Giving voice to the prairie

Music has no boundaries, says Inner Mongolia-born Urna Chahar-Tugchi who now lives in Germany.

By Mu Qian (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-03 10:33
Fifteen years after she moved to Germany, Inner Mongolia-born vocalist Urna Chahar-Tugchi made her Beijing debut on Friday at the National Library Concert Hall.

Her concert, titled after her latest album Amilal, the Mongolian word for "life", comprised a program of half traditional and half original works, with French-Iranian percussionists Djamchid Chemirani and Keyvan Chemirani, and Hungarian violinist Zoltan Lantos.

Urna's name is not widely known in China but her music is, as it was featured in two popular TV commercials, for Nippon Paint and Sony.

Though she has lived in the West and collaborated with many musicians from different cultural backgrounds, Urna insists her music is quintessentially Mongolian music.
"I learned singing from my parents, grandparents, neighbors and nature," says Urna, who was born in 1968 to a herders' family in the Erdos area of Inner Mongolia autonomous region. "I was lucky to have been born on the Mongolian prairie. Mongolian music is beautiful, like the prairie."
In her five albums and in concerts throughout the world, she always sings in the Mongolian language.

"Most of the time, my audiences do not understand the language but they can understand my music, for music has no boundaries," she says.

Urna never studied singing formally, though she graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory with a major in yangqin (dulcimer). It was a fortunate thing for her because she found academic vocal training to be a process of molding.
"When I was studying in the conservatory, I met many singers of different ethnic groups, but I found their voices became the same It was such a pity."

Urna decided to sing with her natural voice, just as her grandparents did. With a range that spans four octaves and her life experience of the nomad tradition of the Mongolian people, she soon distinguished herself from most Mongolian singers in China.

"Compared with other singers that I have listened to she sings with an unsophisticated and unchained voice, and her singing at a live performance is even more free than when it's recorded," says Huo Liangzi, a magazine editor who was at last Friday's concert.

Urna began to explore the wider world of music after she graduated from the conservatory in 1993, and she formed a jazz group called High Mountain, Flowing Water with some Chinese and Western musicians. She also experimented with improvisation, something that she practiced first as a child.

"I used to sing in a freewheeling way, of whatever I felt at the moment. My mother often asked me at that time, 'What are you singing about?' Mongolian music is free from the very beginning."

Her musical career opened another chapter when she moved to Germany, where she had many opportunities to play with various musicians. In 2003, she was awarded the RUTH prize for Best International Artist.

"China has 56 ethnic groups. If each ethnic group keeps its own music tradition, there will be huge space for the development of Chinese music," Urna says.



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