One of the advantages of a music scene that’s as small and young as the one in Ulaanbaatar is that if someone is passionate enough about something, they can make it their own.
Reggae fanatic Gansukh Bilegdemberel, who goes by “Bidi”, is one great example.
One of the most interesting things about a music scene as small and young as the one in Ulaanbaatar is that every band seems to be the first at something. I have met with members of the first Mongolian grunge, punk, metal, folk rock, and alternative bands – all of which are still performing.
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Munkherdene, more commonly known as ‘Gee’, is one of Mongolia’s more notorious rappers. His aggressive and vulgar lyrics and commanding presence have helped him make a name for himself. He’s known for rapping about corruption in the government, environmental degradation, the ger district (where he grew up), and, most notably, his anti-Chinese stance. He’s been featured in articles about a changing Mongolia and is one of three central characters in the new documentary, ‘Mongolian Bling’. Love him or hate him, Gee is one of Mongolia’s most (in)famous rappers.
I first met the 28 year-old last November, when I was still getting acquainted with UB’s music scene. I had heard about Gee from Benj Binks, director of ‘Mongolian Bling’, and a few expats who warned me of the violent side of Mongolia’s hip-hop scene. But I had yet to hear a track or see a picture when he caught my eye at a concert for pop singer Naran’s CD release.
Gee is a large man. He’s well over 6 feet tall and has the bulk to make one second guess engaging in an argument. He wears baggy pants and oversized sweatshirts with screen-printed Mongolian symbols. There is always a heavy chain around his neck, which holds the large talisman his shaman gave him. His head is shaved down to the skin. Tattoos adorn his hands, arms and even cheek. The tattoos on his right arm pay homage to some of his musical heroes (the Wu-Tang Clan and Tupac), while the tattoos on his hands show his Mongolian side. The proverb split between the two hands reads: ‘Aibal buu khii; Khiibal buu ai’ (translation: ‘If you are scared, don’t do it; If you did it, don’t be scared’).
He has the personality to back up such an imposing presence. There’s a boyish arrogance to him that comes off as cocky, yet he has a certain charisma that is sort of endearing. He walks with a swagger and is not shy to exploit his size. During an interview he told me he was the best Mongolian rapper with the most impressive crew, which includes UB’s best graffiti artist, best tattoo artist, and best beat makers. In fact, two members of his noteworthy crew sat silently sipping tea at a table nearby during our hour-long interview.
The second time I met Gee, he was performing for a televised music award ceremony. I sat with him, another rapper, and the members from folk rock band Jonon, during the 2 hour-long shoot. There were about ten acts (mostly pop bands who lip-synched to recordings of their recent hits) and two emcee’s interviewed musicians in between acts. Throughout the show, Gee was almost happy to show his disinterest by playing video games on his handheld device or loudly laughing at other performers. After they played their song, Gee was given the top award (something like ‘Musician of the Year’), which he accepted with palatable disinterest.
This is not the way I would ever choose to perform at a public event (especially a televised one). Yet, I couldn’t help but feel glad that I was sitting at Gee’s table. Despite his arrogance, or perhaps because of it, I found I was eager to be on his good side. It felt eerily similar to social interactions back in middle school – a period I spent seeking acceptance from people I didn’t actually like.
Hip-hop is a musical genre dominated by men the world over. And so when a woman follows her passion for rap and makes a name for herself, it’s worth paying attention to.
Gennie is not the only female rapper in Mongolia, but she is certainly one of the most resilient and one of the first. Just 25 years old, Gennie has made a name for herself in the Monoglian hip-hop scene. While she has yet to release an album of her own, she has been featured on several of Mongolia’s top rappers’ songs. She is also one of three central characters in the newly finished documentary, ‘Mongolian Bling.’
A few weeks ago ten of Mongolia’s top new alternative rock bands showed off their skills under one roof. It was the annual NisNis Fest, a concert hosted by Mongolia’s first grunge band, Nisvanis. This year’s show marked the 16th anniversary of the Nirvana-inspired group. It was only fitting that the band that in many ways paved the way for today’s vibrant and varied music scene feature some of the groups expanding the scene today.