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Pioneering music
2019-03-22 
Hanggai, a Chinese rock band made up of ethnic Mongolian musicians, gives a live preview show of their new album, Big Band Brass, in Beijing on March 7. [PHOTO BY WANG JING/CHINA DAILY]

One of China's top bands is releasing a new studio album combining Mongolian folk tunes with brass instruments and rock 'n' roll, Chen Nan reports.

Hanggai, a rock band from China made up of ethnic Mongolian musicians, has released its sixth studio album titled Big Band Brass.

The new album brings 12 songs, inspired by Mongolian folk tunes, including The Dinjid Bay and The Achnatherum Splendens in the North-all popular in Ordos in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region-that portray the beauty of landscape there. The album was produced in association with a 13-member American jazz brass band.

As with its previous albums, Hanggai's latest songs contain lyrics in Mongolian. The band is known for combining songs based on Mongolian folk with rock 'n' roll.

Hanggai launched a 12-city national tour to promote the new album on Saturday in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, which will conclude in Beijing on April 6.

The idea of the new album came after Hanggai's collaboration with renowned composer Tan Dun, the first being a concert at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2015. In the past four years, the band has performed with Tan in several other concerts, including one in Shanghai in 2017, during which Hanggai performed along with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Tan.

"It is a dialogue between symphony and rock 'n' roll," Tan writes on his website about the cooperation with Hanggai. "The music contains many different elements, and we're taking folk to the future."

Hanggai plays modern-day rock 'n' roll together with Mongolian folk that has existed for generations, he says.

Ilchi (left), the founder of Hanggai, and Huricha, the lead vocalist of the band. [PHOTO BY WANG JING/CHINA DAILY]

"This kind of thinking creates a new language, one that communicates across time."

Tan debuted his work titled Shanghai Semiconductor Receiver at the 2017 Shanghai concert. The music piece tells the story of how people on the Mongolian prairies heard sounds of the outside world through the Shanghai-made semiconductor radio in the 1960s.

Hanggai rearranged this song and has recorded it for the new album.

"Khoomei, or 'throat singing' (a vocal technique used by musicians of the Mongolian ethnic group), the piano, violin, cello, and morin khuur (traditional Mongolian horse-head fiddle) encounter each other" in the new album, says Ilchi, the founder of Hanggai, in Beijing, who uses his throat sounds as the main vocal contribution.

"The band is rooted in Mongolian music, but we are open to different music (styles). It was very inspiring for the band to play with symphony orchestras."

Hanggai, the Mongolian term to describe a place of beautiful pastures, mountains and rivers, was formed in Beijing in 2004. Now, with eight members, including vocalist Ilchi, morin khuur player Batubagen and vocalist-guitarist Yilalata, the band has staged more than 500 shows in over 60 countries and is among the most recognized Chinese bands globally.

Ilchi says making the new album seemed challenging at first.

Hanggai performs the new album at a show in Beijing. [PHOTO BY WANG JING/CHINA DAILY]

Hanggai invited young Chinese composer Bi Jianbo, one of Tan's students, to help write and arrange the music for the jazz brass band's part in the new album.

"The sounds of different musical instruments fit well together and diversify the band's music. The combination also enhances a listener's imagination," says Bi.

The producer of Hanggai's new album is Canadian music producer Garth Richardson, who has previously worked on iconic albums for American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers and Canadian group Nickelback, among others. Richardson had produced another Hanggai album in 2016, titled Horse of Colors.

Members of Hanggai spent more than 20 days in Canada recording the new album before flying to the United States. The jazz brass band part was recorded in Los Angeles.

"There were times when I was scratching my head wondering if this was all going to work. It did. I'm over the moon with the outcome. This is now the coolest record I have ever done. It's a very special record," Richardson writes in an email, adding that the band recorded at his studio in a forest on Canada's Sunshine Coast.

"We did a lot of outdoor recording to be at one with nature," he says. "We did drums and some vocals outside. The band always talked about the homelands and what it meant to them. This setting seemed to fit well with the bands vibe."

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn

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