All of this history is important to keep in mind when exploring Ulaanbaatar’s music scene, which is as diverse as it’s 1 million citizens. Traditional Mongolian music is a national treasure and easy to find. Every music shop sells plenty of horse-head fiddles (two-stringed instrument played like a cello with a horse head carved into the top). Another genre seems to be popular among the older population and recent transplants to Ulaanbaatar. I’m not sure what its name is yet, but I liken it to “oldies”. They’re songs that everyone seems to know well, but were written in the past century.
Rock really got its start here in the late 80’s and early 90’s around the time of the revolution. Now, rock bands represent genres like heavy metal, indie rock, folk rock, and even Brit pop.
Pop music is everywhere. It’s almost impossible to step into a cab or walk past a shop without hearing the latest hit from a Mongolian girl or boy band or ballad singer. The tunes have that distinctive pop sound, but mixed with a certain Mongolian flavor.
Finally, there’s the hip hop scene, which, is also uniquely Mongolia. While some artists seem to gravitate toward the universal symbols of luxury vehicles, designer clothes and flat-brimmed baseball hats (mostly American exports), others blend Mongolian traditional instruments into the music supporting their raps.
Live music seems to be a bit of a scarce commodity, but not for lack of venues. A couple bars have stages with full sound systems ready to go, but only host music for twenty minutes at a time a few nights a week. A band will take the stage around 9:30, play four or five songs, and then leave. That’s it!
I was lucky to be invited to a major pop concert a few weeks ago. It was really my introduction to the pop scene. The show was held at the new sporting arena about 30 minutes outside of the city. Around 20 of today’s hottest pop groups in UB played, including Bold, who’s face I have seen everywhere. They each played three to four songs, and that was it. It’s definitely different from what I’m used to in the U.S., but it was a great way to hear a lot of different music in one night.
Here is a list of some of the bands I’ve been able to check out so far: