Traditional Mongolian music at the 12th APPAN International Festival
- Manjari Sinha, Gurgaon

July 19, 2010

The Morin Khuur (Horsehead fiddle) is a unique instrument associated with Mongolian tradition and culture. A nomadic nation in the past, Mongolia used horse not only as a means of transport but also as a friend. Many songs and poems were written extolling the horse. Their love for horse created this musical instrument which has the wooden head of horse on top of the fiddle and uses horse's tail hairs for the two strings and the bow. It has a magical sound resembling the sonorous Sarangi from India or the deep sound of the Western Cello. The Mongolian performance art (song, dance drama and rituals) is inseparably entwined with Morin Khuur. Surprisingly, it's not only a traditional instrument of Mongolia but its special sound contributes to the quality of Modern music too.

It was a rare opportunity to listen to a unique performance by Davaazorig Altagerel, the famous Mongolian musician playing this magical instrument during the 12th International Festival of APPAN, the Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network in memory of the eminent artist Late Serbjeet Singh, held recently in the beautiful surroundings of Himalayas at Arman Estate, Banikhet, Dalhousie, the home estate of APPAN's Chair Person, Shanta Serbjeet Singh who had thoughtfully conceived and painstakingly visualized this memorable festival. The theme of the festival was 'Creating Harmony Managing Hate: The Role of Culture, Dialogue and The Arts' which was explored through dialogue, presentations and performances by nearly thirty participating artists and creative people from different part of the world.

The performances showcasing different cultural traditions from various countries comprised the invocatory Shiva's Drum by Pt. Munshi Ram Bharadwaj, the Gaddi (Folk) Music and Dance from Chamba, the living treasure of Noh from Japan presented by Fusao Okamoto, Kun Opera by Yang Yang, Zen dance from Korea by Dr. Sun Ock Lee and Prof. Kim, traditional Indonesian dance by Didik Nini Thowok, Kathak by Uma Sharma, Sattriya dance by disciples of Guru Jatin Goswamy from Sattras of Asam and the traditional music and dance of Mongolia performed by Altengerel Davaazorig and Munkhzul Dorjpalam.

Davaazorig who gradually became Dava to us, has graduated from Music College, Mongolia, and is a working musician and a throat singer for the Mongolian State Morin Khuur Ensemble since 1994. He has given numerous performances in Japan, Austria Switzerland, South Korea, Russia, Italy, Canada and Poland. Dava impressed us not only by his instrumental virtuosity but also with his vocal proves. He could play his instrument and sing along effortlessly, a very difficult style of Mongolian throat technique called Khummii which is the most popular music in their country. Developed during ancient times, this is a unique form of traditional music which produces double tones at one time by the human throat. There are different kinds of throat singing namely Harkhiraa bass tone, Shakhaa baritone and Isgeree, a combination of too low and too high pitch sung together with words, which sounds like a very high pitched whistle.

The music he played sounded very similar to Indian ragas. One of the tunes sounded exactly like Madhmad Sarang. No wonder he could gel so well with the Indian musicians in the impromptu music session on the concluding day with Jwala Prasad singing, Mubarak Ali on tabla and Vipul Ojha on Sattriya khol; improvising the Indian music with such effortless ease that Uma Sharma, the famous Kathak danseuse from India, and Dr. Sun Ock Lee, the renowned Zen dancer from Korea, could not resist dancing to his tunes!

Manjari Sinha has an MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University, MA in Music from Vikram University, Ujjain; B.Ed. from Lucknow University; Sangeet Prabhakar in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad; and further training in sitar from guru Arvind Parikh in the lineage of Ustad Vilayat Khan. She contributes articles in English and Hindi on Music (Hindustani & Carnatic), Dance, Art & Culture for various leading music journals and periodicals. She gives lec-dems on Indian classical music and dance in India and abroad.