Altai-Hangai is a group of musicians and singers from Mongolia. Named after the Altai mountains and the Hangai steppes, large natural reserves in Central and Western Mongolia. Formed by four people from that area in 1993, they have spent much time spreading their music through Europe and the US. Using traditional Mongolian instruments and forms, not only do they produce traditional music, but they have recently started producing some jazz fusion music as well.

The Players

Palamshav Childaa (Good Day) - The main source for material and song texts for the group, Palamshav is the son of a herdsman from the Uvs province. Born in 1959, he has travelled round the world, playing the tovshuur, performing traditional, and modern, Mongolian dances. He has played with many different artists, from a wide range of cultures, giving him the ability to fuse different styles. Palamshav is also the groups Shaman.

Ganbold Muukha (Inflexible Metal) - Also born in Uvs, in 1970, Ganbold's family is a family of camel drivers. This doesn't tell the whole story, as they are also highly creative musicians, singers and dancers. Ganbold sings, plays the horsehead fiddle, the piano, cello and accordian. His ability to play the more Western instruments probably occured during his professional training at the Music and Dance College in Ulaan Batar.

Ganzorig Nergui (Strong Heart) - From Selenge, his father was a herdsman. During their travels across the steppes Ganzorig learned to sing and imitate the whistles of birds. A talented throat-singer, he has recently taken to the horseshead fiddle to accompany his singing. He is also an excellent tsuur flute player.

Byambakhishig Lhagva (Saturday's Present) - Born in Gobi-Altai, in 1974, the son of a woodcarver and long-song singer, Byambakhishig is highly talented horsehead fiddle player and singer. His entertaining traits came through early, and he had already appeared in a film by the time he was ten. His only musical experience outside Mongolia is with the rest of the group.

How They Met

Well, according to one CD insert, it was like the following....

During 1993, at the begining of summer, near Khudlaani Nuur, there was a little hamlet. Here the locals, and some travellers gathered to celebrate (it was the begining of Summer afterall). The festivities had already been going on for two days when the group met.

Ganzorig was signed up for the Bokh games, a Mongolian version of wrestling. However, he was no match for the competition and was knocked out in the first round. When the second round started he joined the singers, encouraging and judging the wrestlers.

Meanwhilst, Byambakhishig was concentrating, staring right down his arrow, aiming for the center of the bay. As the CD insert states, 'The bow was bent to its limits, while visions of Dzhenggis Khan's master-archers harrassed Byambakhishig's mind. A sudden tremble in the muddy ground on the moment supreme ruined Byamba's chances to follow the footsteps of his famous forebears.' The arrow had passed the bay to the left, and so Byambabakhishig was left to return to his morin khuur for solace.

The tremble in the ground was caused by a herd of horse hooves. They were racing, but had lost their way and passed only meters away from the archery tournament. The frontrunner was Ganbold with his horse Dragonfly, he was the first to pass the post, only to find that he had crossed it the wrong way. The win was claimed by an unknown horseman who, though slow, had kept to the course. To ease his sorrows Ganbold returned to his morin khuur

Right in the center of the party ground, surrounded by the wild kumiss drinkers, there was another competition, a more modern day competition, though still very practical - The Annual Car Maintanance Competition. A genuine Mongolian national sport, the skill displayed here has saved many lives during drives through the barren deserts and steppes. Today was Palamshav's day. He was the first to crawl from beneath his car and drink the bowl of kumiss, he then performed a wild dance, out of pure excitement. Amazed at this onlookers persuaded him to look for some good musicians to accompany him.

This was not hard for The Champion of Car Maintanance. Over the hubbub of the crowd he could hear the high whistles of a talented throat-singer. Once there he found an otherwise unobtrusive young man and nearby a morin khuur player, with another just stringing his instrument. He summoned them for an evening of music, dance and drink. This was the begining of Altai-Hangai.

Albums

The only album this noder has found is called 'Gone with the Wind', subtitled 'Songs of the Steppes' on the CD front cover and 'Whimsical Whoopee Mongolian Melodies' on the CD itself. Comprising 16 songs, it is a tour of traditional Mongolian music. More albums will be added, as they are found.

Gone with the Wind - Play List

It is very difficult to describe the singing and tunes. Some are toe-tapping, some insert themselves into your head and go round and round, others just flow right over you. Some of the touches are incredible, in some songs it sounds like the animals, not just 'sounds like the animals' as a metaphore, but actually sounds like horses whinneying. Really good.

  1. Khuur Melodies - 'We express and praise, in song, the fine gentle sounds of the Altai, Hangai and Gobi plains.'
  2. Altai Praise Song - A ubiquetous tune, played by every Mongolian musician. This makes it a way to judge the style and qualities of the artist among Mongols. Its performance, on the Altai itself, during Tsagan Sar is still a venerated, sacred event.
  3. Khoomil - An overtone song, performed by Ganzorig. About a man racing towards his irresistable love, on the best of all horses - a pacer.
  4. The Nicest Auburn Horses - This song celebrates the most special of horses, which deserves to have the most delicate saddle, from the hand of Sanbuu, because of its extrodinary character.
  5. Bordshigan - This song is about the village Bordshigan and the traditions and ways of its famous craftsmen.
  6. The Five Kazakhs - An air based on a legend about Kazakhs who raid and plunder a Mongolian village.
  7. The Trot of an Uulgan Shar Camel - This is what the CD insert says about this song, 'Every morning camels spread their piteous-sounding cries over the vast plains of the Gobi desert. The moving moos of the camels bring Mongols to tears, while the Mongols' khuur-play can bring camels to tears. Here the khuur renders the camelmoose, preceded by the rather shaky camel trot. Beware, this mutual tearjerker may do you brown, too!'
  8. Khookhoo Namjil - The name of a legendary frontier guard. This man is said to have produced the first Mongolian fiddle, the argasuun, from the parts of his best horse.
  9. Praise Song to the Military Horses - From the CD insert, 'Under the roof of blue Mongolia, the horse army, famous the world over. The historical army praised forever.'
  10. The Four Oirat Tribes - The CD insert says 'When the Mongols move to new pastures, not only their hearts cry. The dog peeps silently and breathes restlessly, while the horses, the camels and the young cattle, grown attached to the place, move on in silence'
  11. Four Mountains - Again the CD insert says it best when it says, 'Musing about a lost love at the sight of a vunerable chicken hidden in a chasm.'
  12. Ode to Mandukhai Khutan - A song about this famous woman, the only known female leader in Mongolian history.
  13. The Black Dragonfly from the Gobi - A tune describing what a Mongol hears when a black dragonfly from the Gobi passes his ger or arwan nek davger te baishin
  14. Bogd Dundschin garav - A song praising a mountain near Ulaan Baatar, or more precisly its spiritual qualities and sacred sites. Calling its name, or even talking about it, is considered, at the best, mischevious and maybe even downright dangerous whilst on its slopes.
  15. Praise Song for Bogd Khan Mountain - A song praising the natural beauty of the same mountain and surroundings. The mountain is named after the last of Mongolia's religous leaders, or Bogd Khans.
  16. Dzhenggis Khan Praise Song - An account of the birth and life of this, the worlds mightiest ruler ever.

How This Noder Found Them

Wandering through Amsterdam one time we came to The Rijksmuseum. Now, if you have never seen this building, it is big - really big. Right through the middle of it is this vaulted tunnel leading to the Museumplein. The tunnel is also big - 30 feet tall, 100 meters long, drive a car through it nae bother, sort of thing. As we neared it, I heard what I first thought to be Scottish Gaelic singing. Getting nearer it became clearer that it wasn't.

The throat-singing reverberated throughout the walkway, you could almost feel it in your chest. All of a sudden we came upon these four people sitting there, dressed in costume - Mongolian traditional costume, we now know - surrounded by a fair crowd. They were singing and playing these strange instruments and in front of them they had a box of CD's. At 30 Guilders, I thought 'bargain' and bought it. 30fl well spent. I am now looking for any other albums they have done.

On another note any links to Mongolian phrases will be noded when I get time (but I am away to Amsterdam for the next week or so - woohoo :) so it may take a whiley

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