Monday, 9 April 2007

Four Sides of Khoomei, No more Mealody, Screwed Bunny

Monday 9th April
Last night’s “Four Sides of Khoomei” concert was an unqualified success. It was held in a small conference the Cultural Palace. I guess that this stunning building was put up some time in the 80s; it’s white with funky gold trim and looks to me like the Battle Destroyer of some alien overlord that has landed here to subjugate the inhabitants of this puny planet. I think it’s my favourite building in UB.

The four performers sat in a semi-circle in an open half-ger erected on the stage; with the low lighting in the smallish room, this gave the performance a very authentic atmosphere. Four notes were sounded on a jew’s harp, and then the first rumbling low notes of Khoomei began. The interplay of voices and instruments proved enchanting. Sometimes one performer sang a song while two others sang low note khoomei and the fourth sang the high, whistling tones. Parts would change from song to song or through the course of the song. There were bird calls, camel coughs, the shouts of herders and whinnies of horses. Songs were accompanied on the two-stringed Mongolian banjo, or the Morin Khuur (‘Horse-head fiddle’), or two banjos and the fiddle, or two fiddles alone, or were unaccompanied. The rapt silence, followed by smiling faces turned to each other in the brief pauses between songs showed how well the performance was received by the audience.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, Khoomei master Taravjiin Ganbold did not take part in the concert. His replacement, Nerguin Ganzorig, proved, however, proved to be an inspired choice. The second song in the set was composed by Ganzorig, performed solo, and was pretty funky sounding, played on a swan-headed banjo strummed rigorously with a plectrum (rather than the simple two finger alternate plucking which seems to be the usual use of the instrument). Likewise, the finale of the show was also a song of Ganzorig, with a very catchy chorus (“Morinkhuur, khoomei, blahdiblah, Mongol-something-something dah...”) and again with a driving rhythm.

After the concert I bought the CD “Melodious Tree” by Altai-Khangai - the which both Ganbold and Ganzorig (along with one Lhagva Bjambakhichig) have performed with since 1995. It provided the perfect accompaniment to a very pleasant lunch today sat on my balcony, in my shirt-sleeves (Spring is definitely here!), whilst staring across the rooves of the (happily smog-free) city towards the Bogd Khan Mountains, with the white portrait of Chinggis on the hillside staring back. Here’s a link to their website, from which you can navigate to a sound sample on an English page, and buy some of their CDs through a French website. I have no doubt that they’ll be performing in Europe in the near future, and it’s my hope that I can nudge them in the direction of Liverpool for 2008.

Sad news for those of us here who’ve been spoiled rotten by the incredible music from the U-Bop jazz trio at Mealody, where they’ve been playing every Friday for the last 8 Months. Unfortunately it seems that there have been disagreements with the management of the restaurant, or something, and Friday nights are no more. Just when the hillbilly interlude was getting into its stride - in fact, come to think of it, maybe there’s a connection there... Well, it was certainly fun while it lasted. I’m hoping to get something musical going at the new Colombo Cafe (north of Sukhbaatar Square, just off the Baga Toiru round the corner from Los Bandidos) - haven’t settled on a regular date there, but I recommend anyone in UB to pop in there and try out their real Columbian coffee (a considerable rarity here as pretty much the only thing drunk in UB is Mac Coffee, which makes the likes of Nescafe taste as good as their adverts claim) and the excellent food and very reasonably priced beer.

A happy accident at the home of my good friends Niall and Enke (and now their newborn son Sainaa) has led to the discovery that vodka, carrot juice and and slices of orange served with plenty of ice makes an extremely drinkable combination. N Peszka of Boise, Idaho has suggested that this be named the Screwed Bunny, and so it is. I'm using carrot juice in a carton, made from concentrate: am dubious as to whether freshly blended would taste better, but hope to be able to try it once I find a kitchen suitably equipped. If you are skeptical about the result of this mix I urge you to try it: you may be surprised. Stir well.