Press about Hanggai
Hanggai Mongolian folk and punk captures the WOMAD spirit
Mar 22nd, 2011 | By Rodney Brown |
TAKE A BOW: Hanggai respond to the crowd at the end of their performance at WOMAD. Photo: Rodney Brown
THESE are the moments you live for – the feelings music can arouse, when the hairs on your neck stand up and pins and needles take control.
That was this reporter’s reaction to Hanggai, a band which captured the essence of WOMAD in New Plymouth at the weekend. The seven piece band that fuses traditional Mongolian folk with punk rock arrived relatively unknown but left the annual world music festival as one the clear crowd favourites. Hanggai shifted seamlessly between the two genres.
They combine string instruments used in folk music, with electric guitar and throat singing, to produce their distinctive sound. The show begins with the low haunting hum of throat singing, otherwise known as overtone singing. At least two of the band members have mastered this technique and it has become a hallmark for them. Back this up with some very smooth guitar and the intro was perfect.
After a short pause, those who were lulled into a sense of tranquillity by the first song were quickly awoken. Thunderous drums and heavy bass pulsated through the crowd, accompanied by the amazing vocals of the lead singer. This immediately had a group at the front of the crowd head banging and jumping. Nobody I spoke to could speak highly enough of them.
It is almost impossible to describe the sound of Hanggai because they capture the sound of a culture unknown to most of us. And for a moment, the crowd was transported to an alien land, where the blood of the great Khans lives on.
'One of the most rousing and inventive folk-rock albums of the year comes from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, via Beijing...(Hanggai) is Asian crossover music at its best.'
Robin Denselow, THE GUARDIAN
'Like Tinariwen, Hanggai were put on this planet to revive your love of old-school riffage. Embrace them'
David Hutcheon, MOJO
"Banjo twanging fun from Bejing's Mongolian Hillbillies....sounds like the Pogues with a sprinkle of Chinese opera."
Hanggai: Yuan Zou De Ren (He Who Travels Far)
One of the most rousing and inventive folk-rock albums of the year comes from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, via Beijing. Hanggai's fearsome-looking singer Ilchi started out playing in punk bands, then travelled from the Chinese capital to his father's homeland to study the extraordinary art of growled overtone singing, a traditional technique in which two notes, an octave apart, are sung at the same time. A debut album, two years ago, showed the band experimenting in matching traditional instruments such as the morin khuur horse-hair fiddle and tsuur flute against guitars and electronica, and now comes a second and even more confident set, co-produced by Ken Stringfellow of REM fame. It's an album of epic ballads and stirring dance tunes, many based around traditional lyrics and melodies that are remarkable for sounding so accessible; many of the songs are as sturdy and melodic as great Celtic folk songs, and are treated with a furious enthusiasm worthy of the Pogues. Ilchi's growled singing is featured on tracks such as the stomping anthem Hanggai, but elsewhere the band slow down for Borulai's Lullaby, an exquisite ballad worthy of Julie Fowlis, or collaborate with New York guitarist Marc Ribot for the furious folk-rocker Dorov Morlaril. This is Asian crossover music at its best.
Album review: Hanggai - He Who Travels Far
By MICHAEL CHURCH
Published Date: Monday 18 October 2010
Hanggai - He Who Travels Far
World Connection, £12.99
**** (4 stars)
HANGGAI - the world's leading Mongolian grasslands band - are now firm favourites at festivals like Womad, but the story of their emergence is still heartwarming. Their leader Ilchi had been fronting a punk band in Beijing for many years, before experiencing a
Damascean conversion on hearing overtone singing. He went back to his father's homeland to discover how it was done. He found other musicians who were studying in the local conservatory, and with them formed the nucleus of his band, which soon became the spearhead for a Mongolian folk revival. They made the morin khuur horse-hair fiddle their primary instrument, adding in the tobshuur two-stringed lute and other traditional instruments.The rhythm of horses' hooves pervades this new CD, either created by gentle strumming on the lute or by percussion, while the morin khuur spreads its warmth, and the throat-singers do their gravelly stuff. Some tracks have an urban atmosphere, but many exude the wonderful calm of horseback travel across the wastes of Central Asia.
This time around, however, they have adopted a new approach. Whereas their first CD was based on each instrument being recorded separately, this is done as a "live" performance, with minimal tricking-out with studio effects - mostly spacey echoes, which nicely complement the throat singing. They have brought in the New York guitarist Marc Ribout to help on one track. First we get the warm rasp of the morin khuur, then a yodel, then a throat-singing drone, and finally the guitar - but no piece of crossover was more delicately done. Some of the songs sound Kazakh, others Kyrgyz, and there's a lovely lullaby: "Gathering the best wood / Father makes your cradle."