From the steppes of Mongolia by way of Beijing, Hanggai brings a new twist to Mongolian folk music. Blending traditional instrumentation and throat-singing with Western punk and classic rock (they cite Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Secret Machines, Electrelane and Neil Diamond as influences – and it rings true), the band creates an altogether new sound that brings ancient traditions into the present day. In other words, they are a classic FreshGrass artist! We’ve been chasing them for years, hoping to present them at the festival, and it’s finally happening – this is a rare set not to be missed.
“The natural ease with which these young musicians fit their mother culture’s traditional musical arsenal into structures provided by another culture is remarkable … there is never a sense of novelty in this music, just the sense that these unique, singular traditions can have a place in music moving forward.”
-Pitchfork (8.0 album review)
Hanggai, from the steppes of Mongolia by way of Beijing, is a crossover band that blends traditional music and rock. The band’s members come from Inner Mongolia which covers a vast portion of China’s north, Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, Qinghai’s Haixi Mongolian Prefecture in northwest China and Beijing, China’s capital which lies far to the east.
Formed in 2004 when Ilchi and fomer band mate Xu Jingcheng re-discovered the beauty of traditional Mongolian music, the band has now grown to six players, Batubagen (Inner Mongolia), Yiliqi (Inner Mongolia/Beijing), Hurizha (Qinghai), Meng Da (Inner Mongolia), Niu Xin (Inner Mongolia) and Ailun (Inner Mongolia).
“Hanggai have made the leap from folk phenomenon to crossover pioneers without losing their soul. Built from – and meant for – Mongolia’s wide open spaces, this music will make you homesick for a place you’ve never been.” (Rhapsody)
In 2008, Hanggai released their first album, Introducing Hanggai, which garnered glowing praise internationally. Esteemed indie music website Pitchfork reviewed Introducing Hanggai at a 8.0, saying Hanggai’s music….
“distills everything powerful about Mongolian folk music and makes something new from the ingredients…transcendently powerful music that anyone from anywhere can understand.” (Pitchfork)
Through touring both internationally and domestically Hanggai had begun to make a subtle change, moving forward from the more straightforward traditional sound captured on their first album. Their live show had begun to demonstrate the rock sensibilities of these talented players and to showcase the band’s ability to truly cross over, from a traditional-instrument constructed sound built around a rock framework to a new sound, one that is a richer, more complex blend of Mongolian musical sound with modern rock sensibility.
From 2009, Hanggai played some of the best international festivals in the world, including Rosklide, Lowlands, Fuji Rock, the Chicago World Music Festival, Sziget, Wacken open air (Europe’s largest metal festival), FMM festival, Sydney festival, Bonnarroo and Womad festivals in Abu Dhabi, UK, Gran Canarias, Australia and New Zealand, The tours took them to all 5 continents and in June 2013 the band performed in Africa and has added the 6th continent to their list.
While China’s capital may seem like a surprising place for a Mongolian folk revival, Hanggai has established a large following in Beijing’s rock saturated music scene with their refreshing interpretations of the traditional songs of their steppe. (Shetland Folk Festival)
In 2010 they completed their second album, He who travels far, which showcases a new sound the band developed over the past few years and captures the energy of their live shows. The album was produced by Ken Stringfellow, an American musician and producer who has worked with the likes of R.E.M and Neil Young, and JB Meijers, an accomplished Dutch musician and producer.
“This is Asian crossover music at its best”. (The Guardian)
“Like Tinariwen, Hanggai were put on this planet to revive your love for old-school riffage, embrace them” (Mojo)
“Hanggai’s traditional strings and electric guitars show the most innovative in world music today” (El Pais)
In each show Hanggai hopes the audience for that short time will experience what the grasslands feel like, the freedom of life on the steppe, the beauty of the four seasons on the grasslands, the experience of nomadic life, the experience of life from the back of a horse. As one fan put it “when I close my eyes, I can see the grasslands.”
Hanggai tries to get back to the grasslands as often as they can. But as professional musicians, much of their time is spent in cities, much of their time is spent on the road. But after all, that’s what it is all about, the journey.
After a busy 2012 tour schedule that brought Hanggai to Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the US and Canada they have started working on their new CD. May 2013 saw them recording in various studio’s in Beijing again with producer JB Meijers. The new CD Baifang – Back To You has been released in February 2014 by Suburban records in Europe.
In 2015 and 2017 they worked with and released albums produced by Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Deftones) and Garth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, Skunk Anansie).
The song Lun Hui was selected to be performed on national Chinese TV in the program Voice of China, and became a major hit. The 950 mil. viewers selected the band to come back and perform at multiple occasions. This led the band to became a household name in China and not, as previously, only within the Inner Mongolian community.
Recently they have also collaborated with classical composer and conductor Tan Dun who rearranged some of the songs of Hanggai into classical pieces and they have performed these with Tan Dun and orchestra’s around China and most recent in Melbourne, Australia.
This experience also led to the making of their 2019 album “Big Band Brass” where they recorded old and new songs with a horn section. The album was produced by Garth Richardson and recorded in Vancouver and Los Angeles in December 2018. The album will be released in March 2019 in China followed by a international release in June 2019.
Hanggai is Yiliqi (Ilchi) – Tobshuur, banjo, and Hoomei vocals; Hurizha – vocals, Amne huur; Batubagen (Bagen) – Morin Khuur and Hoomei vocals; Niu Xin – Bass and vocals; Ailun (Ailun) – guitars and Sanxian; and Meng Da – drums and percussion.