Mongolia Field Note #8 ‣ Author: Dimitri Staszewski
Coming to Mongolia for the first time in 2013 I met and interviewed a nomadic herder named Tsevengdorj. Talking about how he used music in his daily life he asked, half perplexed, why I didn’t just come back the next day to record him singing to his herd—something he explained to me that he did every day. I accepted and ended up capturing what would become a foundational recording:
The goal of Mongol Music Archive (mongolmusicarchive.com) is to capture everyday uses of traditional music in the daily lives of Mongolian herders. As a general shift from nomadic to industrial and urban lifestyles occurs in Mongolia, it is important to capture these moments and performances. While traditional music will remain part of Mongolian culture with or without nomadic herding, these performances exhibit something that staged performances by professional musicians cannot. In addition to capturing location specific songs, these recordings aim to showcase the perspective the performers give them. Herders sing about actions they carry out on a daily basis, the environment they inhabit, and use songs as tools to calm and train their animals.
Interviewing Jarkin “Jaka” Duisen (29), a Kazakh herder and local entertainer from the Tolbo region in Bayan Ulgii. He explained that he learned old folk songs from cassette tapes he found in the city of Ulgii – photo credit Dimitri Staszewski
A Kazakh wedding singer laughing and smoking with friends after a recording session – photo credit Dimitri Staszewski
It is difficult, even for Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar, to see these types of performances first hand. Mongol Music Archive is a free resource open to anyone with an internet connection. As the collection of recordings grows, I hope to bring awareness to this underrepresented facet of traditional Mongolian music, create a valuable research tool, have the videos serve as inspiration for professional and non-professional musicians, and educate listeners worldwide.
My work has brought me all over Mongolia. Traveling with a small backpack of audio and video equipment, I have recorded a mouth harpist in the South Gobi, ridden two days on horse back to capture Dukha reindeer herder folk music, and lived with Kazakh eagle hunters in western Mongolia. I recently returned from nine months living in Mongolia, which allowed me to capture close to two hundred recordings. I’m still editing those recordings, combing through thousands of photos, and organizing my thoughts so I can continue to write about and share what I experienced.
About the Author
Dimitri Staszewski is a recording engineer, producer, and explorer who enjoys merging his passions for creating multimedia content and exploration. To learn more about his project visit mongolmusicarchive.com or read some of his published writing, which is linked below: