What does Mongolian music sound like?
As you may already know, Mongolia had the most extensive uninterrupted Empire in the history of civilization. In the 13th century, Genghis Khan and his sons ruled a land that stretched from China to Europe.
During the history of the Mongolian people, there was a famous saying: “A Mongol is born on a horse and dies on a horse.” The Mongolians conquered the world twice on their horses.
Along with their nomadic lifestyle, Mongolians are known for their love of music and singing. Mongolia’s long songs, overtone singing, and the horse-headed fiddle, called the Morin Khuur, are some of the unique things it has given to the world of music.
What makes Mongolian music special?
Folk Music and Mongolian Throat Singing
The country is now home to about 2.5 million Mongolians, most of whom are Buddhists. They live in a country with immense, endless steppes.
Folk and traditional music are integral to the Mongolian people’speople’s culture and way of life. This type of Music from Mongolia has deep roots in their history, the geography of the steppes, and daily tribal life with horses. Mongolians love many things besides music, and their music is a response to their surroundings and way of life as nomads. A long list of reasons to sing and dance includes birthdays, weddings, national holidays, winning a horse race or wrestling match, honoring the elderly, making beer from mare’smare’s milk, cutting wool, combing cashmere, and the harvest.
The Mongolian art of singing is called Khöömei or Hooliin Chor, which means “throat harmony.” It is a style of singing where a single performer makes a harmony of different voice parts, including a bass note that is made in the throat. These singers can sing alone or with other people.
Khöömei is a way of singing from the Altai mountains in the western part of Mongolia. The performer imitates the sounds of nature by making two different vocal sounds at the same time. Along with a steady drone, the singer makes a harmonic melody. Khöömei, which means “pharynx” in English, is thought to have been taught by birds whose spirits are vital to shamanism.
This technique is still performed by Mongolians in several countries, especially in Inner Mongolia in northern China, western Mongolia, and the Tuva Republic of Russia. Songs are usually sung at ritual ceremonies to show respect and praise for the natural world, the Mongolian people’speople’s ancestors, and great heroes.
Different Types of Khöömei Techniques
Mongolia has a lot of different Khoomei techniques, but they all fall into four main styles:
- Kharkhiraa: producing a sound coming from the belly of the performer.
- Narmai Hoomii: sound generated from the nose.
- Shakhai: sound generated from the depths of one’sone’s throat.
- Isgeree: a whistle caused from the mouth.
The form is only used for special events and activities with many people, like horse races, archery and wrestling tournaments, large banquets, and rituals involving sacrifice. Often, the timing and order of songs are stringent. Khoomei has been a critical part of Mongolian culture for a long time. It is still a potent symbol of national or ethnic identity.
Mongolian nomads perform Khoomei at a wide range of social events, from big state ceremonies to parties at home. Khoomei is also sung while herding and putting babies to sleep inside the yurt. Khoomei is usually passed down orally from a teacher to a student or from a master to an apprentice.
You can read about Mongolian music on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage website.
Famous Mongolian music artists who helped familiarize international listeners with these techniques are The Hu (“Human” in Mongol), Altan Urag, and Enkh Jargal.
Urtyin Duu – The Popular Style of Mongolian Music
“Long songs” (Urtyin duu) are a popular style of music in Mongolia. The thing that makes it stand out the most is that each syllable of text is stretched out for a long time. A four-minute song might only have ten words. It has a slow pace, no set rhythm, and gaps between notes.
The more a singer is liked, the stronger and longer their hold. Depending on the context, lyrical themes can be philosophical, religious, romantic, or celebratory. Horses are often a symbol or music that is used over and over in a song. Eastern Mongols usually play with a Morin Khuur (horse-head fiddle) and sometimes a limbe, a native flute. Most of the time, Oirat groups of Western Mongols sing long songs alone or with the igil.
Mongolian Epics and Old Stories
This old style, which has grown and changed over the years, combines poetry, songs, music, and the unique kind of each performer. Singers perform with or without an instrument. These stories are sung and told from memory, which could be thousands of quatrains (a verse of four rhymed lines) per song.
Most of the time, these long stories are told on long winter nights. Herders set up a home school by putting together reports, songs, and plays. The children listen to the songs and learn about history, life, and folklore while they play group games with bone and wooden toys.
Legend and story songs like “Geser,” Jagar,” Khan Kharakhui,” and “Bum Erdene” have been around for a long time. Each is a collection of national wisdom and history.
Mongolian Music and Instruments
String instruments, wind instruments, drums, and gongs are some of the traditional tools in Mongolia. Mongolians have used metal, stone, bamboo, leather, and wood to make their instruments for a long time.
Morin Khuur (Horse-head fiddle)
Source: toursmongolia.com (left) & wikipedia (right)
The Morin Khuur, or horse-head fiddle, is an instrument unique to Mongolia and seen as a symbol of the country.
Morin Khuur is a traditional Mongolian musical instrument. People have said that the Morin Khuur makes big, free sounds that are soulful and haunting, like a wild horse neighing or a breeze blowing across the grasslands. It has been a key part of expanding on the roots of nomadic herding practices and stories and helping to turn Mongolian mythologies and Secret histories into songs for many centuries.
The body and neck of a morin khuur are from wood. The instrument’s name comes from the shape of the top of the neck, which looks like a horse’s head. It is played with a bow made of willow, and traditionally, horsetail hair coated with cedar wood resin is used to make the strings. Later on, professional horse-head fiddles made in the 21st century use bows with strings made of plastic.
Other Mongolian Instruments From the Past
Mongolian traditional music includes:
- The shants (a three-stringed, long-necked, strummed lute similar to the Chinese san xian or Japanese shamisen).
- The yoochin (a dulcimer identical to the Chinese yangqin).
- The khuuchir (a bowed spike-fiddle).
- The yatga (a plucked zither identical to the Chinese guzheng).
- The everburee (a pipe identical in sound to a clarinet).
Popular Mongolian Music Nowadays | Tips From a Mongolian
Now that we know all about Mongolian throat music and musical instruments, it’s time to shift to popular Mongolian music.
Are you curious to know what Mongolian music culture has evolved into these days?
I hired a Mongolian freelance writer to do the research.
The recommendations below are hers after consulting her friends and family. Enjoy these 10 Mongolian singers and some interesting samples from their work.
1. Adarsuren Peljee (1942 -1998)
Adarsuren Peljee was my grandma’s favorite traditional folk singer. Professionals always compliment his ability to perform effortless low notes in a matter of seconds. Since many of our grandparents used to listen to his songs on the radio his songs feel super nostalgic nowadays.
2. Norovbanzad Namjilyn (1931–2002)
Norovbanzad is one of the greatest long-song singers in Mongolia. She was voted the Singer of the Century by the people in 2000. In 1957 she won a gold medal at the World Festival of Youth and Students held in Moscow. Many of us know her for her beautiful high pitch notes and vibrato.
3. Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar (1988)
Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar is one of the greatest opera singers in Mongolia. He won the first prize in the male vocalist category and the Grand Prix at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition.
He has since performed at numerous royal palaces and international opera concerts. His powerful voice is surely one of the national prides of Mongolian music.
4. Javkhlan Samand
Javkhlan is a well-known folk singer among Mongolians. He sings about Mongolia’s landscape, people, and how beautiful it is to have a home like this. He was elected to the parliament in 2016. But soon decided to step back into the art industry again.
Our parents know him so well and we used to listen to his songs on family road trips so it feels so nostalgic to listen to his songs.
5. Nisvanis (Enkh-Amgalan)
Singer Enkh-Amgalan started his music career in 1995 while studying as a Musical teacher, he started a band called Nisvanis with the rhythm guitarist being himself, bassist D.Darkhanbat, lead guitarist S.Khosbayar, and drummer A.Anar.
Nisvanis started their music career in 1996 9th of April in the “Grunge Rock” genre. Today, they’ve been performing for 24 years and they have a huge role in the “Alternative Rock” genre in the Mongolian music industry. Following is their most famous song about being upset, fighting, and arguing with everyone around.
6. Magnolian (Bayasgalan Dulguun)
Magnolian is a Mongolian indie folk artist and singer-songwriter. He sings in both Mongolian and English and describes himself as a crooner. His most well-known song is “Uvuljuu” meaning a hibernation home for the winter.
7. Lkhagvasuren Khatanbaatar (1989)
Lhagvasuren is one of the biggest idols of the music from Mongolian rock-pop industry. Even though he had a drug addiction and a bit of a rough past he has many songs that the Mongolian audience can sing along with him and his band “Haranga”. One of his most famous songs is “Tolin hul” which is a song that plays repeatedly during the “Naadam” national festival.
8. Bayarsaikhan aka Rokit Bay
Bayarsaikhan is a rapper and songwriter. He was definitely our childhood hero to many of us. This famous Mongolian singer created many amazing songs that encouraged everyone to just keep going or sometimes he made humorous songs that had dirty meanings in them as well.
Bayarsaikhan also created an animation called “Onts dumd” and one of the first Mongolian video games called “Fragile” on Steam with the help of his team.
9. Davaajargal Tsaschikher
Davaajargal Tsaschikher also known as Davaa, is a sound artist and musician from Mongolia and the lead vocalist of the experimental rock band Mohanik. They are known as a mixture of traditional music and the modern rock genre. And honestly, they always sound so unique.
They won “Best Vocals” and “Best Performance of the Year” at the 2008 Mongolian Underground Music Awards. And they even have a documentary made by Lauren Knapp. Following is their song complimenting the Mongolian landscape and how beautiful the sunrise is. The name translates as “Soft smile”
10. The HU
Last but not least, we can’t leave out The Hu. As the music of Mongolia band, Galbadrakh and Nyamjantsan usually sing lead but other members are always doing backup vocals or throat singing. Growing up I’ve seen many bands trying to combine modern rock, and metal with traditional music. But they were the first successful band that had made its way to the internationals.
We Mongolians are so proud of them for spreading Mongolian culture and music all around the world. Two videos on YouTube released in late 2018, “Yuve Yuve Yu” (28 September) and “Wolf Totem” (16 November), had together garnered over 161 million views by March 2022.
In this article, we have tried to mention various artists from different genres from different timelines. Hope you found yourself a new favorite Mongolian artist.
Mongolian Music Playlist
Let’s listen to and enjoy music and songs from Mongolia.
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About The Research
A large part of this post was written and researched by Clara from Mongolia. She studies software engineering, has a small youtube channel, and loves video games.
For this research, she asked her friends, parents, and grandparents for the best Mongolian singers. The result is this post. If you need help with content writing or anything related to Mongolia, you can find Clara on Fiverr.
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2 thoughts on “Discover The Best Mongolian Music | A Top 10”
I remember being treated to Mongolian music for 2 weeks about 15 years ago as we travelled around the country with our drivers. When we got back to Ulaanbaatar – my first stop was to find the album of one of the artists we heard on their mix tapes. I still have it back in Australia 😛
Let me know which one it was if you find it haha!