Joel Dwek & Danny Wiser
MONGOLIA: Sounds of Mongolia - Egschiglen
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
The cultural heritage of the Mongolian people is on display in this album of traditional music of the steppe
Danny: I have never been more nervous about writing a review. Partially because, unlike with most albums one might not like because the style does not click with the individual, I run the risk of offending an entire people’s culture and tradition. However, it is not the culture behind the tradition of Mongolian throat singing which I had the problem with, it was my unfamiliarity with such a sound. Dare I reveal that the first time I heard it, I let out a nervous titter, because I could not quite process the fact that a human being was capable of making this noise. I found myself in amazement, and then very soon afterwards, the amazement started to run thin and I couldn’t help the fact that I just hated this sound. Think of it like salmiakki (salty liquorice) which is a delicacy in parts of Scandinavia, that no matter how many times I have tried I still despise the taste of it, even though I can appreciate that foods like this and surströmming (fermented herring) form an important part of their culinary culture.
Sounds Of Mongolia is, however, an album that does not consist of throat singing on every track but rather contains some utterly beautiful music in the interim between each segment of throat singing that I could not help be distracted by. Yet, away from my disdain for the sound of throat-singing, I was allowed plenty of moments to be in awe of some of the eclectic instruments on display such as the morin khuur (horsehead-violin), joochin (dulcimer) and tobshuur (swan-neck-lute). Personally speaking, Tanz melody is the pick of the bunch, but there are numerous brilliant songs. The sounds produced by some of these incredibly traditional instruments allowed me to visualise centuries gone by in which the likes of Genghis Khan would listen to similar music on their stopovers during voyages going from town to town on horseback.
If like me throat-singing is not your thing, I would say this album is still worth listening to for the other instruments. If you really do not have the patience to listen to all 17 songs and wish to avoid the throat-singing then whilst I suppose you are missing out on the curious tradition, you can still gain a lot from listening to the following songs: Ayaz (improvisation), Eruu cagaan bolimor (White-Breasted Sparrow), Horgon torgon deel (The Silk Coat), Tanz melody (Dance Melody), Govin undur (The Hills in the Gobi), Naadmin ugluu, (The Naadam Festival), Taivan namar (The Colours of the Seasons), Cenherlen haragdah (The Beatury of the Mountains),Boroonii uul (Rain Clouds).
“The music itself becomes a way of expressing emotion quite unlike any other, and though it may not be for everyone, after a while I could not deny it had charmed me into liking it.”
Joel: We are familiar with acquired tastes when it comes to food, but can a style of music also be an acquired taste? It might be a more familiar experience among people to, for example, dislike the flavour of something like pickled onions, and then grow to like it as time goes by, but is the same true of music, in this case, Mongolian throat singing? Danny will have no doubt spoken at length about the specifics of the album itself, but in my section, I’d like to discuss the actual technique that the band use that is particular to Mongolia and other peoples of the Eurasian steppe. Throat singing, also known as overtone singing, is a manner of using one’s voice more like an instrument than an actual human voice, in which two harmonic overtones are produced, allowing the singer to create more than one pitch at a time. To put it mildly, it takes some getting used to. If you have never heard it before, it might seem strange that this otherworldly tone is coming out of the mouth of a human being, and to my ears, it sounded unbelievably bizarre at first, and I wasn’t sure I liked it, though we had both decided that to give the Mongolians their fair due and thus we had to choose at least one album of predominantly throat singing music. Then, something happened. The more I listened to Egschiglen and their albums, the more I began to find the throat singing rather beautiful and touching in its own way. After prolonged exposure to the music, I began to find something unique, interesting, and valuable in it despite its obvious cultural significance that no-one could deny. The music itself becomes a way of expressing emotion quite unlike any other, and though it may not be for everyone, after a while I could not deny it had charmed me into liking it. Throat singing is believed to come from herders attempting to mimic animal sounds and throw their voice as far as possible, in which case the origins are elemental, based in nature, and thus cannot help but still achieve a resonance today. So, while Egschiglen’s music might not initially be for you (and indeed, like Danny, it might never be your thing), I would urge you to listen beyond just half a song or so. Who knows, you might acquire the taste too.