Music Video: ‘Say It Now’ by Kush and Oyuka

Almost all of the music videos I’ve posted on this blog I have found from watching one of the many Mongolian music television channels or losing myself in a seemingly endless jungle of YouTube music videos.

But I am happy to say that this is different. I have been working closely with Kush & Oyuka, Mongolia’s newest jazz duo, as they record and prepare to release the first contemporary jazz album written in Mongolian and recorded in Ulaanbaatar. They are an energetic and talented couple with heaps of passion for bringing contemporary jazz to Mongolia.

About two months ago they closed down one of my favorite spots in Ulaanbaatar – an art gallery by day/bar by night called Xanadu. They filled it with their friends who just so happen to also be talented artists, actors, models, and filmmakers. Over the course of 16 hours, they recorded their first music video.

I’ve never been on the set of a music video before – in fact, I’ve never been involved in a scripted shoot like this before. All of my work is reality-based – news, documentary, reporting, etc. There’s a tremendous amount of work and preparation that went into this music video, that I can now, after observing the scene all day, fully appreciate.

The song, ‘Say It Now’, is about the power of love and allowing yourself to give into love. The music was written by Oyuka, the piano player and composer of the group. Oyuka also added to the lyrics which are mostly words from a famous Mongolian poet, Munkhbaatar.

For the video, the director and writer wanted to present imagery that would contrast with the lyrics and intention of the song. They wanted to show a somewhat bizarre scene out of place and time. On the day of filming, the director Moku told me, ‘Although Kush & Oyuka are singing about love, a precious treasure, none of the attendees seem to be paying any attention. It’s a cold approach. It’s an art gallery opening or an after party of some kind but it’s so bizarre – emulating that 70’s lifestyle. There aren’t any sailors in Mongolia, which explains the nonexistence of time and space occurring here.’

They also included two scenes with same-sex couples, which is still very taboo in Mongolia, and as far as I can tell it is a first for Mongolian music videos.

Kush & Oyuka are trying to do something new with their music in Mongolia, and it was important for them to stand out right away. In Mongolia, music videos are key. It’s one of the only ways musicians are recognized and their music is heard. Kush & Oyuka will try to get as much attention for this video as they can before releasing their album later this summer.

Without further adieu…

A Mongolian Hair Cutting Ceremony

I was recently invited to a hair cutting ceremony by a family in Ulaanbaatar that has taken me under their wing. The boy, Orgil was three-years old, and had nearly shoulder length hair for as long as I’d known him. Over the course of a 3 hour ceremony, friends and family members cut off locks of Orgil’s hair until it was too short to cut.

Traditionally, Mongolian parents let their child’s hair grow until they are between 3 and 6 years old. When the child has reached an appropriate age (usually 3 or 5 for boys and 4 or 6 for girls), they mark the first haircut with a ceremony. It’s a sign that the child has survived the dangers of the first few years of life.

While this tradition is a time-honored, it has experienced a resurgence in the past few decades. It’s one of many Mongolian traditions and symbols that increased in popularity since 1991 when democracy was ushered in. Some ceremonies are quiet affairs, only family members and the family’s closest friends are invited. But more frequently, they are elaborate affairs. Think Bar/Bat Mitzvah or QuinceaƱera celebrations. Wealthier families will invite as many as a hundred guests, serving a full meal, and providing entertainment.

But regardless of the size, the ceremony is generally the same. A monk or family member will give a blessing, for the child. Then the parents will cut the first lock, collecting the hair in a khadag (traditional sacred blue cloth). They will then bring the child around to all of the guests – closest family and friends are first. Everyone will greet the child saying, ‘Tom xun bolooroi!’ or ‘Sain xun bolooroi!’ (Translation: Become a big/good person). Then they will give the child a gift, usually cash ($5 – $20), but sometimes a toy. As is the case with most ceremonies centered around young children, this is mostly for the benefit of parents and family members and serves as a good excuse to celebrate.

I have only been to one hair cutting ceremony, and so it’s difficult for me to know what is typical, but I suspect this was not. The family held the ceremony in a banquet room of the hotel they own. They served the guests a three course meal and had ample vodka, beer and juice available. An emcee guided us through the entire evening, and we were entertained by a morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) player, traditional throat singers, and even a Mongolian pop star who’s zenith was in the 1980s. It was pretty amazing.

Here’s an example of another kind of hair cutting ceremony:


The plate of fried cookies topped with candies and curds, called a ‘heviin boow’, is a common centerpiece at most formal celebrations.

Orgil, the guest of honor

A decorated roasted pig was among the special foods at the hair cutting ceremony

Orgil runs around with his cousins, a key part of any family celebration

Next to money, toy trucks were the most common gifts Orgil received

Orgil with his mom before the ceremony

A Note on The Weather, 2

It’s April 26th. That means it’s almost May. Green grass, chirping birds, blossoming flowers, T-shirts – these are the things I should see when I look out my window.

But today, this is what I saw:

Enough said.

NisNis Fest 2012

Last night was one of my favorite concerts thus far in Ulaanbaatar. It was the 16th annual NisNis Festival – a concert commemorating the anniversary of local grunge band Nisvanis.

Ten bands were featured alongside Nisvanis and they switched from two stages, to keep the show moving along. Most of the bands played 3-5 songs, while Nisvanis played both an acoustic and electric set. Bands represented several genres: rock, grunge, metal, folk rock, and indie rock. One band, Jokers Wild, even played Pink Floyd.

It can be hard to find a concert similar to what I’m used to back in the States here in Ulaanbaatar. The market just isn’t as big here, and so real rock shows are few and far between. But, last night’s show was an energizing display of all that the Ulaanbaatar scene has to offer, and all in one venue.

The crowd was mostly young, what you would expect at any rock concert. And although it was mostly Mongolian fans, there were a handful of foreigners who came to check out the scene as well.

Highlights included North Ducks’ rocking cover of a traditional Mongolian song. The whole crowd sang along to their reinterpretation – but, alas, I didn’t know the words. I also really enjoyed seeing Altan Urag (a band I’ve seen quite a bit at their regular restaurant gig) in a more raucous environment. Among the new bands I saw was, Solongo, which is one of only a few Mongolian groups with a female lead singer.

All in all it was a fabulous night. I spent much of the show running around filming a few of the bands and the crowd. I’ll have some of that footage up once I’ve had a chance to edit.

In the meantime, check out the videos below of some of the bands that played last night.

More Photos:

Music Video: D-LOB

D-LOB (the alias of Boldoo) is one of UB’s more underground musicians. He’s the older brother of well-known conscious rapper Quiza and the two have worked closely together over the years. While D-LOB has written lyrics for his younger brother and been featured as a rapper on several projects, his current passion is lyric-less. He’s been DJ-ing weekly parties featuring jazz, soul, funk, and beats from around the globe, a project he calls DUNDGOL, after the river in UB he grew up next to. He says the goal of these parties is to bring people together to share ideas and opinions, and experience music most of them have never been exposed to.

With over 1500 albums, D-LOB also has one of the largest personal vinyl collections in Mongolia. He collected many of them when the College of Music and Dance was cleaning out its warehouse. They had been given various records during the communist era by similarly minded countries. Which means D-LOB now has a unique collection of early rock and traditional music spanning decades from places like Poland, Cambodia, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, and a whole host of other places. He adamantly believes that we should expose ourselves to music from all places to better appreciate our own cultural heritage.

D-LOB now mixes with the music from his eclectic library. He’s been taking soviet-era songs and giving them a modern twist with new beats and effects, while paying respect to the original musicians who he earnestly admires. One of my favorite examples of this is a song called ‘Welcome 2 UB’. He features a song from one of his favorite bands, Soyol Erdene, Mongolia’s first rock band (1971). In fact, he’s such a fan that he created their Myspace page several years ago to help circulate their music.

You can listen to more of D-LOB’s tracks here.

Watch some of D-LOB’s videso below:

D-LOB’S introductory music video was shot by a European filmmaker traveling through UB back in 2008. ‘Boldoo Baina’ which translates to ‘I am Boldoo’ features D-LOB rapping in front of a statute of one of his favorite Mongolian poets, Natsagdorj, and then wandering through UB’s main black market.

‘Erkh Chuluu’ or ‘xxx’ is one of D-LOB and Quiza’s joint efforts. The song is about the aftermath of the 2008 legislative election that turned violent after people protested election fraud. The clashes between police and protesters led to the death of 5 civilians and injury of 220 civilians and 108 service members. It was a major black spot on Mongolia’s still young democracy, and has many wondering how this year’s upcoming elections will turn out. D-LOB and Quiza ‘Erkh Chuluu’ which translates to ‘Freedom’. But they had a hard time finding anyone willing to record the song or help them produce a music video. Eventually Ragu, a well-known music producer living in UB but originally from Singapore and thus safe from governmental retaliation, helped them out. They convinced a young filmmaker to produce a video, which despite its 23,000 views on YouTube, has never aired on television here (a rarity).

This last song is another D-LOB/Quiza joint effort. It was their tribute to 2 decades of democracy. The title ‘Dund Gol-Huh Tenger Medne’ means ‘Only the Sky Knows’. It’s a reference to a letter written by one of Ghengis Khan’s scribes to the Pope in response to a request to come visit. It basically means, ‘Only God Knows’.

Niciton’s Sold Out Show

Niciton (pronounced Nee-kee-tone) is one of Mongolia’s top rock bands. It’s been around for nearly two decades now, which gives it the distinction of also being one of Mongolia’s early rock bands. The guitarist, Oojgii , is commonly hailed as the best in Mongolia. Their songs are sung in karaoke rooms across the country. And so, when tickets went on sale for their concert, which was held last Tuesday, they sold out pretty quickly. Ticket prices ranged from 20,000T (about $15) to 100,000T ($75). That’s pretty hefty here.

I attended the show (in the cheaper seats) with a couple friends of mine, who were extremely excited to be there. So excited, in fact, they proposed arriving around 5:00, two hours before the show’s scheduled start time, and three hours before its actual start time. There was talk of making T-shirts, but that ended up not happening.

Fans waiting for the Niciton concert to begin.

The show was held at the Ulaanbaatar Palace – one of the city’s largest venues. As it filled up, it was clear how big of a deal this was. Fans anxiously awaited the performance in the dim light (Aside: I have yet to see a typical opener-headliner show in UB). There were at least twenty crew members their filming the show for, what I’m guessing, is a concert DVD. They even had a jib set up on stage.

When the band finally took the stage, the crowd (and especially my concert companions) went wild. They played a series of rock songs and love ballads, featuring at various times four back-up singers, a string section, a grand piano, and electric keyboard in addition to the classic guitar, bass, drums setup.

Batchuluun plays piano and sings for Niciton.

After some songs, fans would run up onto the stage carrying a bouquet of flowers, which they would give to their favorite band member (usually the lead singer). A friend of mine explained this was “a socialist thing.” Indeed, I’ve seen performers receive flowers at several classical and traditional concerts I’ve attended – but never at a rock show. I was also surprised to learn that the people delivering the flowers were everyday fans. I suppose I could have gone up on stage with a bouquet if I’d wanted. In fact, I realized later that they were selling flowers outside of the hall for just that purpose.

What struck me most at the concert wasn’t the music, although the musicians were clearly skilled, and it was the lights and effects, although I do enjoy sparks that shoot up from the stage in time with the music. It was the way everyone, I mean everyone, would sing along to the songs. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended a concert where the entire audience (men, women, children) sing along in full voice. It’s refreshing to see a full auditorium, cheerfully singing along, not afraid to hold back like so many American audiences are.


Lead singer, Batchuluun, plays a grand piano.

A fan gives Batchuluun flowers after a favorite song.

A full television crew filmed the 3 hour long Niciton concert.

There were plenty of official photographers and videographers capturing the concert.

Niciton fan club members waved flags and dressed in band T-shirts.

An early Niciton music video:

Taxi Tunes: ‘Red Solo Cup’

One of my favorite things about living in another country is seeing what sort of television and songs get imported from America and the West. I already mentioned watching the ‘Jersey Shore’ with Reindeer People in a previous post.

Many travelers and some anthropologists decry globalization. They see a loss of knowledge, culture, language, and tradition. And it’s true that the forces of globalization are creating a new, more connected, seemingly less culturally diverse world. It’s important to support different cultures and respect different traditions. But, culture is also a fluid thing, and I think it’s dehumanizing to expect anyone to live the same lifestyle their grandparents did.

All this is to say, I appreciate the quirks of globalization, rather than feel threatened by them. The imported soundtrack of Mongolia for 2011-2012 includes Adele, LMFAO, and Foster the People, to name a few.

Last night, I heard a new gem on the radio in the taxi. I had not heard Toby Keith’s ode to the ‘Red Solo Cup’ before, and hearing it for the first time over the radio waves in the back seat of a taxi in Ulaanbaatar was quite a surreal experience. The song is ridiculous. And knowing that the cab driver, who didn’t speak English, couldn’t understand the absurdity of singing a song about a party cup just made me sad. I tried to explain to him why I was laughing uncontrollably in the back of his car in my pathetic Mongolian, but I know he couldn’t fully understand.

So, anyway, here is today’s globalization gem: Toby Keith’s extended commercial for cheap beer and the Solo Cup Company.

Photos: Happy Tsagaan Sar!

While Tsagaan Sar 2012 is officially over, the celebrations are continuing over the weekend. So while this post isn’t as prompt as I’d like, it’s not entirely late either.

A Brief Explanation of Tsagaan Sar

Tsagaan Sar means White Moon (or White Month). It is marks the first day of the new year according to the lunar calendar. While similar to Chinese New Year, the date is almost always different and the method of celebration is completely unique. Mongolians mark the holiday with a visit to the Buddhist, temple where they pray for success and health in the coming year, performing various rituals at sunrise to welcome the new year, and visiting the homes of elders where they drink milk tea and vodka, eat dumplings and lamb and catch up.

A family at Gandan Monastery on the morning of the first day of Tsagaan Sar

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Duunii Klip: ‘Hood’ by Various Rappers

This video is from around 2004. It features several different rappers including Vanquish, Gee, TG, and Desant. Each is rapping about his home district, or neighborhood – which are all identified by number.

This is one of the videos that helped Gee make a name for himself in the UB hip hop scene. He is the only one in this video who hails from the ‘Ger District’, the poor neighborhoods that surround UB. It’s name refers to the gers (or yurts) that people have pitched after moving to UB from the countryside. Estimates vary, but some say up to 70% of Ulaanbaatar inhabitants reside in the Ger District. The rest live in apartment complexes toward the center of the city and a few live in large houses on the south side of town.

Photos: UB Graffiti

As I’ve wandered around Ulaanbaatar over the past few months, I’ve been struck by the amount and style of graffiti. It seems that the city government does little to nothing to paint over or prevent the tags. Personally, I don’t mind. In fact, I kind of like it. The graffiti adds a nice flavor to the city and, for the most part, it’s actually pretty artful.

I’ve started an album dedicated to Ulaanbaatar’s graffiti, to which I will periodically add photos. There are a couple large walls on the south side of the city that are particularly intriguing to me. One features a really nicely done portrait of Chinggis Khan in addition to the Guy Fawkes face from ‘V for Vandetta’.

I think this first image refers to a song by The Lemons that praises Ulaanbaatar.

Hello My UB

Sain Baina Uu Minii UB

Colorful Graffiti

A colorful wall of graffiti on Ulaanbaatar's main drag: Peace Avenue


Wings painted on a garage in an alley



Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan