As the Altai Khangai trio from Mongolia tunes up its horse head fiddles and prepares for some throat singing, Central Music Festival-goers should prepare for atmospheric music like they’ve never heard before.
The trio’s folk melodies are as expansive as the Mongolian steppes and are very pleasant to listen to, said Deb Rasmussen, a Calgary musician who’s touring with the Mongolian band.
At the same time, she believes the traditional music can seem ominous, even eerie, when khoomii, or throat singing, is introduced.
Male Mongolian khoomii singers, such as Altai Khangai member Ganzorig, can somehow produce multiple sounds at the same time from deep in their throats — everything from heavy rumbles to whistles. “It’s very powerful,” said Rasmussen,
The Calgary resident has worked as an agriculture development consultant in Mongolia since 1996, but has only recently been collaborating with Mongolians on her other passion — music.
Rasmussen moonlights as a jazz vocalist with Calgary’s Northern Lights quartet, a collective comprised of some of Calgary’s most popular freelance musicians, who perform a mixture of traditional and contemporary jazz. Her group will team up with Altai Khangai for musical fusion concerts around Alberta and British Columbia this summer.
Central Alberta Music Festival-goers will hear both groups on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 15, when the Northern Lights Ensemble briefly shares the stage with Altai Khangai, after the Mongolian trio does a set of traditional music.
The idea behind the collaboration is to blend jazz into traditional Mongolian music and the sounds of Mongolian music into jazz, said Rasmussen.
The resulting hybrid will be something entirely new.
While people might think that groups from two different continents would have disparate styles, both musical traditions echo and compliment each other, added the singer, who sees many similarities between Mongolians and Canadians.
“Among the strong similarities is an independent spirit, and a real willingness to try new things and explore the world,” said Rasmussen, who likens Mongolians to enterprising North American pioneers who learned to exist in a hostile environment.
While the Northern Lights ensemble, including guitarist Keith Smith, bassist Simon Fisk and Robin Tufts on percussion, tries to develop music that conjures up the spacious feeling of the Canadian Prairies, traditional Mongolian music is also very evocative of that country’s steppes, grasslands, deserts and snow-capped mountains, she said.
“Listen to it and you can just about feel the big, wide-open spaces on the Mongolian plains and hear the horses running. It’s very nice music to listen to.”
Besides throat singer Ganzorig (Mongolians tend to go by one name), the trio is also made up of Ganbold and Odontungalag, who provide singing accompaniment and play the morin khuur (horse head fiddle), khuchuur, which is like the Chinese erhu.
Ganbolt and Odontungalag are both instructors at the College of Music and Dance in Ulaanbaatar, Monoglia. Ganbolt and Ganzorig play together in the duo/ensemble called Altai Khangai (sometimes Altai Hangai). Odontungalag was drafted by Altai Khangai for this project.
The Altai Khangai trio, with special guests the Northern Lights Ensemble, will perform at about 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Central Music Festival, just north of Red Deer and off the C&E Trail. (More complete directions are on the website: www.centralmusicfest.com.)
A pass for the two-day festival that starts on Friday, Aug. 14, is $55 ($45 for students/seniors), a one-day pass is $40 for any age (kids are free when accompanied by a paying adult) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre or Valhalla Pure Outfitters.