Last week I went to the Edinburgh festival for the second time in so many years. Now that I’ve been a couple of times I don’t know why I didn’t go before. I have two brothers who both live there and a number of friends I could possibly stay with. It makes no sense. This time I was able to go and see my absolute favourite comedians Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, the latter for two shows (Edinburgh Fringe Podcast and Talking Cock). Both performed stunning shows, Stewart Lee (Carpet Remnant World) literally so funny that my face ached with laughter and Herring an intellectually pleasing and quite affecting take on men’s genital insecurities. I was also introduced to Simon Munnery‘s offbeat comedy in a fantastic show “Fylm-maker”.
However the real reason I travelled up this time was to catch up with the Mongolian Throat Singer I had met several months ago in Huhehote, Uni. Uni was up with the group Anda Union, a fantastic traditional mongolian folk band. I went to see their performance in the Assembly George Square. I was very probably the youngest audience member there which was a shame because I think the folk music has something of a universal appeal and is in some places exhilarating and virtuosic.
There are some parallels between the ethos of this group and the revival of scottish folksong in the 20th Century. I met up with the film-maker and organiser Tim and their manager Jane who had both been instrumental in my original meeting with Uni. According to them traditional folk is rarely performed in Huhehote, instead rather bad synth music in bars and this group is an attempt to commercially market real traditional music. The quality of the musicians and the tightness of their act is incredible and they are engaging when they take turns to explain aspects of it to the audience in (slowly improving) English.
To me what detracts in this effort and probably doesn’t do them well in attracting a younger audience are the following: a) the setting: although this is marketed as a high quality concert, the type of music and I think the audience it will engage with most are followers of traditional folk music. This type of music would go down very well in a regular folk night at a pub and a less formal situation b) the lack of programme or subtitles: while you could tell that something exciting or amusing was going on it was hard to relate to it without knowing what. One love song was interesting because the singer kept posing and making clopping sounds with his mouth. It transpired afterwards that the singer was on a horse watching a beautiful girl. Finally c) The mystique of it – although this wasn’t as pronounced as I had seen in another throat-singing act, the idea that the group is somehow other-worldy is somehow off-putting. Again the nature of folk-music would suggest an earthiness to it that to me is more interesting. The notion of sitting down and having a drink with these people is much more interesting to me than the idea than they are from mystical lands I’ve never heard of.
Heavy criticisms, but mainly because I enjoyed this concert with almost every fibre of my being and wished more people were there to see it. The band are very nice to talk to and accommodating. Each audience member received a hada, a blue mongolian Khata symbolising the sky and good luck. I later learned that this scarf also signifies an activist group campaigning for the freeing of Mongolia from Chinese rule, which pleases me greatly. Tim the film maker was very nice to talk to and it was really nice to thank him and to catch up with Uni, whom I wasted no time in demonstrating my progress to. Apparently I understand mongolian Hoomei now, but I have to do a lot of practice to get it louder and good sounding.
Here are a couple of videos of me practicing the Isakere voice before I went to the fringe. I’ve since got a bit better and more relaxed when singing. I am nowhere near as good as the Mongolians, although they were impressed with my subtones (third video).
and here is the Anda Union in action:
One day I will post up the video I made of my lesson with Uni in Huhehote. I’m not quite ready for that; I was an over-excited and grinning idiot going into the lesson and come across as very strange and a bit clueless. However I will leave you with a couple of short sections which show Uni’s ability and my inability. I flatter myself I’ve improved since then!
I will be doing another blog post soon explaining what I’ve learned about Hoomei in case you’d like to learn how to do it.
Here as promised is the audio version of this blog, with some little extras and a bit of throat singing 🙂