Laments about the open steppe, nature and horses are popular themes of traditional Mongolian music. Long songs, as the name suggests, last quite a while and are loud by Mongolian standarts. The original long songs were written about 800 years ago and they are special songs written for weddings, festivals and religious ceremonies. There are major long song concerts staged every year in Ulaanbaatar and Norovbanzad is Mongolia’s long song diva.
There are traditional Mongolian string and wind instruments, as well as drums and gongs. Mongolians have made their music through the ages using metal, stone, bamboo, leather and wood. The most popular musical instrument is the Morin Huur (the horse fiddle) which is said to represent the movement and sounds of a horse. It is a square fiddle with a long, straight handle curved at the tip and topped with a carving of a horse’s head. Every Mongolian family strives to have a Morin Huur in their ger although they are hand-made. Small flutes and pipes are also popular.
Many musical instruments are used purely for religious ceremonies. A shell shaped bugle called ‘Dun’ is used to gather lamas before a ceremony and Ganlin horns are still used to dispel bad spirits. The Ganlin is made from the femur of an eighteen-year-old female virgin (who died of natural causes) and is filed down to size. Examples of this controversial instrument can be found in Choijin lama museum in Ulaanbaatar (See the city guide section) and Manzshir monastery (See the Bogd Khaan National Park section) 50 kilometers south west of the capital.
Mongolia’s Buddhist temples host the spectacular Tsam dances during special religious ceremonies. Lamas wearing huge, ornate masks and brilliantly decorated costumes sway and circle to the sound of gongs and trumpets.
It is a theatrical art by those bearing the external appearance and characters of different apostles and devils, legendary animals and figures. The scenery, opening, inaction, musical climax and outcome of Tsam dance reflect the character of the participants in different ways: cruel, calm or humorous.
But Mongolia’s best known traditional music is Hoomii, described as “double-throat singing”. Perfecting this eerie beautiful, acoustic singing takes lengthy training. Hoomii originates from western Mongolia, but is performed across the country.
Meanwhile western music has become a big thing in post 1990 Mongolia. A number of western sounding bands have hit the domestic charts, Chingis Khaan, Kharanga, Hurd and Niciton are all popular with young people. Individual singers such as Ariunaa and Saraa also play to packed houses everywhere across Ulaanbaatar.