Mongolian grasslands folk

Mongolian grasslands folk

This year I went to the Edmonton Folk Festival. All four days. The main draw for me was Iron and Wine. He was playing the main stage on Saturday. Unfortunately (for him), Sam Beam was overshadowed by other small time acts, specifically the Beijing fivesome (?) Hanggai.

First off I should give credit to the standout acts at the festival (in no particular order):

Issa Bagayogo – An african man who left his family to make it in music. It took him a few years but he’s crafted a bizarre relationship between traditional African sounds and electronic beat music. Also, his eyes are a little scary.

Jill Barber – A lounge singer from the 30’s or 40’s with a bit of a maritime flair.

Neko Case – An almost standard folk singer (and New Pornographer) with a wit and voice that can be disarming if you think about it.

Fred Eaglesmith – The growliest folk/country singer Texas produced. He probably has strep throat and the resulting bitterness. When asked to tell a joke before the final song he produced, “if I had a hammer I would kill every folk musician.”

Eivor – Imagine a norse goddess taking the form of a small blond girl from an island between Iceland and the British Isles. Enunciates every English word with a light but forceful breath of air. Waves her arms as if she’s swimming upward slowly when she sings and wears a semi-circle of fabric.

Iron and Wine – Still a reasonably good show but just one man and a guitar doesn’t stand up to the caliber of his albums.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – Imagine Aretha Franklin playing the Blues Brothers’ main act at the end of the movie.

Ashley McIsaac – He is a fiddle virtuoso who can also be fairly emotionally perceptive.

Danny Michel – He is a man with a  loveable, overwhelmingly relaxed and fun stage-presence and who really isn’t as preachy as some of his lyrics make him out to be. Plays swinging deceptively simple rock songs with a guitar and a loop pedal.

Norther Cree Singers – A bunch of Cree pounding drums and yelling. They’re good but they needed more variety in their beats.

Boz Scaggs – Slightly more Steely Dan than some yacht-rockers but still not quite at their level of non-lameness. Entertaining though.

The Wailers – As trendy as liking Bob Marley is it’s hard not to dance to his beats.

Toumani Diabate – Gave us a  10 minute workshop on his Malian Kora, explaining how 7 of the 21 strings represent the past (also rhythm), 7 represent the present (also solo) and 7 represent the future (also bass). He is the seventy first generation in his family to play the instrument and he’s pretty good at it. Ethereal.

Still, above all those great artists stood Hanggai. We saw them first on Saturday morning with some mildly good expectations, they are Mongolian throat singers who look like they’re trying to be in a Quentin Tarantino movie in their promotional photo after all, but halfway through the first song we were both visibly taken aback by how good they were.  In hindsight they remind me the most of Tinariwen but at the time the steady guitar drumbeat and deep guttural vocals brought to mind Liars, which is probably a misleading comparison but oh well. Well, here’s probably the best example of their show from the Folk Fest:

I took some shitty cellphone videos of them but they turned out to be too shitty so Thanks YouTubers!

They also played melodic folk songs meant to engulf you and take you to the grasslands of Mongolia:

We saw them in their first session of the weekend where they played with a bluegrass band from Nashville called the Steeldrivers who were okay but nothing remarkable. Well, even they loved Hanggai. After the first song, called Four Seasons (makes me think those are the only English words they know with how they introduced it), the Steeldriver’s bass player was a little in shock. He also kept promoting their myspace, which he had visited before the show. Anyways, Hanggai would perform their “Drinking Song” to close out each of their sets. It’s Drinking Song everybody have good time !

Also, here is a slightly worse quality video but it is of my personal favourite Hanggai song, Four Seasons. The person who took the video also keeps focusing the camera on some middle-aged dancing man but you guys can just ignore that.

Perhaps the only sad part about Hanggai is that I just received their album in the mail and after a quick listen I don’t hear much speed or guitar punctuated 4/4 rhythm. There’s no guitar or something. Also, I don’t see my favourite member from the folk fest on the album cover and there’s an extra guy on there too. However, the album does fulfill its promise of whisking me away to the vast fields of Mongolia where I can feel the cool Mongol breeze and it’s still very good music.


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