Hanggai at The Barrymore, June 10, 2011

hanggai-061011-14Can you say Hanggai? The name refers to the sprawling, wild open spaces of Inner Mongolia, endless expanses of grassland and big skies – home to the band and their repertoire of traditional songs and instruments. Hanggai’s music melds rock, punk, folk and bluegrass and the six-piece band incorporates traditional instruments such as the tsuur flute, the morin khuur (or horsehead fiddle) and the tobshur – a two-stringed plucked instrument – alongside programmed beats, electric guitars, banjos and drums. Four of the seven-piece band – vocalist Hurcha, lutist Ilchi, horse-head fiddler Batubagan, bassist Niu Zin – are from Mongolia.

Garbed in elaborate costumes (a mix of traditional robes and cowboy boots), the band received a warm welcome by fans and supporters of the Yahara Waterfront Festival, the presenters of the show at the Barrymore. The first set was a relatively muted affair, with most of the audience staying put in their seats as the band played folk melodies that featured the fiddle, flute and overtone singing (also called throat singing, where the singer produces deep, resonating melodies using their lungs, throat and mouth). By the second set, both the band and the audience were warmed up and the song broke into the Drinking Song with the popping of beer cans and a toast to the audience. Lead singer Hurcha was sans shirt and in a studded, black leather ‘lederhosen’.. perhaps an indicator for the set to come. Punk and rock elements were more pronounced in the second half of the show, with the mouth harp, banjo and fiddle joining the guitar feedback to create a unique, endearing sound. Time flew by much faster than the 90 minutes it was since show start, and a standing ovation brought Hanggai back on stage for another rendition of the Drinking Song, this one picking up the pace from a lilting folk tune to culminate with punk ferociousness and foot stomping.

…a perfect warmup to the upcoming weekend of music and festivities at the Yahara Waterfront festival.