VIDEO: The Colors


The Colors are one of Ulaanbaatar’s youngest and more promising bands. Though they’re still in high school, the group of 5 boys seems to eat and breathe rock music.

Last summer, they were on the line-up at Rock Naadam, the annual rock show associated with the traditional Naadam Festival which takes place between July 11 and 13. I recorded their performance along with the other bands.

New Mongolian Music Show

It seems that there’s a new Mongolian television show profiling rock bands. If it’s not new in the past few months, than somehow I missed it when I was in UB. Either way, here are a few videos profiling different bands in UB.

Fast forward to the end for just the live performance!

If any of you have English translations of lyrics, please pass them on!






VIDEO: Kush + Oyuka


Kush & Oyuka are doing big things to make jazz popular for Mongolia’s youth. The male-female duo started a couple years ago after Kush (lead singer) found himself hooked on the genre. He had been volunteering for Mongolia’s Giant Steppes of Jazz International Festival and reached out to his classmate and top-notch pianist to see if she’d be interested in starting something.

They hit it off and began co-writing a series of songs which they recorded last summer. The album will be the first collection of original jazz tunes written in Mongolian.

Watch Kush & Oyuka’s first music video

I filmed them at one of their regular gigs in Ulaanbaatar last year. Here are two songs from that performance.

A Lesson from ‘Gangam Style’

Korean pop-star Psy’s video for ‘Gangam Style’ recently surpassed Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby’ to become the most watched YouTube video EVER, with over 840,000,000 views. Psy has appeared on Saturday Night Live and Ellen (two huge markers of success), I ran into several Psy look-alikes on Halloween, and countless parodies have been made, including the politically charged ‘Mitt Romney Style’ video.

It’s been interesting to hear the reaction to this Korean music video going viral from pundits and reporters here in the United States where, quite frankly, we tend to think we’re the best at this kind of thing.

For those of you who haven’t seen the video or don’t know much about it, ‘Gangnam Style’ is a comical pop song making fun of Seoul’s elite. It’s a goofy song with a good beat and a charismatic dancer/singer. It is what a hit pop song is all about. But it’s done something that not many pop songs from non-Western countries have done – it’s made a huge international splash.

One of my favorite reporting teams, NPR’s Planet Money, recently reported on the video’s success and what it means. They explain that this is the result of a calculated effort on the part of the Korean music industry over the past 20 years to develop a strong and competitive pop industry. As Korea continues to become increasingly competitive in the global marketplace when it comes to cars and electronics, so too are they developing their cultural exports. As reporter Zoe Chace succinctly puts it, “It’s what happens when a developing country becomes developed – an infrastructure to make and export culture develops too.”

For anyone in Asia or who follows Asian culture, Korean pop music (K-pop) is nothing new. The girl group Girls’ Generation, is just one of many who have gained huge recognition throughout the continent.

In Mongolia, where urban youth buy Korean clothes, emulate Korean hairstyles, and watch Korean films, Korean music videos were played on the music channels every bit as much as Mongolian and western videos.

However, the music market in the United States tends to favor a) songs sung in ENGLISH and b) songs produced in the west. And so for ‘Gangnam Style’ to be played on radio stations and featured on television programs is quite a leap.

But, not everyone seems so impressed. Conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly dedicated an episode of his show to trying to understand this trend. It seems ‘Gangnam Style’s’ popularity evaded him, and so he decided to deconstruct the appeal. It’s worth watching the 5 minute clip to fully appreciate.

What I think the root of the issue here is that it’s difficult to accept that another nation (an Asian nation, at that) might actually be competitive in the cultural marketplace. As Americans, we have come to accept that the entire world imports our culture. Sports figures, musicians, actors – their names and faces are known worldwide.

There’s some implicit sense of cultural superiority that accompanies this phenomenon. And now, as other nations’ music and film industries are becoming increasingly competitive here in the United States, it seems we’re losing a bit of that notion that what is produced here in the U.S. is obviously the best and should be consumed the world-over.

Korea has managed to do something that the Mongolian music industry is eager to accomplish. They have created an internationally recognized brand of music (K-Pop) that is now on the same playing field as pop music from Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. Granted, Korea has been working at this for decades and has the capital and man power necessary to make the leap from national to international marketing, two things Mongolia is lacking. Still, the K-Pop craze is inspiring to the Mongolian pop industry as musicians and producers develop their own brand by mixing unique Mongolian sounds with the pleasant pop-rock accepted world wide – Mongol Pop.

I can’t help but feel that the success of ‘Gangnam Style’ must be encouraging to these musicians who are looking to not only be active consumers of culture worldwide, but also producers.

Twenty Years of The Ringing of the Bell

Last June, as Mongolians were preparing to head to the polls, I came across a music video on a friend’s Facebook page that caught my eye. It is was called ‘Khonkny Duu – Virtual Version’. ‘Khonkni Duu’, which means ‘The Ringing of the Bell’, is an iconic song in Mongolia. It was written in 1989 as a call for democracy, and quickly became the anthem of the movement.

Since then, dozens of artists have performed it in different styles and adaptations. The most recent rendition is the virtual version – a 21st Century appeal to the youth of Mongolia.

‘Khonkny Duu’ Lyrics

I had a nightmare last night
As if a long arm tortured me,
Strangling my words and blinding me.
Luckily, the bell rang and woke me;
The ring of the bell rouses us.
The bell that woke me in the morning,
Let it toll across the broad steppes,
Reverberating mile after mile.
Let the bell carry our yearning
And revive all our hopes.



More on ‘Khonkny Duu’

A Mongolian Rock Group Fosters Democracy – New York Times 1990



Note: I mistakenly included one music video that was not “Khonkny Duu” in the original post.

Music Profile: The Lemons

One of the most interesting things about a music scene as small and young as the one in Ulaanbaatar is that every band seems to be the first at something. I have met with members of the first Mongolian grunge, punk, metal, folk rock, and alternative bands – all of which are still performing.

The Lemons are one of these pioneering bands. They would fall into the post-rock, alternative category and were the first to create a Strokes-inspired sound in Mongolia.

The four-person group (plus a regular sound guy) formed in 2004 when they were in their late teens and early twenties. Each member brought different musical tastes to the group, but they all agreed that alternative rock was the way to go. After eight years and two albums, they have now become one of Mongolia’s quintessential alternative bands.

The Lemons’ songs are generally high-spirited with bright-sounding guitar riffs. One of the hits off their first album is a tune about a frog princess. After the male protagonist breaks the spell the princess is under, turning her from a frog back into a human, she thanklessly forgets about him. Another hit song is an ode to Ulaanbaatar. Some of the lyrics are poking fun at the soviet-era obsession with production. But it’s mostly just a peppy song praising their hometown.

The Lemons say their appearance was no accident. When they first formed, they took care to cultivate a sort of hipster style, buying skinny jeans from abroad since they didn’t sell them in Mongolia. Odnoo, the lead singer generally sports dark sunglasses and a leather jacket while the others are a bit more casually dressed.

All three band members that I interviewed said it’s not easy being a rock musician in Mongolia. Even as late as 2004, when they first started, it was difficult to find instruments and a practice space – two key ingredients to any band. Now, guitars are a bit easier to come by, but they still struggle to get amplifiers, mixers and electronic equipment.

Beyond the logistics of acquiring instruments and finding a place to rehearse, it’s not easy to make a living as musicians. While they are one of the most famous bands here, the Lemons still have to play weekly gigs at a handful of bars around Ulaanbaatar to make money. They sign contracts with the bar owners agreeing to play the same six or seven songs each week. It’s typical for a band to show up at a restaurant, play for about twenty minutes, and then be on their way. The fans don’t seem to mind the abruptness nor the repetitive sets, but the bands certainly do. Guitarist Tulga told me, “We are actually bored by singing the same songs and don’t have any interest in singing at these kinds of places. But we have no choice.”

On the other hand, lead singer Odnoo says that playing with the band makes up for it. “The best thing is practicing and playing our own shows,” he explained. “I like to create new things.”

Now, the Lemons are working on their third album, which should be finished by the end of the summer. Their songs have taken on a more electronic sound after importing a special electronic keyboard from the U.S. that helps them create different effects. Before an interview this spring, Tulga showed me some of the unfinished tracks. One song featured a long song singer (a traditional Mongolian style of singing). I thought it worked really well with the electronic sound and added some unique Mongolian flavor to the music. But now they cut the long song, claiming it was too similar to Mongol Pop, a style that blends traditional elements with pop music.

When I asked them what they want a foreign audience to know about Mongolian music, they all agreed that just knowing that this kind of rock music is available in Mongolia is enough. Most foreigners come to Mongolia expecting the traditional herders and horses and don’t pay much attention to the rich urban culture Ulaanbaatar has to offer. For them to simply know about the music scene here is enough, they say.

Mongolia’s Political Ads, Part 4

The Lighter Side

This is a pretty self-explanatory ad produced by the Mongolian Peole’s Party. Set to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ (just like the Newt Gingrich team used this year), a boxer representing the People’s Party is training for his match. His opponent is a lazy and slothful representation of everyone else. Guess who wins.

Here’s another music video aimed at the younger generation. Several young musicians teamed up to record this song about uniting the country they love to reach it’s bright future. The song is called ‘We Believe’. A rough translation of the lyrics is below.

I believe, I believe our country has a future
I am loving and I am young and I believe in my future
Your life may be comfortable, but you shouldn’t be complacent
Our future is improving, let’s create a good future together
We believe we are one
Mongolians are equal to people in other countries
We have a goal and we are close
We have to be strong and we have to be united


An Introduction to Mongolia’s Political Ads

When Music Videos and Campaign Commercials Combine

Campaign Monologues

Mongolia’s Political Ads, Part 3

Campaign Monologues

The first ad to catch my eye was a video of a dramatic reading. A man stood alone on a stage with a microphone in front and a large movie screen behind him. He recited a monologue as quintessential Mongolian images flashed on the screen behind him. Not understanding what he was saying at the time, I let my attention shift to the images. Some of the shots were from archival footage, but many were from international productions like ‘Babies’, ‘The Story of the Weeping Camel’, and ‘Mongol’, which I thought was interesting, and not terribly surprising.

After seeing this initial commercial, I soon saw a second that mimicked the style of the first, but was for the competing party. According to a staffer for the Democratic Party, theirs was first. However, I have not contacted the Mongolian People’s Party to confirm this.

Here are the two ads along with rough translations:

Jujigchin Amaraa Olyylaa Yalna Shuu – Together We Will Win (Democratic Party)

I am the eighth child in my family
I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers, we are many
From childhood we would share everything
If we shared what we ate it would taste better
I can still remember the taste
I believe in my ability
First there were the words, ‘I have a dream’
These words represented many people’s dream
Because of Martin Luther King, the African Americans were free
One example is Barack Obama
I believe in the Mongolian mind – what we are all thinking
There were many good people that changed our future during the revolution
My words are important
We don’t want to repeat what happened on July 1st and so we chose Pres. Elbegdorj
We don’t want to see more fighting
Everyone wants to protect themselves so we must create the law together
Pay attention to what I’m saying
Many Mongolians live in other countries
But although they are gone, we are still here
Mongolia is still here
Mongolians who are abroad feel lonely – it’s hard for them
They want to come back and live happily
We are many but we feel like we are few
It’s now time to say, ‘Enough’
Remember what you did in the revolution
We will win together
My words are important, pay attention to them
The Democratic Party will win – You make the right choice
We must have a lot of support

Minii Khen Baikh Khamaagui Bid Bugd Neg Mongol – Who I Am Is Not Important, We Are All Mongolian (Mongolian People’s Party)

My name is Amara and my name is not important
But for me, the most important thing is the Mongolian destiny
I don’t want to say bad things about my friends from university after four years together
But my blood is Mongolian Blood and it’s very loyal
Every Mongolian’s blood is like this
I am a part of them
Mongolians have a treasure – we have power and we must be united
I don’t like using words like ‘election’ and ‘voter’ because during election time politicians will always lie
Democracy and freedom – these words are allowed
In a free country we can talk about democracy and freedom
Before you say, ‘I love Mongolia’, you have to be responsible for Mongolia
Passing judgement is easy, but taking action is difficult
I haven’t forgotten the first time I saw a cell phone in a movie
I haven’t forgotten when I was a child and we would try to make our own candy
I haven’t forgotten our parent’s generation, when everything was scarce
How long will we be fighting each other?
How long will the political parties fight?
Countryside people are fighting with each other
Towns are fighting each other
Friends are fighting each other
How long will we be divided?
We do not have as many people as Russia
We do not have as many people as China
We are just 2.8 million
We live our own lives, but our future, our air, our roads, our sidewalks are all shared
We are one Mongolia
Under the blue sky we used to play as children
Our history has been very hard, but our history has made us strong
We have learned from our history
I believe our bright future is very close
I am the new generation of Chingis Khan’s Mongolia
I have never bowed my head, I have never kneeled
I am Mongolian
We are Mongolians
Mongolia is equal to other countries – everyone is equal

SLOGAN AT THE END: Let’s create a nice life here in our country


An Introduction to Mongolia’s Political Ads

When Music Videos and Campaign Commercials Combine

The Lighter Side

Mongolia’s Political Ads, Part 2

When Music Videos and Campaign Commercials Combine

What could be better than a campaign commercial? One that is also an epic music video! I just discovered these today, and I’m so happy I did.

Music is an integral part of campaigns in America. Each candidate has their theme song, that familiar tune that gets cued up at the end of a fervent stump speech that the poor underpaid aids must be so sick of hearing by November.

In 2008, the Obama campaign used Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’. Then there was the celebrity-laden, ‘Yes We Can’ music video that went viral. Hillary Clinton used Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’. John McCain’s choices were troublesome, picking a series of songs written by democratic musicians who either publicly chastised or even sued him for unauthorized use including ‘Baracuda’ by Heart, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry, ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen, and ‘Running on Empty’ by Jackson Browne. He eventually settled on ‘Raising McCain’, an original by country music star John Rich. This year, Republican presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been going with Kid Rock’s ‘Born Free’.

Mongolian campaigns go one step further with their music by producing several epic music videos with national celebrities and high production values. Below are a few choice videos from the Mongolian People’s Party and the Democratic Party, along with rough translations of the lyrics.

Bid Bigd Neg Mongol – We Are One Mongolia (Mongolia People’s Party)

Featuring several very famous musicians from three generations.

Our Mongolia comes from us, we are one because we are all born with the same blue spot
When we go to the countryside with the blue skies and yellow fields, our minds are cleared
The sky and earth meet at one point and if there is heaven on earth it would be in Mongolia
I am dedicated to my country
Through our destiny, our hearts we are like the blue sky and the sun, We are one Mongolia
Through our wishes, dreams and beliefs, we are one Mongolia

Haluun Elgen Nutag – I Feel Warmly For My Country (Democratic Party)

This is one in a series of videos produced in provinces around Mongolia. The song is a famous one here, one that everyone would recognize. The individual video is not particularly impressive, but the overall effect of having the same song sung in each province is meaningful.

When the flowers grow, it is becoming spring
The river is singing a song
The mountains look like they are smiling
I feel warmly for my country


An Introduction to Mongolia’s Political Ads

Campaign Monologues

The Lighter Side

Mongolia’s Political Ads, Part 1

An Introduction to Mongolia’s Political Ads

The Mongolian Parliamentary elections are taking place on June 28, just two days away. While the election cycle is considerably less lengthy than I’m used to back in the States (candidates campaign for a maximum of two months here compared to the year and a half I’m used to), the parties are now out in full force.

Everyday I see vans drive past adorned with party flags and faces of candidates plastered to the windows, blasting music and party slogans. When I’m home during the day, someone will inevitably knock on my door with party propaganda, look a bit confused when I open the door, and then just turn around and leave so as not to waste their time on a non-voter.

But the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most about the campaign season is the advertising. Campaign commercials have always been my favorite part of the run-up to elections. I still remember my favorite spots from the U.S. presidential election in 2008: some post-modern videos produced by the Mike Gravel election team.

As I’ve been in Mongolia for most of the 2012 campaign and Republican contest, I have missed a lot of the gems being broadcast back home. And so when I started seeing what the Mongolian campaigns were producing, I was instantly intrigued.

I think the thing I enjoy most about campaign commercials is the insight they provide into the larger trends in a nation. Each party is trying to succinctly express the values that they represent while inciting the populace to adopt and support those values. They have to both broadcast their intentions and respond to the cultural and philosophical trends of the day.

Watching the videos put out by the two main parties in Mongolia, Mongol Ardiin Nam (The Mongolian People’s Party, formerly the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party) and Ardchilsan Nam (The Democratic Party) has been an incredibly valuable way for me to better understand the goals, passions, dreams, and frustrations of Mongolia in 2012. It’s a succinct window into the national identity.

Largely, the commercials have been reaffirming some of the ideas I’ve developed about Mongolian national identity in my time here. However, it’s much more difficult to get an average, non-political, citizen to articulate their own nationhood. And so many of my theories about what it means to be Mongolian today have, until now, remained tentative.

The themes that emerge from the campaigns (on both sides) are very in line with my own observations as an outsider. The desire to unite as Mongolians, the feeling that a bright future is within reach, the notion that it is only a matter of time until Mongolia is on par with the developed world, the connection to ancient Mongolia and harnessing the strength of Chinggis Khan, and the notion that although we are small, we are mighty. These ideas have all come out, much more subtly, in interviews and interactions I’ve had throughout the past eight months.

I hope that by sharing a few of these commercials, I can help shed some light on the Mongolian understanding of nationhood to you, my foreign audience.


When Music Videos and Campaign Commercials Combine

Campaign Monologues

The Lighter Side