Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Khoomei Fever

Tuesday 3rd April
The Spring vacation is here - a week rather than the two weeks I'd expected, for reasons which it would make me seem bitter to go into here. I might have had nothing to do, and been forced to take a holiday out in the countryside, riding horses, breathing the fresh air, etc - but happily the school volunteered me to mark exam papers in yet another of the city's many English 'Olympics'. All that fresh air would have doubtless proven too much for me; today it was a sweltering 11c outside, so, although I'm still waiting to see the first green shoots, Spring is undoubtedly here.

In all honesty, I haven't lost out by staying in UB: happily the past few weeks have been very productive musically. Vadik, the Ukranian mouth harp and percussionist, is sadly on his way back to Odessa in a week or so, but we've taken every opportunity we can to play, and it's been very enjoyable. Vadik's flatmate is a French Ethnomusicologist, Johanni Curtet, who's been studying Mongolian music here (in particular khoomei) for two or maybe three years now. We had a jam at their flat a couple of weeks ago, along with Andrew Colwell - the Bassist, and indeed Khoomei singer with the U-Bop band. Johanni recorded the jam and when I can figure out how I can cut down the length of the main 29 minute jam in the key of G (not that it isn't all wonderful stuff, but the filesize seems to be a bit unweildy for the internet) then I'll post it here. The great thing about jamming with khoomei singers is that you can keep it minimalist and stay on one chord, and it still sounds fantastic.

Johanni has been extremely busy lately as the fruit of his Doctoral studies takes place this weekend: he has arranged for the leading exponents of the four main schools of khoomei to perform at the Art Gallery in Ulaanbaatar's Culture Palace on Saturday and Sunday, after which he will give a lecture. I'm informed that this is the first time that the four have performed together, and that indeed there has been considerable professional rivalry between them in the past. For the past week they've been rehearsing five or six hours a day at Johanni's apartment. I've been very privileged to have been round at the flat on a couple of occasions and listen - the sound is truly awe-inspiring. On Saturday night Vadik and I called round to collect Johanni to head over to a party. Johanni's khoomei teacher, Tserendavaa, is staying at the flat along with his son. Johanni is recording their next album for them, and they were just finishing the last few recordings after a long night. I'm told, and a little internet research confirms, that Tserendavaa is one of the foremost teachers of throat-singing. He has performed all over the world - but when he isn't performing, he lives as a herder and nomad in the west of Mongolia (Here's a link to a blog by Robert Beahrs about the time he spent studying khoomei with Tserendavaa in 2005). Tserendavaa has quite a presence, especially in a small flat - a good natured, barrel-chested man, who would stand as a good case-in-point in favour of my suggestion that John Wayne makes a pretty convincing Mongolian in The Conqueror. Before we left to let the man get some hard earned rest I played the Worried Man Blues for him, to which he did me the extreme honour of adding a little throat-singing.

If anyone is reading this in UB, you cannot afford to miss one of Johanni's historic concerts this weekend. Tickets are 5000T and available from either the Alliance Francaise (opposite the entrance to the Daschoylin Temple) or from the Art Gallery in the Culture Palace (Sukhbataar Square). The performances will be on the 7th and 8th of April at the Culture Palace Art Gallery, 6pm. Johanni's lecture, "Xoomei, nomadisme et urbanisation" (in French and translated to Mongolian) is free and will be held on 8th April at 2pm (I assume in the Alliance Francaise). The four performers are Nanjidiin Sengedorj, Dashdorjiin Tserendavaa, Baatarin Odsuren and Taravjaviin Ganbold.