november 2009
border crossings


Khusugtun: Central Asian Blues

By Bilguun Munkhjargal

I had not heard of the band Khusugtun until three weeks ago when I stumbled upon their only music video to date. (A second Khusugtun video is not conceptual, but rather a live performance. The group won the Grand Prize at the International Throat Singers Festival, FYI.) Being both a fan of the traditional Mongolian throat-singing (khuumii as it is called in Mongolian) and of blues music, I was instantly taken with their bluesy number that was still distinctly Mongolian.

Khusugtun roughly translates to "cart-riders" in Mongolian. While the English translation may sound like a band from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, in Mongolian it is a traditional name for a band, to say the least, one that is close to the hearts of many nomadic Mongolians. Traditionally nomadic herders, Mongolians would move on average four or five times a year, from their summer camps to their autumn camps and so on as the seasons and pastures changed. And the horse or ox-drawn carts were an inseparable part of this lifestyle.

While Mongolians have become less and less nomadic due to urbanization with only 20 percent of Mongolia’s 2.5-million population now living the traditional nomadic lifestyle, the cultural identity of Mongolians as nomads remains strong, now more in a global/international sense as more and more Mongolians travel abroad for work and studies.

Khusugtun seem to represent the different ethnic groups in Mongolia through the musical instruments they utilize. The self-titled song starts with a bluesy riff on a dombura or dombor, a two-stringed Kazakh instrument, and an ensemble of traditional instruments takes over, with the two-stringed Mongolian horse-headed fiddle or “morin khuur” leading along with yatga, a traditional Mongolian plucked zither. The lyrics are a nostalgic ode to the past glories and the Mongol identity, to the nomad warriors and to the Eternal Blue Sky, worshipped by Mongols from ancient times. The singing style draws inspiration from the western Mongolian Altai Mountain praise songs, along with the beautiful throat-singing and the growly bass backing vocals.

Khusugtun’s music video, ‘mostly imageries depicting the nomadic warrior past of the Mongol empire: archers, warriors on horsebacks.’

Appropriately, the music video is mostly imageries depicting the nomadic warrior past of the Mongol empire: archers, warriors on horsebacks. Descendants of the second largest empire in history after the British Empire, Mongolians are extremely proud of their history, culture and Chinggis Khaan, or Genghis Khaan as he is often erroneously called in English literature. Treated as a barbarian warlord in western historical textbooks, Chinggis Khaan is worshipped like a god in Mongolia. Understandable in many ways, as during the Communist era, as the satellite state of the Stalinist Soviet Union, Mongolians were not allowed to write, read or talk much about Chinggis Khaan and his descendants, lest such things lead to a resurgence in national pride and a desire to be free of the Soviet Union. When Communism collapsed, Mongolians, victims of historical revisionism, had only the past glories of the 13th century, the period that saw the Mongol Empire peak in all its glory, to turn to for a sense of identity.

Along with the resurgence of national pride since the 1990s, there has been an increasing interest in traditional music amongst young musicians. Some of this was undoubtedly due to commercialization and the development of the tourism industry. There are many others, like Khusugtun, who are now taking the traditional Mongolian music a step further through experimentation and fusion with other genres of music. One of the more prominent examples is Altan Urag, a folk-rock group that is influenced as much by traditional music as they are by metal music and punk rock. Khusugtun, a relatively newcomer to the scene with only one album so far, may perhaps be the next folk band to introduce Mongolian music to foreign audiences around the world. Having returned to Mongolia after being away for more than 13 years, I have a new-found affection for Mongolian traditional music. And I was extremely delighted to discover these young bands, creating new music that is at once centuries old and a part of our cultural identity.

Bilguun Munkhjargal

About Bilguun Munkhjargal: Born in Mongolia, I spent 13 years traveling around the world until returning to Mongolia in 2008. Presently working as an art director for a creative marketing agency, I am also the writer of a somewhat regular blog called Asian Gypsy( on current affairs, culture and other topics of interest pertaining to Mongolia.



Tudor Gheorghe, The Troubadour of the Romanian Song

By Mirela D.

Romania correspondent,

In the same language

Everybody cries,

In the same language

One earth laughs.

But only in your language

You can caress the pain,

And the joy

So exchangeable for play.

In your language

You miss your mother,

And the wine is 'more' wine,

And the lunch is 'more' lunch.

And only in your language

You can laugh alone,

And only in your language

You can stop crying.

And when you cannot

Nor cry or laugh,

And you cannot caress

With your land,

With your sky in your face,

You then shut

In your language.

(Grigore Vieru)

Tudor Gheorghe is the greatest troubadour of Romanian folk song, of tradition, of poetry and of love of country. He has devoted his life to Romanian culture and refinement. His warm voice brings joy to people's hearts, his songs touch those hearts by chronicling the telling moments of ordinary human life.

He colored the seasons through a sonic universe in which life proceeds at a leisurely pace: "Symphonic Autumn" (2001), "Spring" (2002), "Winter" (2003), "Symphonic Summer" (2006); he demonstrated how some fiddle songs are in fact derived from fados (sad Portugese folksongs) in "Party with Orchestra" (2002), "Party with Orchestra II" (2004), "Party with Orchestra III" (2007); he made hearts pulse with life in "In search Longing Lost "(2006) and "The ordeal of a wandering heart" (2007); he rediscovered the musical jewels of the interwar period in "The Perfumes of crazy desires" (2007); and he recreated another time when laughter was scarce, when tears were sincere but the parties were endless ("Mon Amour Suburbia,” 2009).

Tudor Gheorghe live: 'au innebunit salcamii,' a song about spring and rebirth, beloved by the Romanian people, who flock to every Tudor Gheorghe appearance.

Tudor Gheorghe sings a patriotic song, "There is my country,” written by Romulus Vulpescu, that makes you long for your homeland. Translated into English, the lyrics read, in part: 

Where's tall oaks

And as I grow tall oaks

Young men with strong hearts,

Who look to death's face;

There, where there are rocks and mountains,

And as the mountains do not budge

Those gray hairs heroes

The ancestral nostalgia they live;


And where longing for estate

Always as a state it stayed

And male gallantry

Has crowned any man;

There is my country

And my Romanian family!

There I want to die,

There I want to live! 

One of Tudor Gheorghe's most beautiful songs is ‘Romanian Autumn,’ or ‘Autumn was never,’ for which he supplied music to lyrics by Tudor Arghezi,

(English translation, with Tudor Arghezi’s Romanian lyrics in parentheses)

Autumn was never

(Niciodata toamna nu fu mai frumoasa_)

Autumn was never this beautiful

(Sufletului nostru bucuros de moarte._)

To our soul pleased by death

(Palid asternut e sesul cu matasa._)

Pale bedding is the silky lowland

(Norilor copacii le urzesc brocarte.)_

Trees tissue brocades to the clouds

(Casele-adunate, ca niste urcioare_)

Houses gathered, like some eyesores

(Cu vin ingrosat in fundul lor de lut,_)

With callous wine on their clay bottom

(Stau in tarmu-albastru-al raului de soare,)

I sit in the blue realm of the suns river

(Din mocirla carui aur am baut._)

From the mire whose gold I drank _

(Pasarile negre suie in apus)

The blackbirds hiss in the bygone

(Cu frunza bolnava-a carpenului sur)

With the ill leaf of the grey hornbeam

(Ce se desfrunzeste, scuturand in sus,_)

Which unbrowses, flicking upwards

(Foile-n azur._)

Leaves in azure

(Cine vrea sa planga, cine sa jeleasca_)

Who wants to cry, who to mourn

(Vie sa asculte-ndemnul nenteles,_)

Comes to listen to the abstruse inducement

(Si cu ochii-n facla plopilor cereasca_)

And with eyes into the link of celestial poplars

(Sa-si ingroape umbra-n umbra lor, in ses._)

To bury his shadow in their shadow, in the lowland

Go see the master Tudor Gheorghe in concert and you will appreciate his true value to his country. As the great Romanian playwright-poet-novelist-essayist Marin Sorescu says: "Whenever I listen to him—and this happens often—Tudor Gheorghe confirms my suspicion that Romanian poetry, popular and literate, can move mountains. … My problem, feeling his song through every pore of my being, is how to stop a tear of love, admiration and pride that this phenomenon may exist at all. Like Grigore Vieru said, I found it easy to give him a kiss." 

Romania correspondent Mirela D. can be reached via email at





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