Mongolian sonic marvels such as khoomii, or throat singing, and morin khuur, the horse-headed fiddle, are no longer considered oddities on this subtropical island.
But there are variations in styles and practices among different regions and tribes of the Asian Steppe that, though mostly imperceptible to the untrained ear, mean that one troupe of throat singers from, say, Russia’s Tuvalu, is rather different than one from Mongolia or China’s Inner Mongolia — and thus, at least for fans of the art form, worth seeing.
Consider the Musical and Dramatic Theatre of Khovd Aimag, which tours Taiwan starting this week. The troupe specializes in the (in Taiwan) heretofore-unfamiliar sound of the Altai Mountains.
Seen as distant and remote even by Mongolian standards, the province of Khovd is located at the foot of Altai Mountains in the western part of the country, bordering on Xinjiang. The region is home to 13 tribes and its musical and while in a sense multicultural, its artistic traditions are said to have received less influence from the outside world because of its remote location.
When asked about the differences between throat singing in western Mongolia and China’s Inner Mongolia, Nanjid Sengedorj, the award-winning lead khoomii artist from an ensemble of 18 Khovd khoomii singers, bielgee dancers, and other musicians, said their region’s music evokes the beauty of the Altai Mountains.
Another art form from western Mongolia, bielgee is a kind of dance that dates back to the 13th century. With the emphasis on movements of the shoulders, hands, fingers, waist and legs, bielgee dancers portray the traditional life of western Mongolia, mimicking daily activities such as archery, wrestling and horse-riding.
The ensemble also showcases the tsuur, a hand-carved wooden flute. This traditional instrument is distinguished by a fast vibrating echoing sound.
“Imagine you are in the Altai. Hawks soar high above and hover over the mountains, which are capped with snow year-round. It is the sound of tsuur,” Nanjid Sengedorj said.