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Created: 31st May 2001
Altai-Hangai - Gone with the Wind
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Altai-Hangai is a group of musicians and singers from Mongolia. Named after the Altai mountains and the Hangai steppes, large natural reserves in Central and Western Mongolia. Formed by four people from that area in 1993, they have spent much time spreading their music through Europe and the US. Using traditional Mongolian instruments and forms, not only do they produce traditional music, but they have recently started producing some jazz fusion music as well.

The Players

Palamshav Childaa (Good Day) - The main source for material and song texts for the group, Palamshav is the son of a herdsman from the Uvs province. Born in 1959, he has travelled round the world, playing the tovshuur, performing traditional, and modern, Mongolian dances. He has played with many different artists, from a wide range of cultures, giving him the ability to fuse different styles. Palamshav is also the groups Shaman.

Ganbold Muukha (Inflexible Metal) - Also born in Uvs, in 1970, Ganbold's family is a family of camel drivers. This doesn't tell the whole story, as they are also highly creative musicians, singers and dancers. Ganbold appears to be the cream of the crop. He sings, plays numerous instruments including the horsehead fiddle, the piano, and even the accordian. His ability to play the more Western instruments probably occured during his professional training at the Music and Dance College in Ulaan Batar.

Ganzorig Nergui (Strong Heart) - From Selenge, his father was a herdsman. During their travels across the steppes Ganzorig learned to sing and imitate the whistles of birds. An excellent throat-singer1, he can play the horseshead fiddle to accompany his singing. He can also play the tsuur flute.

Byambakhishig Lhagva (Saturday's Present) - Born in Gobi-Altai, in 1974, the son of a woodcarver and long-song singer, Byambakhishig is highly talented horsehead fiddle player and singer. His entertaining traits came through early, and he had already appeared in a film by the time he was ten. His only musical experience outside Mongolia is with Altai-Hangai.

How They Met

Well, the story goes like this....

It all started in 1993, at the begining of summer, near a small village called Khudlaani Nuur. Here the locals, and some travellers gathered to celebrate - it was the begining of Summer after all. The festivities and competitions had already been going on for two days by the time the group met.

Right in the center of the party ground, surrounded by wild kumiss2 drinkers, there was a more modern day competition being run - The Car Maintanance Competition. A genuine Mongolian national sport, the skills displayed here has saved many lives during drives through the barren, uninhabited deserts and steppes. Palamshav was the winner that day. He was the first to crawl from beneath his car and drink a bowl of kumiss. His wild exuberance, leaping around and dancing wildly, as he drank kumiss was commented on, and he was encouraged to find some musicians to be able to fully entertain the surrounding kumiss drinkers.

This was not hard for The Champion of Car Maintanance. Over the hubbub of the crowd he could already hear the high whistles of a talented throat-singer. Wandering over he found a young man, and nearby a morin khuur player, with another beside him just stringing his instrument. He summoned them for an evening of music, dance and drink. Here was the begining of Altai-Hangai.

Ganzorig was the throat-singer. He had been signed up for the Bokh games, a Mongolian version of wrestling. However, he was no match for the competition and after being knocked out in the first round he joined the singers, encouraging and judging the wrestlers.

Byambakhishig was the man stringing his morin khuur. He had been in an archery shoot, his arrow pointing directly at the bay3. As the insert states, 'The bow was bent to its limits, while visions of Dzhenggis Khan's master-archers harrassed Byambakhishig's mind. A sudden tremble in the muddy ground on the moment supreme ruined Byamba's chances to follow the footsteps of his famous forebears.' Byambabakhishig had missed, the arrow going wide. Leaving the field he headed to the centre, to string his morin khuur and play for the wrestlers and revellers.

The tremble in the ground, which had caused Byambakhishigs miss, was caused by a herd of horses. They were racing, but had lost the course and passed only meters away from the archery tournament. The man in the lead was Ganbold with his horse Dragonfly, he was the first to pass the post, only to find that he had crossed it in the wrong direction. The win was claimed by a young, and until then, unknown horseman who, though slow, had kept to the course. To ease his sorrows Ganbold took up his morin khuur, and headed to the centre of the party.

Gone with the Wind

The only album known is called 'Gone with the Wind', subtitled 'Songs of the Steppes' on the CD front cover and 'Whimsical Whoopee Mongolian Melodies' on the CD itself. Comprising 16 songs, it is a tour of traditional Mongolian music.

Gone with the Wind - Play List

It is very difficult to describe the singing and tunes. Some are toe-tapping, some insert themselves into your head and go round and round, others just flow right over you. Some of the touches are incredible, in some songs it sounds like the animals, not just 'sounds like the animals' as a metaphore, but actually sounds like horses whinneying. Really good.

  1. Khuur Melodies - A song expressing, and exulting, the quiet, soft sounds of the Altai, the Hangai and the Gobi plains.
  2. Altai Praise Song - A ubiquetous tune, played by every Mongolian musician. This makes it a way to judge the style and qualities of the artist among Mongols. Its performance, on the Altai itself, during Tsagan Sar4 is still a venerated, sacred event.
  3. Khoomil - An overtone song, performed by Ganzorig. About a man racing towards his irresistable love, on the best of all horses - a pacer.
  4. The Nicest Auburn Horses - This song celebrates the most special of horses, which deserves to have the most delicate saddle, from the hand of Sanbuu5 himself, because of its extrodinary character.
  5. Bordshigan - This song is about the village Bordshigan and the traditions and ways of its famous craftsmen.
  6. The Five Kazakhs - An air based on a legend about Kazakhs who raid and plunder a Mongolian village.
  7. The Trot of an Uulgan Shar Camel - This is what the CD insert says about this song, 'Every morning camels spread their piteous-sounding cries over the vast plains of the Gobi desert. The moving moos of the camels bring Mongols to tears, while the Mongols' khuur-play can bring camels to tears. Here the khuur renders the camelmoose, preceded by the rather shaky camel trot. Beware, this mutual tearjerker may do you brown, too!'
  8. Khookhoo Namjil - The name of a legendary frontier guard. This man is said to have produced the first Mongolian fiddle, the argasuun, from the parts of his best horse when it died, so it would live forever.
  9. Praise Song to the Military Horses - From the CD insert, 'Under the roof of blue Mongolia, the horse army, famous the world over. The historical army praised forever.'
  10. The Four Oirat Tribes - The CD insert says 'When the Mongols move to new pastures, not only their hearts cry. The dog peeps silently and breathes restlessly, while the horses, the camels and the young cattle, grown attached to the place, move on in silence'. What more can be said.
  11. Four Mountains - Again the CD insert says it best when it says, 'Musings about a lost love at the sight of a vunerable chicken hidden in a chasm.'
  12. Ode to Mandukhai Khutan - A song about this famous woman, the only known female leader in Mongolian history.
  13. The Black Dragonfly from the Gobi - As a Mongol sits in his ger6 or arwan nek davger te baishin7 a Black Dragonfly, from teh Gobi Desert flies by.
  14. Bogd Dundschin garav - A song praising a mountain near Ulaan Baatar, or more precisly its spiritual qualities and sacred sites. The name has power, and mentioning it on the slopes is said to be dangerous.
  15. Praise Song for Bogd Khan Mountain - A song praising the natural beauty of the same mountain and surroundings. The mountain is named after the last of the Bogd Khans8, or Mongolia's lost religious leaders.
  16. Dzhenggis Khan Praise Song - An account of the birth and life of this, the man whom the Mongols see as the worlds mightiest ruler ever9.

How This Researcher Found Them

Wandering through Amsterdam one time we came to The Rijksmuseum. Now, if you have never seen this building, it is big - really big. Right through the middle of it is this vaulted tunnel leading to the Museumplein. The tunnel is also big - 30 feet tall, 300 feet long, drive a car through it nae bother, sort of thing. As we neared it, I heard what I first thought to be Scottish Gaelic singing. Getting nearer it became clearer that it wasn't.

The throat-singing reverberated throughout the walkway, the high whistle dancing above it, you could almost feel it in your chest. All of a sudden we came upon these four people sitting there, dressed in costume - Mongolian traditional costume, we now know - surrounded by a fair crowd. They were singing and playing these strange instruments and in front of them they had a box of CD's. At 30 Guilders, I thought 'bargain' and bought it. 30fl well spent. I am now looking for any other albums they have done.


1 Also called overtone singing, by somehow compressing the lungs, the singer can produce a sort of growl and a high-pitched whistle at the same time. Apparently it is produced in much the same way as whale song, from reverbarations in a body cavity. Amazing to see, hard to do, and apparently trying this can cause females to lose their voice. If this is true or not is unknown, but a female Mongolian singer said it, so forewarned is forearmed.
2 Mongolian alcoholic drink, produced by fermenting mare's milk - M'mmmm, fermented mare's milk - sounds delish...
3 The target
4 Mongolian New Year festivities
5 A legendary saddle-maker
6 A felt tent
7 Concrete 11-story block of flats
8 Agvaanluvsanchoyjindanzanchigbalsambu - no really, that was his name....
9 and they have a good case...


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