow the tune of fire

Confusing you it has no harm done.

But 1Ishall follow my friend's tune.

 (The sense of these words is not important as they are only used as an accompanient to the game)


10 No exact translation available.



Mongolia, more than half a million square miles of high plateau, of mountains, forests and formidable Gobi desert, is landlocked in northern Central Asia between the borders of the Soviet Union and China. Once a great empire, many of its figures are legendary today. It was from this region that Atilla the Hun, greatest of all the barbarian rulers, invaded and conquered much of Europe in the 5th century A.D. from here, in the 13th century Genghis (Chinghis) Khan, head of a united Mongol force of nomadic tribesmen, led his superb horsemen/warriors to Peking in the east, throughout the Islamic world to the Adriatic in the west. His capital, Karakorum, with its elaborate palace, was not only the centre of government with ambassadors from many parts of the world; it contained temples, mosques, a church, cattle and grain markets, an area devoted to craftsmen of all types, and bazaars with carpets, pottery, gold and silver, and silks. One of his Mongol successors, Kublai Khan, ousted the Sung Dynasty, he moved his capital to China where there was a magnificent court and internal peace and order (this on the testimony of Manco Polo) although externally the wars of conquest and re conquest continued, notably in Russia where the Golden Hord was engaged in constant battles. Another Mongol, Timur (Tamerlane) became master of Central Asia, with his capital Samarkand; he adopted the culture of the area, including Islam, and his conquest of northern India brought a new spirit to that region. A glimpse of the Mongol empires and their famous characters, does not, however, give us much idea of day‑to‑day life in Mongolia, either past or present. Their songs, on the other hand, give an insight into the lives of these million and a half people who graze their horses, yaks, cows and cow/yaks, sheep, goats and the two‑humped Bactrian camels on the seemingly limitless high steppes; people who live in the round white felt tents or gers which are easily transportable and ideally adapted to protect them from the bitter dry cold and wind, who value greatly the manly sports of horsemanship, archery and wrestling, and who are today part of an independent country, the Mongolian People's Republic. Their lives have changed enormously in the past fifty years with the advent of road and air transport, schools, electricity, industry, blocks of flats, government‑sponsored theatre groups and musical ensembles, and most of all with the growth of the towns where the majority of them live today. The traditional music of Mongolia reflects all aspects of their lives and thoughts, past and present.


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