Author: Foxfillip

Feminist, atheist, pacifist and cats. Student at UOW.

Alternative Ulaanbaatar

As suggested by Ellis et al (2011) this blog post is written to analyse my personal experience to understand Mongolian hip hop. I have had my initial experience of listening and watching a couple of music videos on Youtube, but has this really given me a full understanding? No. Not at all.

To really understand in an ethnographic sense the cultural significance hip hop has in Mongolia I really have to do some research into certain parts of the practice. In this blog post I will be exploring hip hop as a cultural practice, the significance of music culture in Mongolia, traditional throat singing and where that fits in and how this all ties into the cultural act of hip hop in Mongolia. By the end of this hopefully I will have more of an understanding and reflect on the possible transformative epiphanies I hope to have with this experience. Everyone else is having them, I want in on that!

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What is Hip Hop?

So to begin this exploration into Mongolian hiphop one must know what the hip hop ideology is in itself and how the Mongolian society embraced it for themselves.  Hip hop has been a cultural phenomenon in countries around the world specifically in African American culture. The roots of hip hop have been in African oral traditions, passed down through slavery and then through a way of social commentary (Blanchard, 1999). The appeal that hip hop had on a society that had been in the grips of a soviet backed government called the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) was massive.
The MPRP had attempted to isolate Mongolia from the outside reaches of the west but alas, the curiosity of youth will prevail. Illegally circulated music and items piqued the youth of Mongolia’s interest and as MPRP realised, they did not have the power to stop it all together. They invested in their own brand of popular music and created bands to create their nationalistic music (Marsh, 2010). This only lasted as long as it took for technological and communications to evolve and for popular culture from the ‘West’ to seep in through media as well as influences from a struggling economic and political climate to create a window of opportunity for the young Mongolian population to move on.  Mongolian artists turned hip hop into way of exploring and announcing their societal and cultural problems and issues (Marsh, 2010). This is the essence of hip hop and Mongolian hp hop is no different, it just has a different sound and face. 

Music in Mongolia and Traditional Throat Singing

The Mongolians have been known as “a people of music and poetry.” Their singing, sonorous, bold, passionate and unconstrained, is the true reflection of the temperament of the Mongolian people. (China.org.cn, n.d.)

Mongolia has a rich and deep musical history. When one thinks of Mongolia one might think of the image of a nomad perched on the top of a mountain that is sprinkled with snow, surrounded by… goats? Singing but not in the way you and I might sing. A throaty, raw and echoing call. It’s not the first thing that may come to your mind when you think of modern Mongolian music but there are those who are blending this ancient act into the new music culture.


In my ethnographic research the first and foremost group that stood out to me was Fish Symboled Stamp. They are a Mongolian hip hop group that incorporate their traditional throat singing or “Koomei” into their songs (Campbell and Singh, 2017). The undulations of the Koomei mixed with the 4/4 time stamp of heavy hip hop makes for a seriously confronting sound. But instead of just listening to their sound I know I needed to go deeper into what a Mongolian hip hop group write about, why and how it is received in Mongolia.

Mongolian hip hop artists are writing in this modern age about the cultural themes and  values that they are observing through their lives where they live. Hip hop for young Mongolian’s is a creative way to express ‘one’s self, angst and perception of life, which requires no ghetto-like background or experience” (Wallace, 2015). Here is where it gets a bit hard due to the language barrier, of how to find out what artists are writing about. As explored in Marsh’s article there have been groups that rap about women, alcohol and money and even “imitating” African American rappers, but this has not been welcomed by some in the hip hop community (Marsh, 2010). But most that have been translated by Marsh have been regarding the social and economic issues that relate to their communities and society. In history, Mongolian music is made up of songs about stories, epic tales, love and nature. Songs particularly pertaining to horses, historical events and legends (Hays, 2016). In an interview with the artists Bataar and Odsaikhan in Fish Symboled Stamp, they reveal that their lyrics are dominated by their culture including Mongolian history and legacies (Campbell and Singh, 2017).

My Epiphanies Regarding Mongolian Hip Hop 

I’ve realised throughout this research whilst listening to the music I’m engaging with, that it’s more than what’s on the surface. To understand why this music style is so popular, it’s more than just the type of music. It is the content, the lyrics, the meaning, the cultural significance of using the throat singing and the context of the artists in Mongolia. I’ve realised that I am so constricted by my own language barrier that exploring into a different culture and therefore language has barred myself from fully enjoying and ‘getting’ the music. I feel like to appreciate the music, you really need to realise and understand that there is a cultural significance to the words and feelings.

But again, I realise through this research and this language setback, is that I’m so white and ‘western’. I take for granted that the music that I surround myself around usually is english based. I get the lyrics, I can sing along without getting the words wrong, I get the language and 9 times out of 10 I get the meanings.

 

References

Blanchard, B. (1999). THE SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF RAP & HIP-HOP CULTURE. [online] Web.stanford.edu. Available at: https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/socialsignificance.htm

Campbell, J. and Singh, K. (2017). Mongolian melody: Hip-hop duo splices traditional singing and urban beats. [online] U.S. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mongolia-music/mongolian-melody-hip-hop-duo-splices-traditional-singing-and-urban-beats-idUSKBN1AE011

China.org.cn. (n.d.). Ethnic Groups – china.org.cn. [online] Available at: http://www.china.org.cn/e-groups/shaoshu/shao-2-mongolian.htm

Hays, J. (2016). TRADITIONAL MONGOLIAN MUSIC | Facts and Details. [online] Factsanddetails.com. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat5/sub88/entry-4593.html

Marsh, P. (2010). Our generation is opening its eyes: hip-hop and youth identity in contemporary Mongolia. Central Asian Survey, 29(3), pp.345-358.

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Mongolian Hiphop

Whilst I have been approaching this subject with some trepidation in regards to research projects, I am actually quite keen to be doing this assignment. I was worried about what to do, how to approach this ethnographic research project considering I have not had much exposure to media outside of my own western media influence. I am a white, middle class suburban girl who hasn’t had much of an inclination to explore much of the asian cultures outside of food and maybe some things that are just by chance. My understanding of ‘Asia’ is that it is a vast and broad area of study. Many countries are included in Asia, and I wanted to choose one that maybe wasn’t an obvious choice. Mongolia came to mind immediately, although it was because of the Disney movie Mulan that I even thought of it.

Mongolia is more than a Disney movie, obviously. I cannot remember where the thought of Mongolian hiphop came from, but I had heard about it recently and it just struck me as something I could explore. Trying to find Mongolian music though… Not as easy as I thought. Spotify? Nope. Youtube? Yeah, but I found that I would actually need a basic understanding of whether the language the music video was in was actually Mongolian. Google translate is going to have to be used frequently if I am to make sure what I’m listening to is actually Mongolian. I did a quick search of Mongolian hiphop and found a good resource of names to look up through a piece on the documentary ‘Mongolian Bling’. The documentary is something I will buy to watch, because it is not that readily available in Australia. But from this documentary information I found some people to start my Mongolian hiphop journey.

The artists Enkhtaivan, Quiza, Digital and Tatar have been my first venture into this cultural phenomenon. My experience with listening to them have been only through youtube, and I will admit I had to check on google twice to make sure that they were actually Mongolian, because there’s no translate function in youtube (which I feel like there should be). I want to make sure that what I’m listening to is actually what I have intended on finding. The first song I listened to after I searched “Mongolian Hiphop” into google ( I know, very imaginative) was a song from the film “Time of the Middle Emperor”, and the song is ‘Mongol’ by the Mongolian rap band Fish Symbolled Stamp. One of the things that stood out to me is the title of the youtube video is “Mongolian Traditional Music Throat & Long Song (Mongolian Rap Hip Hop)”. So from this I can already tell that the selling point for music like this, is not the band but the idea of the Mongolian throat singing with rap music is more exciting for those who aren’t of the culture. Listening to the song, I was hooked. I loved it. I showed my mum, and she loved it. It’s throaty, it’s raw and it’s so different from the music we hear in on the radio in Australia. This is something that is so different, but so similar in a way. The beat is catchy and makes you want to move but the words and the way that the artists sing and spit their words makes you feel like you’re in another world. The way that the traditional throat singing is sewn into the song is a stunning mixture of traditional and modern culture. 

Mongolian hiphop to me makes me so aware of the fact I am so uneducated with outside cultures. I don’t understand the language, and I am sure the themes of the videos and music are important, and I won’t immediately understand the significance of them together. Through this project I want to be able to find a way to understand and relate to the content, and enjoy it while I do it.

The goal of this project is to eventually have an understanding of the cultural significance of Mongolian hiphop in a modern Mongolia, the reach it has in the wider global community and explain how I relate and engage with the material I am researching. I want to explore it, and I want to explore how I engage with the music as a cultural event and a media. I will endeavour to explore how the use of which platforms I use to watch and listen to this music changes my experience and how the cultural significance of the music changes with how you listen to it and from where you find it. 

 

Aljazeera.com. (2017). Mongolia’s hip hop rappers. [online] Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2012/10/201210483547210889.html

Mongolian Traditional Music Throat & Long Song (Mongolian Rap Hip Hop). (2014). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h_hS0d4vqg [Accessed 29 Aug. 2017].

Autoethnography: An Understanding

Autoethnography is one of those words which seem scary and intimidating when you are first exposed to it. But it is not something that we need to be scared of. After reading into it and examining some further readings, I have come to the conclusion that I do understand it more than I thought I would. Ellis (et al. 2011)’s Autoethnography: An Overview is one of those readings that summarises what exactly is autoethnography and how to apply it to our tasks this session.

Autoethnography is the act of consciously taking into account your personal and contextual experiences to create a wider and deeper cultural understanding. It is to use your personal narrative to relate and engage in a text, and analyse it in a way that can create meaning. As Ellis (et. al 2011) explains, it is to ‘systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)’. It is seen as a much more sensible practice as opposed to traditional research methods. That would historically have one remove their feelings and subjectiveness when writing about the culture, which would leave a culture and people that had been explored, exploited and disregarding.

Autoethnography instead is a practice that ‘acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researchers’ influence on research’ (Ellis, et. al 2011) which is way to explore different cultures in a sensitive way. Ethnography can help those outside of a culture and those inside the culture, understand the culture and experiences much better. For example, one who was exploring the culture of skateboarders would engage and immerse themselves in the culture, taking field notes, watching, examining the cultural nuances and signs. As I understand it, if one was to show the end research of an ethnographic research project on skateboarders, there would be a narrative type way of conveying the content. A story with characters who are acknowledged to be real people, and the real experiences being shown in a personal and culturally sensitive way.

Leading towards the final project needed for this subject of Digital Asia, I am still stuck on how I am to be ethnographically involved in researching an asian culture/topic. Would it be engaging in something like Kpop, or anime? This is something that I will have to explore more as the session progresses.

 

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.

Gojira, an Understanding

When I first realised I would have to do this subject on Digital Asia, I must admit I was wary and disappointed. I am not really one to watch anime, or read manga, or really I’ve never been interested in it at all. I was again surprised that the first movie we were to watch would be Godzilla. I’ve never watch the original, although I have watched the latest one (Gareth Edwards, 2014), and the one where the bad hair over took the story line (Roland Emmerich, 1998). This subject is heavy on the autoethonography methodology, and it is necessary for me to relate back to the subject matter in a way that explores my own connection and contextual understanding of it. My cultural background is limited, at best. I have no real understanding of Asian media, other than the cartoons dubbed for Cheese TV back in the ’90s-00’s.

The way I have watched, understood and disassemble the movie Gojira from 1954 is through the discussion in class about the contextual and historical location Godzilla has in the film world. I never really put much thought into the big lizard, and through the discussions over twitter and in class I have learnt a lot more about where it stands as a movie.

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The movie came out at a time where Japan had lost its sense of self; the Japanese culture had lost a part of its identity due to the clashes with the West. Not so subtle inferences to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fall out of nuclear war are echoed throughout this movie. Godzilla himself, with his nuclear breath, is the metaphor for a time where the possibility of being wiped off the map, was a reality some thought would happen. The sentiment of antiwar and anti-nuclear weapons was a powerful message to be sending out in a post-war Japan. Godzilla was symbol and exploration of the people’s fears, encased in a rubber suit.  To my understanding, Godzilla was a call for the end of this type of destruction. Godzilla speaks louder than roars, as even in modern times, the monster can be the symbol for whichever man-made disaster is occurring at the time.  Global Warming, war, nuclear power – all of these topics are easily interchangeable as a new Gojira.

My understanding of the context and importance this film has all stems from discussions in class and a larger memory of history than I thought I had. The subject matter is much richer than just a monster in a rubber suit. It is a movie that speaks up about what an entire country felt at the time and that is powerful.