It’s not often I come across a Mongolian folk composer, so my interest was piqued when presented with this five-track EP, “The Mantra” (released 1st, July 2015) from Nature Ganganbaigal (Chinese name: Tianran Zhang). Known mainly as a composer for films and games, his scores have featured at many film festivals.
Based in New York City, Ganganbaigal presents “Neo-Central Asian nomadic folk” on this intriguing release. Inspired by the landscape of his native land, this is easily accessible music, with great rhythms and melodies.
Ganganbaigal also leads and writes the songs for his band, Tengger Cavalry, an exponent of Mongolian folk metal that has been getting a lot of attention in Europe and the U.S. This also intrigued me, so I checked them out and liked what I heard a lot.
Apart from acoustic guitar, I don’t know what instruments I’m listening to (Ganganbaigal plays them all) on this EP, so I look up what instruments he plays on the internet. They include the morin khuur, a sort of Mongolian fiddle, and the didgeridoo. He’s also known for his throat singing, a tradition well-known in Mongolia. All tracks here are instrumental except for some throat singing/chanting.
Both unfamiliar and familiar sounds on the title track, “The Mantra” introduce the EP. Acoustic guitar and other instruments plus deep throat singing/chanting bring a great sense of rhythm and melody too. I recognize the didgeridoo and really like the sound; it’s kind of hypnotic. Upbeat, happy instrumentation juxtaposes the darker chanting.
“White Pony” is, again, melodic acoustic guitar joined by other instruments that drive the rhythm, with changes of tempo and mood and throat chanting. It seems to me like a Wild West theme on Asian instruments, and I imagine Mongolian cowboys galloping across the steppes.
“Leader Wolf” is more sinister-sounding, with good percussion and a great rhythm. It would make terrific running music or a superb soundtrack for a computer platform game. Ancient Gobi Road”, with its percussion and chanting, sounds the most traditional piece, whereas “Life Rattles On” plays like a Western-type tune but on Mongolian instruments and is probably the most conventional-sounding tune to Western ears.
This release is very refreshing. Its sometimes complex nature still retains melody, but it’s the rhythms that appeal to me the most, weaving the interplay of light and shade from a faraway land.
Get it on Apple Music: