After listening to Ilchi's (Yiliqi) past and present music, one
can hardly attribute them to the same person. While the former
sound features distorted guitar, a galloping beat and a roaring
style of singing, his new music is now melodic and soothing
Mongolian folk songs accompanied by traditional instruments.
The 26-year-old musician has gone through a most dramatic
change. Two years ago, he disbanded his alternative rock group T-9
after the release of their CD "Fix It" and formed his new band
Hanggai. "The period of rock music in my life is over," he
The change of Ilchi may not seem so dramatic with his
background. Ilchi was born an ethnic Mongolian in Xilinhot of the
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He moved to Beijing with his
family at the age of 12, but he revisits his hometown every
Traditional folk songs sung by his grandfather and parents have
been seeded in his memory since childhood. In his every visit back
to Inner Mongolia, he looked for tapes and CDs of Mongolian folk
music, even after he became fond of heavy music and formed his rock
band in 2000.
"Traditional Mongolian folk music has always been another part
of my musical life, but I didn't think of playing it myself
before," said Ilchi.
What interested him the most in his younger days was the kind of
music played by his once favourite band, Rage against the Machine,
from the United States. Following them, Ilchi founded T-9, which is
the name of an anti-rust, anti-corrosive and lubricating substance
used for protecting aircraft. The band's name symbolized their idea
to protect people's minds, from corruption. The song lyrics
emphasized this idea.
"Each day just makes me more frustrated
The world changes every person
It makes us forget the most precious things
But when we figure out what we lost
Well, some people just don't want to lose it
Some people still haven't figured it out
They are already victims of the society."
However, after three years of performing their raging music in
clubs to equally raging audiences, Ilchi became tired of that kind
of music. He found that he couldn't fully express himself in
Just at that time, he heard an old style of singing khoomei, or
overtone singing in which a single person can produce two or even
more vocal parts by causing sympathetic vibration through sustained
singing of low sounds.
Khoomei is a traditional singing style of the Mongolian and
Tuvan people. However, for more than a century this art was lost in
Inner Mongolia, and it was only in recent years that some local
singers rediscovered this music and revived it.
For Ilchi, khoomei seemed to have disclosed something that had
been hidden in his blood for many years. Suddenly, all the
Mongolian folk songs he had heard since childhood came alive.
What khoomei inspired in him was not only a new orientation for
music, but also a need for identity.
As Ilchi grew up in Chinese-language surroundings, Chinese
became his mother tongue. When he played rock music under Western
influence, he used to write lyrics and sing in English. He now
studies and sings in the Mongolian language.
Ilchi tried to imitate the khoomei he heard on CDs, but it was
hard for him to grasp the essence of it. When he learned that
Odsurung, a great khoomei singer from the Republic of Mongolia, was
invited by the Inner Mongolia Song and Dance Ensemble to hold a
workshop in Hohhot in 2003, he bought a train ticket and set out
for Hohhot right away.
Though Ilchi couldn't understand much Mongolian, he learned a
great deal from Odsurung through their mutual language of music.
Under the direction of Odsurung, who had been singing khoomei for
some 50 years, Ilchi began to enter the world of this old
In three weeks of classes, he learned the basic skills of
khoomei, and the rest was left for him to perfect through
"I find that khoomei best fits those songs which describe the
beauty of nature," said Ilchi. "Perhaps it's because khoomei was
born in the natural environment."
One of the core traits of Mongolian culture, the love of nature,
demonstrated its power when Ilchi named his new band Hanggai, an
old Mongolian word referring to a beautiful pasture with mountains,
trees and brooks.
In a song also titled "Hanggai," he sings:
"The azure hanggai
What a holy and pure place
The baby deer is lucky to have been born in your arms
The songs that come out of morning are still echoed in the
The dews compose clouds
The vigorous hanggai and dense forests of the north are
permeated with richness and serenity
Please don't change my hangga."
The band has adapted about 20 traditional Mongolian folk songs,
and has come out with some original works, including "Hanggai" and
"In 'T9,' we tried to tell people what is right or wrong, but
now we just want to make the best music and leave the rest to the
audience," said Ilchi.
Viewed from an individual perspective, the transfer of Ilchi's
music styles perhaps represents the maturing of his adolescent
ideas. But from a broader perspective, Hanggai is one of the forces
in a nationwide trend to revive traditional folk music.
Musicians and instruments
Other examples include IZ, a band who find their inspirations in
traditional Kazak music, and Su Yang, a singer from Northwest
China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region who tries to combine local
music idioms with Western forms.
After many trials, Hanggai have replaced their Western
instruments, such as guitar and bass with Mongolian instruments,
like the morinkhuur (horse-head fiddle) and tobshuur (two-stringed
plucked instrument). They are still trying various instruments,
including the nearly extinct modonchor, a vertical flute played
together with the flautist's own voice.
All the members of Hanggai are ethnic Mongolians, but they come
from different areas and represent various sub-styles of the
Mongolian music culture.
Vocalist and tobshuur player Ilchi is from central Inner
Mongolia's Xilingol; drummer Boyinjaya is from northeastern Inner
Mongolia's Hulunbuir; morinkhuur player Gugjilt comes from eastern
Inner Mongolia's Horqin; plucked instrumentalist Boldoo is from
southwestern Inner Mongolia's Ordos; and vocalist Hurchhu is from
the Haixi Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province.
Since Beijing is relatively close to Inner Mongolia, many ethnic
Mongolian musicians come to Beijing to pursue their musical
careers. Ilchi found his companions in Beijing's bars, restaurants
and the ethnic Mongolian community.
"We come from different places, and our ideal is to make Hanggai
a band characteristic of the Chinese Mongolians," said Ilchi. "The
folk music of ethnic Mongolian people in China is unique, even
different from the music of the Republic of Mongolia in some
Hanggai has recorded a demo, and will release their first formal
album this year. Besides playing regularly at Beijing's
Yugongyishan Club and Sandglass Caf, they have appeared at last
year's Gegentala Music Festival of Inner Mongolia and Midi Music
Festival of Beijing.
In a song called "Great Mongolia," Ilchi raises the question:
"Do the Mongolians who grow up in cities still miss their prairie?"
Ilchi certainly does, but he said if he were to choose whether to
be a khoomei singer in the prairie or to play in a band like
Hanggai, he would choose the latter.
"I believe what we do is a good thing for the development of
Mongolian culture," he said. "Maybe our music is not good, but
other people might be inspired by us and make better and better
(China Daily May 15, 2006)