You better watch your steppe

Several months ago one of my Chinese friends (who is not generally active in the music scene) told me she had been to see a band called Hanggai. It’s a name I’ve seen around for a long time, and their descriptions always mention Genghis Khan and the sound of the Mongolian steppes, so I’ve been curious, but somehow never caught them live. My friend even had their CD, which was given to her by someone else, but she didn’t really like it (said it didn’t sound like they did live) so she gave it to me to check out. I do like it, so I added them to the list of bands I wanted to see.

On Wednesday I finally got my chance. I met the friend who gave me the CD, and we had a pretty good dinner at a restaurant called The Park, which is in the same block as Yugong Yishan (yes, that place again). It being a weeknight, I was hoping the music would start earlier than usual, but no luck: they didn’t start playing till about 10.
For this show, there were seven guys on stage.
The drummer had one of the more interesting kits I’ve seen, and in general there were lots of beautiful folk instruments used.
And there was an electric guitar as well, though it was generally low in the mix and not featured prominently in the arrangements.
The horsehead fiddle featured in virtually every song. It’s pitched in about the same register as a cello, and can be played with one string as a drone and the other for melody, or, as was often the case, with a very percussive attack on the strings.
This guy was also really good at the throat singing, producing an amazing low droning tone at the same time as a higher melody tone from his voice.
The electric guitarist also played the fiddle at times, for a dual horsehead assault. His instrument has the traditional headstock ornament as well as a “tail.”
For one song they had a dancer come out, but with the crowd all around her, I couldn’t really see what she was doing.
When all three of the singers were singing, it was quite an impressive sound.

They finished up around midnight. It was still uncomfortably hot outside for my bike ride home, and it was certainly hard to get to work the next morning, but I’m so glad I was finally able to see this amazing band.

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