While Altan Urag and Jonon are certainly the most well-known folk rock bands, plenty of others are adapting traditional Mongolian instruments to more modern genres. The jazz group Arga Bileg adds a piano to the horse-head fiddle and zither ensemble. They also include long song over syncopated rhythms, creating an entirely unique style.
It seems the possibility for experimentation is limitless. I’ve heard of beat boxers playing with throat-singing, trans music that includes long song, and I know of one young Mongolian man who is interested in creating a reggae band using all Mongolian instruments.
This folk-modern fusion isn’t limited to more experimental artists. This past fall it became mainstream when one of Mongolia’s biggest pop stars, Bold, released an album called “Mongol Pop”. He premiered the album with a concert series at one of the city’s biggest venues where he performed in a deel (traditional Mongolian robe) in front of images of wild horses and included a wide array of traditional Mongolian instruments. The album has been well-received here in Ulaanbaatar, and he was even awarded a special honor from President Elbegdorj.
The most unique and personally catching musical genre I’ve come across in my three months here in Mongolia is folk rock. I admit, the label ‘folk rock’ doesn’t exactly evoke excitement for a future listener, but the title is an apt one. It describes the combination of traditional Mongolian instruments, songs and vocal techniques with their more modern counterparts.
Like most genres in Mongolia, the folk rock scene is intimate. There are only a handful of groups regularly performing in this new style.
A Note on Traditional Music
To understand folk rock, it helps to know a little about the folk part of the title. Mongolian traditional music is unique and ancient. The style is reminiscent of the country’s vast and open landscape with long notes, natural sounding instruments, and earthy vocals. A song’s lyrics will often focus on nature, family, or Mongolia’s great war hero, Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan.
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