Thursday, December 30, 2010

Enkh Jargal

I thought that the Mongolian singer and horse-fiddler Enkh Jargal was a fitting first post for this blog. Often those traditional artists are well-versed in their country's literature, but are difficult to find and to access musically. Jargal's performance here is very accessible to the western ear, and the novelty of his astounding vocal range, and horse-fiddle virtuosity is enough to impress anyone. The plaintive melody heard here is the folk song Alsin gazrin zereglee (Mirage of a Distant Land). The performance is strophic, and in four parts. I hope you enjoy it.

I have been working to translate this and I have had very limited resources,
Here's the best I could come up with:

The speaker speaks as if he's showing us, in a vision,
Someone who has left home to graze his livestock,
When he returns the shepherd will prosper:

(See, as in a) Mirage of a distant land
As he goes to his cattle and horses
What a simple way to live
He will soon be happy and thankful

(See, as in a) Far-away mirage
As he goes to his sheep and cattle
What a simple way to live
How simple just to go and sheer

Jargal begins by displaying the degree of sensitivity that can be achieved on the two stringed Mongolian horse fiddle. The melody is introduced in a pining legato, and is given a full, resonant exposition. It's worth noticing that only one of the two strings is used to play the melody, the other is used to drone the tonic (Do)

The second repetition of this melody is sung by Enkh, almost entirely beneath the bass clef. The lowest note being the F# four lines below the staff. The nasal tone of his voice may put off some western listeners, but it is considered the appropriate tone quality in Mongolia. It may help to think of the voice as trying to emulate the instrument's tone quality, bright and full of overtones.

The third repetition is sung in a heavily ornamented falsetto. It's rendered as an expansive improvisation on the original melody. He maintains the loneliness of the chant he first played in the introduction while building intensity and heading toward a final soloistic outro.

The song ends with a display of Jargal's technical virtuosity on the horse fiddle. If you play a stringed instrument, whether you live in Appalachian Mountains, a gypsy camp outside of Madrid, or a university in UlaanBaatar, people want to hear you play fast. Jargal doesn't disappoint, and shows us how much time he's spent with this instrument. He clearly knows that he's very good , as is evidenced by his grin at the audience during the more impressive passages.

Enkh Jargal has several albums, check them out at http://http//