Mongolian throat singing rocks the world

By Xing Daiqi
Hoomii, also known as Mongolian throat singing, is an ancient musical art dating back a thousand years. The exquisite art form has been brought back to life on the Chinese rock scene, where the mysterious sound has been blended into electric guitar rhythms.
You hear hoomii in several recent movie soundtracks, including the most recent Chinese blockbuster Bodyguards and Assassins, the historical epic Mongol, a German- Kazakhstan- Russian- Mongolian co-production, and in the arthouse film Mongolian Pingpong by avant-garde Chinese filmmaker Ning Hao.


Hoomii is also popular on TV, as well as in trendy bars and performance venues across China.
The sound imitates the ripples of a stream or an echo in the mountains. Throat singing produces two simultaneous vocal tones in the human voice and therefore is considered a great skill.
For the past 100 years, this original art form was on the edge of extinction on the vast Inner Mongolian plateau.
Nowadays, the talent is perfected by only a few singers in Inner Mongolia and Central Asia, notably in the Tuvan Republic and among certain other ethnic groups in the Altai Mountains. On October 1, 2009, Mongolian Hommii of China was successfully listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
"Hommii is one of the most ancient and precious arts in the cultural heritage of mankind," said musicologist Moerjihu.
"This unique art form captures the essence of Mongolia, the sound of nature, the nomadic lifestyle, and the expression of a free spirit."
Since the 1990s, Chinese musicians and music scholars have attempted to preserve throat singing through extensive musical exchange programs with neighboring countries.
Hoomii has also been introduced in the curriculum of music academies. Meanwhile, indie bands and rock groups have taken the art form to a new level.
Gangzi Tuliguer, a ballad singer from Inner Mongolia now based in Beijing: "I didn't know about hoomii until 2006 when I went back to my hometown in Inner Mongolia and my parents told me about this unique technique of throat singing."
"I was captivated by the music of my own ethnic group and immediately started surfing the Internet and imitating other singers," he said, adding, "It was about that time that throat singing began to emerge on the mainland."
Gangzi created a fresh style of his own, a fusion of throat singing with Mongolian ballads and guitar strumming, making himself a fixture on the Chinese folk rock scene.
"One of my most popular hoomii songs is called Suluding, which means "god of war" in Mongolian. In the past, Mongolians used the vocal technique as a wartime battle strategy, because the magnifi cent bass sound could effectively exaggerate the size of their army and frighten away their enemies."
"Like many of my other compositions, the song was inspired by Mongolian history and legend.
The Blue Hometown was adapted from a song my mother taught me." He said hoomii performers don't mind blending their legendary folk art into modern electronic music, because it's another way to protect and preserve throat singing.
"Of course, there are groups sticking to the tradition by using the Mongolian fiddle and other conventional percussion instruments," Gangzi explained.
"Gradually, modern elements like the guitar and keyboard are being added to compositions because we want to appeal to a younger audience. "
At the same time, hoomii singers like Huun-Huur-Tu, a pop band based in Tuvan has played mix-and-match with other musical genres, such as blues, putting throat singing on the map of "world music".
"Nowadays, hoomii is blossoming throughout China, even in the south," exclaimed Gangzi. "People who are into music know about this art form and are beginning to practice the skill. They think it's a cool thing to do."
The performing art form is more commonly heard on festive occasions, such as the Nadam Fair, the most important festival for the Mongolian ethnic group.
Gangzi said the prevalence of Internet users in China also helps boost the popularity of the vocal technique.
"You can find many music videos uploaded by hoomii singers online. There are also quite a number of websites and forums dedicated to learning the technique."
"It takes a lifetime to master throat singing," Ganzi added. "Whether it is listed as an intangible cultural heritage or not, we should all do our part to safeguard and preserve this ancient art for all mankind."

Source:Global Times Newspaper of China
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