The Mongolian Long Song Enthralls Tired Souls

Tucked between political and economic giants Russia and China, Mongolia is a great expanse of land consisting of the Gobi Desert, rolling meadows and the tundra. Hardly anything seems to obstruct the view, and the unending horizon welcomes the tired soul with its romantic infinity. As one gazes beyond the grass and occasional horses, one hears the wind howling from Siberia, carrying with it ice and cold. This chill is warmed by a strange and ethereal music, coming from the deep throated and shrill voices of Mongolian herdsmen who have inherited this from their ancient ancestors.

The deep humming and enchanting music have a mystical feel to them and the traveller usually is dumbstruck at the simplicity and the depth of this primal music. Long Song, as it is known is not exactly long in duration but the syllables are stretched for a very long time. Sometimes, a 3-minute song could have just 5 syllables and the singer continues to sing it in the most melodious manner one could imagine. The Long Song is an allegory to the vastness and the expanse of the Steppes.

With slow tempos, long and melodic lines the songs enthrall the listener with their simplicity and brazen placidness. Namdziliin Norovbanzad is the most eminent singer of this style and one could hardly get to hear this almost neglected genre of Mongolian Music. The Long Song is unfortunately being influenced by Western Classical music, which threatens the authenticity of this pastoral and romantic genre of music. The theme of a Long Song could be philosophical, romantic or even brooding.

Some of the accompaniments used are the Morin Khuur, a horse-head fiddle; the Limbe, an indigenous flute or with the traditional Igil. Tenuto notes are prolonged and deeply modulated vibrato gives that distinct oriental sound which travellers to this region have found mesmerizing. The tranquility of the Steppes, the placidness of the mountains, the gurgling of a lonely stream, and other features of the Mongolian landscape are depicted in these Long Songs, which are painfully romantic in nature.

The UNESCO has declared the Mongolian Long Song as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. More than a form of entertainment, the Long Song has been traditionally a form of self-expression, a way to connect with the nature without the need for a listener. Long Song artists are slowly losing out to other traditional and popular forms of Mongolian music, and Western Classical music. Perhaps the nomads of the peaceful Mongolian land and the herdsman are the saviours of this dying art form.

A video performance of Namdziliin Norovbanzad

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