Monday, September 15, 2008
Album Review: Hanggai
Hanggai - 'Introducing Hanggai' (World Music Network)
Hanggai are a Beijing-based group. They specialise in adaptations of songs from the inner grasslands of Inner Mongolia. This is their debut album, and stands as one of the most astoundingly beautiful albums I have heard this year.
This album has already picked up some excellent reviews, and deserevdly so. Whilst I don't knowingly understand a word of what they are singing, at least until I read through the lyrics on the web, at the risk of descending into cliche, there are times when the music-making and the singing itself transcend the need for this. Over the course of ten songs in forty minutes, it is a charming listen that stretches across continents. I'm not an authority on 'folk/world' music (and I'm starting to have issues with the concept of 'World' music; The Wire's 'label' of 'Global' is a slight improvement) but the feeling of listening to this album is how it has something in common with music that comes from very different places. Comparisons have already been made with the Velvet Underground, due to the use of drones, but there are also hints of The Incredible String band. Penultimate song 'Drinking Song' could have men from anywhere joining in highfiving each other.
The album involves techniques like throat-singing, and traditional instruments like the two-stringed lute and the horse-hair fiddle. The album was produced by Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci. As with much 'East meets West' music, there will no doubt be those who feel that things are being 'westernized' in order for sales;* and anyone who's listened to the Bhundu Boys might feel that concern (see the different recordings available of 'Waerera'), the feeling at the end of the forty minutes is that this is just a beautiful album on any terms. Do yourself a favour and check this out now.
Hanggai -'Yekul Song.' mp3
Hanggai -'Five Heroes.' mp3
Hanggai - 'Haar Hu.' mp3
Hanggai's official website/Hanggai's Myspace
* In The Wire 295, Julian Cowley's review comments that: 'revivalists perform a balancing act that's tricky enough to accomplish without such pressure from a thumb on the scales.'