There’s a kind of music that conjures up images of clear blue skies, horses roaming an emerald-coloured horizon. It’s the traditional music of the Buryats, an ethnic Russian minority that practices Tibetan shamanism and lives a nomadic lifestyle similar to their cousins in Mongolia. This rich tradition of music is what Namgar (“white cloud” in Tibetan), a Moscow-based music group, has been working hard to preserve and adjust to the modern times.
Looking like characters from the ancient legends of Asia on stage, the leader of the band Namgar delivers the music that is both exotic and easily accessible. She masters the mysteries of nomad steppes, voices of spirits of mountains and forests and her vocal range can go from playful and childlike to gigantic and soaring within the space of a few minutes.
Namgar is a daughter of the steppe, born to a cattle herder. She grew up in a Buryat family in a tiny village of Kunkur near the border crossing of Russia, Mongolia, and China. The music she performs was passed down from her grandparents and father, who sang to her as a child. The inventive arrangements are new, but the stories told in the songs are as old as the indigenous Buryats themselves, with tales and myths of ancient Mongol fighters, champions, horses and famous battles. Hori Buryat tribes, to which Namgar belongs, were supporters of Chingis Khan and important commanders of the Mongol Invasion. Their songs and dances date back to the glorious times of the Mongolian Empire, preserving many genres and songs that became extinct in the other parts of Mongolian world. The repertoire of Namgar consists of the songs and melodies shared by Buryats and Mongolians, embracing the world of sounds as big as from the Lake Baikal in the East of Russia to the Great Wall in China, from the songs of shamanist gatherings of Siberia to celebration songs you might hear at a midsummer fest in Buryatia to exquisite melodies from Inner Mongolia.
The band uses traditional Mongolian instruments, including the yatag (a 13-stringed zither), the chanza (a three-stringed lute) along with electric bass and drums to craft its unique sound. This ancient music seasoned with modern elements of rock and electronic brings together images of the great wide-open and modern drive.