MONGOLIAN POP MUSIC AND DANCE

ROCK AND POP MUSIC IN MONGOLIA

In Ulaanbaatar and even out of the steppe as you can hear Western hip hop and heavy metal. You also hear a lot Russian-style disco and techno. Disco and rap are popular in Mongolia. Mongolian rock groups include Soya Erdene. which placed 7th at an international pop music festival in Tokyo in 1991. Rock and pop groups from the late 1990s and early 2000s included Hurd, a popular heavy metal outfit; Haranga, a legendary rock band; Niciton, “the Mongolian Nirvana,” Freezone, a groups of rappers; and Lipstick, a girl power band described as “Spice Girls of the Steppe.” .

Bill Donahue wrote in the Washington Post, “”We need,” says Enerelt, “to sound like ourselves.” It’s a deep quest: Enerelt is the bassist for a UB [Ulaanbaatar] art rock band, Mohanik , and of late he and his three bandmates (they’re all 24 and just out of college) have been meeting daily in a battered UB warehouse and trying to hone a new Mongolian sound for their second album. “We want to make songs about what it feels like to live in Mongolia,” he says as the band gathers in its industrial cave. “A lot of bands here just copy Americans — sometimes they’re even copying a single artist.” “We hope to give a new feeling to people,” says the lead guitarist, Tsogt. He is skinny kid, scraggly, with a wrinkled Sex Pistols shirt and an unkempt mop of curly black hair. “In the 13th century, Mongolians used to worship the blue sky and the earth. We still do, but it’s different.” [Source: Bill Donahue, Washington Post, September 20, 2013 |::|]

“They have eight new songs, all based in tradition and nature. One, not yet named, evokes what it’s like to ride a horse out into battle. Another song, much softer, is called “Buwei,” which is the word that Mongolian mothers whisper to their children to mean, “Don’t be scared.” Another is just called “Wind.” “The lyric is like a poem,” says the lead singer, Davaajargal. “Once suddenly I had a feeling like I was flying away. I felt so many things. Do you know how you feel when so much happens to you in such a short time? We hope that our music will have some soul and fly away.” “But we are not saying that our music is Mongolian,” says Enerelt. “That is up to other people to decide.”|::|

“Eventually, they stop talking. Then the room ignites with that archetypal, crackly total-noise sound of a garage band rehearsal. Tsogt, the guitarist, is curled into his instrument now and whaling at it, a small apostrophe of a person hailing us with a flurry of screeches and scratches. Enerelt, the bassist, is stands taller, stiffer — a tense presence on the periphery of the storm — and in time the singer’s words begin: shouts, whispers, a hypnotic whirl over the slam of the drums. |::|

“Then Mohanik stops for a second, and Enerelt says, “We don’t know the name of this next song yet, but it’s the heaviest one at the moment.” It’s the battle song, and there is a great crashing of cymbals now, and then the guitars and the bass pile up on each other: a gratifying knot of staticky noise made propulsive by the beat of the drums. I imagine horse hooves pounding the dirt. And soon the singer is just yelling, screaming, with unhinged abandon, not even saying words, for there are as yet no words to this song. There is some Kurt Cobain at work here, and I can hear the wild braying in the songs sung by campfires at Native American powwows. |::|

“But I have never heard anything quite like this before, and for a moment I try to add up its constituent elements: Here is the old Mongolia, in the low tribal beat. Here, in the manic guitars, is a whole country frenetically changing. ...In time, though, I decide: “This is impossible. So much is happening in such a short time.” I give up, and I just let the music wash over me, feeding my blood like an anthem.” |::|

Javhlan, Mongolia’s Biggest Pop Star

Bill Donahue wrote in the Washington Post, ““Tradition,” says Javhlan. He was everywhere in Mongolia: On the metal light poles in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, amid the chockablock traffic, there were little tourist-friendly posters bearing the radiant, smiling image of Mongolia’s premier folk crooner. You’d stroll past the Lego store, then past Hugo Boss, right into the chic, moneyed core of a nation that is now mining gold, copper and coal for Chinese consumption, and there he was again. Javhlan is 33. On the posters, his cheeks are ruddy, his eyes aglow with health. He seems well fed, and serene and bearish and strong somehow, and his costume carries a stately (if affected) grandeur. He is dressed 13th-century style, in a long flowing robe and a pointy helmetlike cap, as though he were just about to hop on a horse and join the old warlord Genghis Khan in battle out on the steppes. [Source: Bill Donahue, Washington Post, September 20, 2013 |::|]

“Javhlan’s music matches his getup. It is plaintive and patriotic, and his deep baritone voice resonates, manly and sodden with pathos, over tinkling electronic background beats. In one song, “Promise,” he apologizes to his ancestors for how Mongolia has sold out to the Chinese and ensures the desecration will stop. “The land was given to us in one piece,” he declares, “so we will protect it. Even if God asks for a piece of it, we won’t give any away.” In Mongolia, I scarcely ever stepped into a taxi bereft of Javhlan tunes. When I tried to bond with one driver by asking if the singer on the radio was in fact Javhlan, he grew wistful and glassy-eyed, telling me that, like Javhlan, he hailed from the western province of Uvs. “Tiim,” he affirmed, “Javhlan.” |::|

“When I was in Mongolia, Javhlan was running for a seat in the Mongolian Parliament as a dark-horse third-party candidate. Though he would eventually lose, he campaigned with celebrity flourish, by giving away 100 tons of hay to the good herders of Uvs. He was earnest with reporters, stressing that it was mining — and its savage effects on the earth — that spurred him into politics. “Foreigners are digging up our land,” he said recently, “and ruining our wintering grazing spots. I had no choice but to run.” He added that he was old-school about child rearing. “My wife and I plan to have 15 kids,” he pronounced. “We are real Mongolians.” On two separate occasions, I arranged a meeting with Javhlan. But then each time he canceled, last-minute. “Javhlan had to rush to the countryside,” I was told, through his handlers. “It was an emergency.” |::|

Mongolian Rock Band Hanggai


Hanggai drinking song
The Mongolian rock band Hanggai has toured Europe, played alongside big name acts like the band Coldplay and earned plaudits in the international press. But here in China, the growing popularity of the Mongolian rock band Hanggai has not exactly inspired adulation from the authorities. A festival organized by the band in the suburbs of Beijing, according to the New York Times, attracted “a swarm of state security officers who monitor the crowd with suspicion, impatience and a hint of curiosity.” [Source: Jonathan Kaiman and Andrew Jacobs , New York Times July 16, 2011]

Jonathan Kaiman and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Last month, a few hundred foreigners and young Chinese packed a popular bar to see Hanggai play a final set in Beijing before embarking on a national tour. Projectors washed the stage with glimpses of lush grass hills, blue skies and galloping horse “a subtle reminder of what many Mongolians say is being destroyed by a coal boom orchestrated by Han mining companies.”

“After each song, fans from the band members’ hometowns in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region climbed on stage to present multicolored silk scarves to the band, a traditional gesture of respect. When Huricha, one of the band’s vocalists, growled, “We will bring you to the grasslands,” the audience burst into applause.

But such flourishes of ethnic pride are counterbalanced by moments of uncertainty. At a Hanggai show in Shanghai the following week, one night after Shanren played on the same stage to a sold-out crowd, the police stopped the show after the opening act, saying there had been complaints about the noise. The band was disappointed but forbearing. “They don’t need to control everything the way they do,” Ilchi, the band’s leader, said later. “Rock concerts are very safe. It’s only music after all.”

Mongolian Punk Folk Singer and Hanggai

Ilchi is a Mongolian throat singer capable of producing two sounds at the same time. For a time he was the leader of the punk band T9, which raged in profanity-laden songs about the frustration of modern life. Now he is a leader of of a folk-music revival and is experimenting with merging throat singing and different musical styles. He told NPR, “I felt we modern people need to understand more about our past.” [Source: NPR, Morning Edition, November 10, 2008]

“lchi was born in Inner Mongolia but he moved with his family to Beijing at the age of 12. In 2005, on a journey of musical self-exploration, he returned to Inner Mongolia. There, he learned the traditional art of throat singing, and searched for old folk songs in danger of being lost. He started to write his own music for his band Hanggai, including a song about his tobshuur, a two-stringed Mongolian banjo. “This song is about my beloved banjo, which follows my emotions,” Ilchi said, “It's like a horse, which knows which way you want to go on the grasslands. I want to devote my life, and my banjo, to celebrate the beauty of my beloved Mongolian soil and my old home.” [Ibid]

“With the beat evoking horse hooves thundering over the grasslands, Hanggai's music hearkens back to the nomad's way of life. That's disappearing quickly with rapid urbanization and modernization, and as desertification encroaches upon the once-massive grasslands. The music critic for the China Daily, Mu Qian, has been following Ilchi's musical odyssey. “He's trying to find back his cultural identity,” Qian says. “It's becoming more and more difficult to do so, because traditions are disappearing. It's the same everywhere in the world, but probably especially so in China, because China is changing very fast.” [Ibid]


“What makes Hanggai stand out is its Mongolian roots, and the fact that its members sing in Mongolian, which treads into politically sensitive territory.Nowadays, less than 20 percent of the population of Inner Mongolia is Mongolian; most are Han Chinese. And Ilchi doesn't shy away from explaining the ways that that Chinese influence has changed life. “Most of our people have moved away from the old way of life,” Ilchi says. “After moving to the cities, many of us have gradually been subjected to a very strong cultural invasion by an oppressive culture. So this traditional music has completely lost its space.” [Ibid]

‘some of Hanggai's songs demonstrate just how fragile that culture is. One is sung in the Mongolian equivalent of Chaucerian English, a dialect so ancient even the singer who taught the band the words couldn't remember what they meant. Ilchi's musical explorations also expose the contradictions involved in rediscovering cultural identity in modern China: He's an ethnic Mongolian who had to relearn the language to sing in it, and he's singing about a fast-disappearing way of life he's never really lived himself. Even so, Robin Haller, who co-produced the band's debut album, says he fell in love with Hanggai's honesty.” [Ibid]

Hanggai's new album ends with its party piece, The Drinking Song . In order to gain the proper alcohol-sozzled atmosphere, part of the recording was made after the band had been on a pub crawl. “Alcohol in a bottle is very docile, like a little sheep,” Ilchi says. “But in your stomach, it's like a tiger.”

History of Mongolian Hip Hop

Gabrielle Jaffe wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Rapid urbanization since the fall of the country's Communist government in 1990 coincided with a period of opening up to Western culture and music. Mongolia's first self-proclaimed rap group, Khar Sarnai (Black Rose), formed in 1992. This eccentric duo spat lyrics over techno beats, wearing outfits that alternated between Mongolian robes and shiny top hats that would have made Slash from Guns N' Roses proud. [Source: Gabrielle Jaffe, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2013 ~~]

“By the mid-'90s cable had come to the country, bringing MTV, and with it Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, into Mongolians' living rooms. In 1997 came the release of arguably the first real hip-hop single in Mongolia — "Know your limits" by War and Peace. This song borrowed words from Ryenchinii Choinom, a dissident poet during the socialist era, and transformed them into rap lyrics, laying them over early hip-hop beats and ethereal Mongolian instrumentals. In the documentary, Enkhtaivan, the rapper who founded War and Peace, recalls: "[Hip-hop] entered Mongolia and represented similar conditions to the situation we were in." ~~

“The emergence of Mongolia's first real city, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the growth of a subsection of society that increasingly felt disenfranchised were among the developments that helped create a society that could identify with American hip-hop. What's more, this new music genre also dovetailed with the country's ancient oral traditions. From the long-standing culture of song fighting, praise singing and various spoken word games, it wasn't a huge leap to MC-ing. The Mongolian language itself, rich as it is in heavy, guttural sounds, seems almost custom-designed to be rapped over base-dropping beats. ~~

“And, at a stretch, Mongolia's tradition of khöömii, overtone singing in which the throat is used as an instrument to create two pitches at the same time, one a low drone, the other a high melodic note, could be seen as a precursor to beat-boxing.”... Bayarmagnai, one of Mongolia's last singers of traditional epics, even claims hip-hop began in Mongolia. He argues, "[Look at] the long songs of praise; even when we were kids getting into arguments… these [sing-song] intellectual debates to avoid physical fighting…"

'Mongolian Bling': a Documentary on Mongolian Hip Hop

On Benj Binks' documentary on the Mongolian hip-hop scene,Gabrielle Jaffe wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Mongolia's hip-hop scene caught Benj Binks off guard. The young Australian expected the descendants of Genghis Khan to be mostly nomads and herders, cantering over wild, bleak plains. Instead, when he arrived in the country's capital of Ulaanbaatar in 2004 he found nightclubs, graffiti and guys rocking baseball caps and baggy pants...He was soon drawn into this extraordinary community and only emerged six years later, having created "Mongolian Bling," a thoughtful, feature-length documentary. [Source: Gabrielle Jaffe, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2013 ~~]

“Watching this documentary, it becomes clear that while there is much that is recognizable in Mongolian hip-hop, there are big differences. Trinidad James may boast about "gold all in my chain, gold all in my ring," but Mongolian players are more interested in rapping about the destruction of Mongolia's land by big mining companies, the country's problem with alcoholism and corrupt politicians. Quiza, one of the leading rappers profiled in the documentary, says, "I sing to give my little contribution towards democracy, human development, equality, education and a better future for Mongolia." ~~

“While modern Mongolian hip-hop often samples traditional instrumentals and singing, the overall sound and look of its artists more closely resembles that of their American brethren. Diamond earrings, hoodies, tattoos, pimped-up rides and studio walls plastered with Tupac posters are all de rigueur. Despite all this surface bling, their lyrics are more down to earth. "There's a lot of hype and bravado, bitches and hoes in Western hip-hop. Mongolian hip-hop is more grounded, more honest and raw," says Binks. "They're singing about the realities of their lives and trying to create change." ~~

“It's hard not to be moved when listing the passionate, political lyrics in songs such as "Care About" by Gee, one of the country's hottest hip-hop artists: "You're selling the future of Mongolia purely for your benefit today. In this ocean of globalization, Mongolia is like a boat without paddles. You better start to care.... Show some care for us, for Mongolia," he charges, complete with expletives. A baby-faced, shaven-head young man who is often seen sporting a Green Bay Packers parka, Gee hails, like many of the rappers, from Ulaanbaatar's ger districts. Named after the traditional Mongolian felt-lined tents that surround the more developed city center, these slum-like sprawls are home to more than half the city's residents. ~~

“Parallels between Ulaanbaatar's ger districts and America's inner-city ghettos are easy to draw. And the same tension that exists in American hip-hop between those who "go commercial" and those trying to "keep it real" is also present in Mongolia. Gee has publically criticized Quiza for accepting corporate sponsors. As he says in "Mongolian Bling," "Art is not a tool to make money, it's to heal society and the artists are the doctors." Quiza, for his part, complains, "Other rappers insult me, they diss because that's what they learned from American rappers. But they're just jealous."” ~~

Chinese Mongolian Rap

Reporting from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: “In a sprawling industrial city in Inner Mongolia, three rappers surround a microphone, dressed in the baseball caps, baggy trousers and branded trainers favoured by hip hop fans the world over. The sparsely populated region in northeastern China counts mining and milk among its main industries, and locals are more familiar with throat-singing than rapping. But members of China's Mongolian ethnic minority, whose ancestors were first united by Genghis Khan, are turning to hip hop to condemn the resources boom they say is wreaking havoc on their traditions and lands -- while avoiding the authorities' attention. [Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, September 20, 2012]

"Herders are bribed with cash, and our land is torn up by machines," the trio, who go by the English name Poorman, rap in their track "Tears". "Brothers and sisters, we need to wake up!" Once an economic backwater, the development of thousands of coal mines to tap Inner Mongolia's vast mineral reserves has made the region one of China's fastest-growing. But while some have prospered from the mining boom, other Mongolians resent being displaced from their land to make room for the mines, which they say scar the steppe and discriminate against them in recruiting. "There are all these songs about the beauty of Inner Mongolia's grasslands, but when people come to visit they realise it's being turned into desert," said band member Sodmuren, 25, who like many Mongolians uses a single name. [Ibid]

The region's rappers adopted the genre a decade ago from their ethnic fellows in neighbouring Mongolia, an independent country which has had a thriving hip hop scene for more 20 years. "Hip hop is the most honest kind of music there is," Sodmuren told AFP in a recording studio in Inner Mongolia's capital, Hohhot, where swathes of newly built concrete apartment blocks stretch into the grassy countryside. [Ibid]

China's Mongolians have seen their traditional way of life transformed by government policies encouraging nomadic herders to abandon their grazing lands for flats in the cities. As a result, most of the region's rappers grew up in an urban environment. But Sodmuren and his bandmates retain a fascination with nomadic culture, incorporating pastoral imagery into their music. One of Poorman's videos shows the band sitting outside traditional tents, known as yurts, with one member wearing the deel, a Mongolian gown. "Although we grew up in yurts, after years in the city we're forgetting our culture," they sing. [Ibid]

A few minutes' drive away from their studio, a sprawling Gucci store is testament to the new class of millionaires created by the mining boom, and their splurging on luxury cars and clothing. But Eregjin, a baseball-capped 27-year-old solo rapper who has been singing under the name MC Bondoo since he was a teenager, said: "We don't admire luxury culture. We hate materialism, and the worship of expensive things." He has the national symbol of independent Mongolia tattooed on his right arm. [Ibid]

Ethnic identification can be a sensitive topic in China, where the government is anxious to avoid social unrest. When a Han Chinese coal truck driver ran over a Mongolian herdsman in 2011 it triggered more than a week of protests by hundreds of people in cities and towns across the region. A rapper known as Syrlig was detained by authorities in 2011 after writing a song called "Stand up, Inner Mongolians!" several singers told AFP. He has since moved to Mongolia, the rappers said. [Ibid]

"There are some lyrics we'd sing in shows, but if we published them we'd be arrested," MC Bater, a member of one of Inner Mongolia's most successful hip hop groups, PTS, told AFP. But the scene's low profile, combined with a degree of self-censorship---declining to target individuals or the ruling Communist Party by name “allows Mongolian rappers to escape censure from the authorities. "I complain about government officials in my songs, but I don't name anyone directly," Sodmuren said. "I have to be smart."s

Rap Song Dedicated to Mergen—the Killed Mongolian Herder

On May 29, 2011, one day before the planned large-scale Mongolian demonstration in Hohhot, regional capital of Southern Mongolia, a rap song dedicated to Mr. Mergen was banned and removed from all Chinese Internet sites immediately after it was posted. Mergen was a Mongolian herder who was brutally killed by a Chinese coal hauling truck in Southern (Inner) Mongolia's Shiliin-gol League for defending his grazing land from Chinese miners. His killing sparked the recent large-scale protests and demonstrations by Mongols all over Southern Mongolia. Originally posted on a Chinese popular discussion site "Wang Pan 115.com, the song was intended to tell the Chinese authorities what the Mongols think about Mergen's death, the economic exploitation of the grasslands and Internet censorship. [Source: Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center <+>]

Immediately after it appeared on the Internet, many Chinese micro blogs and Internet discussion forums quickly disseminated the song. This was picked up within several hours by the Chinese Internet censorship apparatus which removed it from all sites in China. The song was posted on one of the most popular Chinese social media "Tui Ya"), the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, but was removed immediately. The links appear to be live but return the following message "The file cannot be downloaded due to its controversial contents". <+>

Reportedly the author and singer of the song is a Mongolian college student from eastern Southern Mongolia's Tongliao City. Since the publication of his song on the Internet on May 29, he has been repeatedly summoned to the local State Security Bureau and warned not to go online or have any contact with outsiders. Friends have lost contact with him since then. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) was able to obtain a copy of the song along with its Chinese transcript. The following is an English translation of the lyrics and the original song in mp3 format with its Chinese transcript. <+>

Song Dedicated to Mergen, Hero of the Grasslands: Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese No matter what you say I am a Mongol Mongol blood flows in my veins The vast Mongolian steppe is my homeland Once green Mongolian plateau turned to yellow Beautiful grasslands turning to desert The government says it is the herders' fault Have you ever thought about it carefully? Whose fault is it really? Overgrazing is a myth and a lie We have grazed animals here thousands of years Why has the desertification started since only a few decades ago? How many people are coming here to open up mines and plunder our resources? How many people are coming here to cultivate the grasslands and plant those crops? How many dams are built to deplete the water that sustains the grassland? How many rivers are stopped to water the farm lands? Our homeland is ruined like this That's why I say damn shit your "Western Development" You sacrifice our environment, develop your economy and spend the money made out of it With the leftovers you hire the dogs to oppress us Halt all industries and projects that destroy our grassland ecosystem! Grassland is mother of all Mongols that can no longer survive the destruction On May 11 something there happened Something that broke the hearts of all Mongols A fellow Mongol was intentionally killed Mergen is his name The name means intelligence and wisdom He wakened us all with his death United herders finally stood up Together we demonstrated to mourn a son of the grasslands For what cause had Gaadaa Meirin fought against [the Chinese]? I am sure it refreshed the memory of every Mongol When the truck wheels crashed over his head When the herders became completely helpless The arrogant driver even claimed A herder's life costs no more than 400,000 (yuan) Flame of anger started to set the prairie ablaze We are arrows bundled together tightly No one can sever the bonds of souls and minds among us We stand together to protestWe march together bravely Right Ujumchin, Left Ujumchin, plus Shuluun Huh and Huveet Shar No matter where we are from, we are always together To protest strongly against the violence the authorities apply against us Peaceful protest is a right of the people When this huge event is taking place, you pretend as if nothing happened No single word is mentioned in CCAV "Social harmony" (he xie in Chinese) flooded the Internet, but no one knows what the exact situation is Internet sites in China are damn shit Mother f**king Ren Ren Site deletes all Mongolians posts Mother f**king micro blog removes my blog Mother f**king the State Security, mother f**king "tea invitation" (meaning detention, "bei he cha" in Chinese) Mother f**kers, I will say whatever I want to say I want freedom, yeah, return my freedom I want freedom, return my freedom Saying singing is my freedom, yeah, my damn freedom We will never ever be doomed, We are the Mongols, descendants of Chinggis Khan! United we stand together!Yeah, stand up my fellow Mongols! <+>

Mongolian Dances

Famous Mongolian traditional dances include the Andai Dance, Handleless Cup Dance, Chopsticks Dance, "Saber" Dance, "Buryat Wedding" Dance, "Horse Breaker" Dance, and "Little Black Horse" Dance. Among the more contemporarily dances are the Eagle Dance, Yataghan Dance, Saddle Horse Dance, Gallop Dance, Milking Men's Dance, Ordos Wedding Dance and The Herdsman's Happiness Dance. The main characteristics of the Mongol dances are the distinct tempo and overflowing emotion. In most of the feminine dances, the tempos are lively and the dance steps are graceful. Swinging shoulders and turning wrist are among the most well-known gestures that expresses the Mongol girls' passionate and cheerful character. In male dances, the postures are tall, straight and heroic and the steps are free, vigorous and gentle. A wave of the hand, a raise of the whip and jumps are typical masculine movements. They display agility, braver, robustness and martial skills. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

The handleless cup dance and chopsticks dance stem from Etuoke Qi and Wushen Qi on the Ordos Plateau. The "handleless cup dance" is also called "bowls-on-head dance", and it is often an performed impromptuly by women at festivals. Usually, The dancer carries a bowl or a plate on her head, and a pair of wine cups in each hand. Accompanied by the songs of the people sitting around, she knocks at the wine cups gently, and dances gracefully. Most of the actions in such dances are the movements of the upper part of the body, and the head and the neck swayed lightly and smoothly. The movements of the arms are rich and varied. Among them are the wave, raise, press and pick are more often used. The movements not only include waist-centered lifting, bending and swaying while she sits, kneel, or stands, but also include gentle and elegant dance steps, circles and swirls. ~

The "chopsticks dance" is often performed by a single man at festivals. Usually, the dancer holds chopsticks in each of his hand and moves to sound with other people's singing and clapping. While he kneels, sits or stands, stretching his legs and swaying his body, he hits his hands, arms, shoulders, back, waist and feet with chopsticks. Sometimes, he also hits the ground with his chopsticks while dancing. The movements are agile and dexterous, and the tempos are strong. After 1949, this kind of dance was adapted into a group dance of both men and women that highlighted the kneading of the shoulders and the twisting of the waist. ~

Andai Dance

The Andai Dance originated from a collective dance of the Kulun Qi in the south of the Horqin Grassland. "Andai" means "to raise oneself slightly" or "to lift one's head". At first, it was a religious dance used in praying to god and curing the sickness. Its aim was to request the blessings of the god, prevent diseases and forestall misfortunes. Later, the dance gradually became an entertaining activity. As to its origins, one legend goes: Long ago, there lived a father and daughter on the Horqin Grassland. Suddenly, the daughter began to suffer from an odd disease. She did not take meals on time, and became moody. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

After she had been ill for a long time with no sign of recovery, the father burned with anxiety and carried his daughter to a place called Fuxin to see doctors. However, natural and man-made disasters intervened. The axle of his cart broke. At that time, the girl's disease aggravated and her life was in danger. Her father was worried out of his wits, and ran around the cart, crying and singing. His voice attracted many people in the nearby villages, and they all followed him in his crying and singing. No one knew, whether it was because she was moved by this spectacular scene and forgot her pain, or because the evil spirit of illness was really scared away, the daughter rose quietly, got off the cart, and followed the people, swinging her arms and stamping with them. When the people saw her, she was sweating all over, and her disease was totally gone. ~

This story spread very fast, and soon all the people on the Horqin Grassland got to know it. Afterwards, whenever a young woman suffered from a similar diseases, they would do the same thing and dance around the cart. The ritual became known as "Andai". In the early days, the emphasis was on singing, and it was called "Sing Andai". Then, people began to dance to the singing, which added to its entertaining function. Later it took a central role in celebrating festivals. The usual form is like this: 1) led by the singer (or music accompaniment), all the participants---man, woman, the aged, and the young---stand in a circle. 2) Holding silk in their hands, the dancers echo the song while dancing counter-clockwise. 3) The main actions include: A) marking time by waving the silk, B) moving, kicking and reeling in the silk, C) circling and jumping with the silk and D) throwing the silk. The manner of the dance is unrestrained, bright and vivacious. After 1949, the dance was sorted out by the professional art and literature workers, and was presented on the stage. ~

Tsam

Tsam (Tsaam or Cham) was (is) a form of traditional Tibetan Buddhist dance-drama performed at festivals that incorporated with religious dramas and mock exorcisms with symbolic characters in grotesque masks and a Buddhist-shamanist god of death in the starring role. Combining elements of a morality play, shamanist rituals and a Las Vegas floor show, it was staged outdoors in an area divided into a mandala. Throughout the performance the characters took turns stabbing a doll with knives. The doll was made of dough and sat in the center of the mandala. It slowly expanded and was cut to pieces and burned.

All the roles were played by monks in masks. These included a host of Buddhist and shamanistic characters. Among them were Tserendug (the White Old Man), a former shamanist figure; Citipati (skeletal figures; the rotund Lash-Khan (the patron of art); the grotesque Begze Darma (the Buddhist protector spirit); the birdlike Hindu deity Garuda; and the God of Death and his henchmen. The tsam masks have traditionally been made of paper mache and painted with bright colors. Elaborate ones had precious stones imbedded in them.

In the old days many monasteries had their own tsam dancing troops each monastery had its own types of masks and dance routines. The art form suffered in the Soviet era as monasteries were destroyed and monks were killed. Similar kinds of dances have traditionally existed in Tibet but have also suffered under Communism. See Tibet.

See Separate Article Tibetan dance factsanddetails.com .

Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian Traditional Folk Dance

In 2009, Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: “The Mongol Biyelgee – Mongolian Traditional Folk Dance is performed by dancers from different ethnic groups in the Khovd and Uvs provinces of Mongolia. Regarded as the original forebear of Mongolian national dances, Biyelgee dances embody and originate from the nomadic way of life. Biyelgee dances are typically confined to the small space inside the ger (nomadic dwelling) and are performed while half sitting or cross-legged. Hand, shoulder and leg movements express aspects of Mongol lifestyle including household labour, customs and traditions, as well as spiritual characteristics tied to different ethnic groups. Biyelgee dancers wear clothing and accessories featuring colour combinations, artistic patterns, embroidery, knitting, quilting and leather techniques, and gold and silver jewellery specific to their ethnic group and community. [Source: UNESCO]

The dances play a significant role in family and community events such as feasts, celebrations, weddings and labour-related practices, simultaneously expressing distinct ethnic identities and promoting family unity and mutual understanding among different Mongolian ethnic groups. Traditionally, Mongol Biyelgee is transmitted to younger generations through apprenticeships or home-tutoring within the family, clan or neighbourhood. Today, the majority of transmitters of Biyelgee dance are elderly, and their numbers are decreasing. The inherent diversity of Mongol Biyelgee is also under threat as there remain very few representatives of the distinct forms of Biyelgee from different ethnic groups. ▪ According to UNESCO Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because: 1) The Mongol Biyelgee includes a variety of dances performed by men and women of different Mongolian ethnic groups during important events of their communities, and reflecting in their movements the activities of nomadic life; it is passed on from generation to generation while constantly being re-imagined and recreated, its participatory aspect reinforcing social cohesion and promoting distinct local identities; 2) Despite the importance of this traditional dance as a manifestation of the strong relationship of the Mongolians with their environment, socio-historical changes of the last decades, including migration and a shift in cultural values, have led to a weakening of the transmission cycle, and the Biyelgee finds itself threatened by the reduced number and advanced age of its practitioners as well as diminished interest among young generations.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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