Dance to the Beat of Mongolian Bling

  • Off the Radar
  • 23 August 2010

This article was first published by our friends at Travel Off the Radar, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their blog.

Ask any youth from the Western hemisphere to name their favorite hip-hop artists and they will probably rattle off a few names that come to mind. Ask their parents and grandparents and you would likely be met with a blank stare. Younger generations have come to assume that this culture gulf is wide and incapable of being bridged. Nasanbat, a 52-year-old Mongolian woman, however, can name the first hip-hop song that became popular in Mongolia, a few of the bands and artists around town, and is probably more tuned in to the industry than any Western youth. She is not the exception. In fact, in Mongolia, older generations know all about hip-hop.

Gennie, a Mongolian hip-hop artist, and her grandma

Hip-hop in Mongolia is largely of Western influence. As Mongolia struggled to gain independence from the Qing Dynasty it began to be heavily influenced by its neighbor to the north, Russia which at the time was a socialist state (USSR). With the end of socialism and the start of a democratic revolution in the early 90s, the people of Mongolia began to explore their freedoms of expression and long for identity. Traditionally rooted as a strong music culture – it should be no surprise that they turned to music. Enter hip-hop. Enter Mongolian Bling.

Benj Binks shooting Mongolian Bling

Benj Binks shooting Mongolian Bling

Planning a year long journey throughout Asia, Benj Binks decided to document it. After taking a short film course, he was equipped to begin the voyage. Plans changed however as he remembered the hip-hop music he had heard while working on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was good, it was different. So Benj began to seek out the story, he began to understand the people behind these hip-hop songs and he was there as hip-hop went through a transformation, “There have been some interesting changes since I spent time there three years ago, you still see a lot of Western influence but there has been a ‘Mongoliazation’ of American music. They have adapted it to suit their culture. Yeah you still seem some pretty commercial music, but there is a lot with social and political commentary. It doesn’t hurt that their language suits hip-hop extremely well.” So instead of documenting a year long journey, Mongolian Bling became Benj’s main focus. To provide expertise in their respective fields, cameraman Nacho and sound recordist, Steve came along.

New Crew Members

Some artists like to think that hip-hop actually originated in Mongolia. Throat singing has been a strong part of Mongolian culture since the Chinggis Khaan period (known more commonly in the West as Genghis Khan). Throat singing also known as overtone chanting allowed the Mongolian shamans who practiced it to create multiple pitches simultaneously when chanting producing similar beats to hip-hop.

Much of the film focuses on Mongolian identity which begins to raise questions among viewers and their own personal identity. Benj, a native Australian, commented, “In Australia, white people have only been there for a couple hundred years, before aboriginal people occupied the land, but there is little evidence of their influence. Now compare this to Mongolia, their culture has been in existence for over 800 years. It makes you question your own background, I almost feel homeless. Westerners fantasize about the East, but complain about mobile phones being in these secluded areas. So how exactly do you maintain a culture but continue progressing? I think the Mongolians have found an answer and they are doing it very well.”

Be sure to check out Benj’s documentary later this year and visit his website for up-to-date release information and previews. You can also join the Facebook group and check out Benj’s other projects at www.benjbinks.com.

If you’re visiting Mongolia and would like to soak in a bit of their music scene, a few recommended bars and venues in Ulaanbaatar include UB Palace, Ikh Mongol (meaning Great Mongolia), and a pub called Grand Khaan.

If you would like a taste of Mongolian hip-hop, check out some of the artists featured in Mongolian Bling: Gee, Gennie, and Quiza.

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Asia, children, cities, Eastern Asia, fine arts, human interests, local knowledge, Mongolia, music, outdoors,

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