The title track of Black Rose's newest CD, is called "Sky Stamp." It opens with a traditional Mongolian long-song:
This is the music of vast open spaces and big blue skies. It is the music of Mongolian nomads, calling out across the grasslands, soothing their horses, and herds of yak. The words speak of the legend of Mongolians being born from a blue wolf and a deer. But then the music changes:
This gravely voice belongs to Amraamandakh - Black Rose's leader and founder. It's a deliberate echo of traditional Mongolian throat singing. The best throat singers can sing two, or even three notes at once. But Amraa, as he's known, admits he's had no formal training:
Amraamandakh: "If you really want to sing it at a good level, you should really have a teacher. If you do it in an improper way, you will damage yourself, your throat. When people were warning me that I shouldn't be teaching myself, I didn't listen to them. But since I started doing this, my voice changed, really. So I can't do high pitches any more - only lower."
So for the higher pitches - and other things -- Amraa uses guest artists. It's his mother-in-law, Oyunjar, singing the long song in "Sky Stamp". Some of Mongolia's best-known opera singers and other artists have also made cameo appearances on his CD's.
Black Rose is now something of an institution in Mongolia. Amraa and a friend started it as teenagers, in 1991, in the heady days just after the Soviets pulled out of Mongolia. Mongolians were embracing democracy, and re-embracing their national hero - Genghis Khan. The Soviets had banned mention of Genghis - still resenting his destruction of Russia, and wanting to prevent any surges of Mongolian nationalism. Amraa - who'd been punished as a student for praising Genghis - was right out in front, once those restrictions were lifted.
Black Rose may have the distinction of offering the first rap tribute to Genghis. Many Mongolians believe he was not a bad man, he just had bad press:
Amraamandakh: "Not only westerners, even Mongolians don't have a right idea about Genghis Khan. Fifteen years ago, there was strong propaganda about what a bad person he was....The society was like that then. If you said something that has national pride, you were in trouble. In an interview, I said I worship Genghis Khan, and then some of the young people, my age, said, "You are saying strange things". Ten years later, they approached me and said, "Our development is just ten years slower than yours."
Amraa's hero worship of Genghis Khan extends to wearing some of his long hair in a top-knot, like Genghis. He dresses in black leather and silver rings when he's off-stage, and in elaborate warrior costumes when he's on. Amraa's father and grandfather were both famous choreographers of traditional Mongolian dance - and Amraa clearly has their showman genes. He sometimes performs with dozens of costumed dancers onstage. He choreographs the moves, that combine hip-hop and traditional Mongolian dance.
Black Rose's music, too, combines traditional Mongolian music with rap, house and hip-hop. Mongolia's is a young, increasingly urban population. Two-thirds are under 30, and half live in cities. Besides getting those Mongolians out on the dance floor, Amraa hopes his music helps to instil in them a sense of national pride - which, he thinks, is important for Mongolia's survival between its two big neighbors, China and Russia:
Amraamandakh: "In my opinion, music is one of the strongest weapons. Back in the 1940s, during World War II, Russians were attacked by Fascist soldiers. They were singing songs and marching on the Red Square, singing one song. And that song could be heard in every corner of the big Soviet Union. I think the aim of my life is fulfilled, at least a little bit, if Mongolians have a pride for their country."
It seems they already do. Certainly, the spirit of Genghis Khan is everywhere in Mongolia these days. There are Genghis cafes and Genghis hotels. If someone is generous, or brave, a friend might compliment him by saying, "that's mighty Genghis-like". And when Mongolians were recently required to choose a last name -which few had before- most chose the name of Genghis Khan's tribe. In the midst of all this, it's no surprise that Black Rose's tribute to Mongolia's past glory has staying power - not to mention a danceable beat.
For The World, I'm Mary Kay Magistad, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
"Black Sky" and other CD's by Black Rose are available from
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