Exotic. Rustic. Untamed. These are the words that leap to mind as Hanggai unleashes its horsehead fiddle riffs, archaic throat singing solos, and lyrical odes to distant grasslands. But this Mongolian-Chinese folk troop isn’t strictly traditional. Below, frontman Ilchi tells us more about the studio tinkering, international tours and local music festival that Hanggai is using to wrangle their bygone rhythms into the twenty-first century.

This month you’re coordinating the third annual Hanggai festival (May 30- June 1 at 2 Kolegas), in the same crowded season as other heavy hitters like Strawberry and Midi. How does it feel to go toe to toe with those bigger fests?
Actually, we lose money every year with this festival. But we really hope we can build a bigger audience. It’s growing each time, so hopefully soon we can build a bigger and better scene. We are the only world music festival in Beijing, most of the bands we have playing mix different traditional cultures in a unique way.

What bands will you feature this year?
This year we invited a band from Spain called La Pegatina. They toured with us in China three years ago, and they’d always make the audience dance. Turtle Island will also play, they are a tribal punk band from Japan. And we will have a lot of traditional Chinese folk bands like Shanren.

That’s such an eclectic mix. What draws you all together?
It’s the same thing that brought audiences to Hanggai’s shows in Europe this year. They told us some of our songs really sounded like Celtic music. Some people might not expect that from a Mongolian folk band, but I think it’s true, because long ago Celtic people were really close to nature and lived on horseback. Mongolian has always been like that. Most people in the world have this can feel close to this idea in their history.

Last month you released a new album called Back to You. How does it compare to your last disc, He Who Travels Far?
Our last album mixed hard rock, electric guitars with traditional Mongolian music. Back to You is more simple and relaxed, more traditional again like our earliest music. I think we need this kind of music now because everything is moving so fast in China, our people need art that helps us relax.

How is your music a remedy to all that stress, hustle and bustle?
World music and folk music have so many traditional sounds from long ago, when life was closer to nature. You can hear that in our songs, and I hope it will help people appreciate nature more. We have so many environmental problems now, things are moving so fast and the world is getting broken. I hope people will learn more about this through art, so that we can treat our homeland better.

The Hanggai Music Festival will be held at 2 Kolegas from May 30-June 1.

Photo: courtesy of Hanggai


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