Mao echoes with the sounds of the grasslands
Sunday has become the new Friday for me this summer with the festivals and battle of the bands competitions taking up both weekend days. But I’ve also managed to pop into Mao on the occasional Sunday this year and stumbled across some low-key shows by great bands including Zhaoze, So Long & Thanks for the Fish and LiDong. Last Sunday Mao played host to Mongolian folksters Ajinai, with support from the Beijing Alchemists.
Having survived the sweaty sauna of a SUBS mosh pit the night before at the Punk festival, it felt strange walking into that same room to see just a handful of devoted fans milling round the cool dark cavern of Mao. Beijing Alchemists opened the show with their mellow mix of English and Mongolian folk tunes. When I first saw these guys play around a year ago they trio was made up of an Englishman, an American and a Mongolian (Hugjiltu from Ajinai). In the past year the line-up has seen a few changes, Xinjiang rocker Jurat is now a regular member of the line-up, although he’s currently back in Xinjiang, so on Sunday Englishman Matt was joined by two Mongolian musicians. Their music is an eclectic mix of English, Chinese and Mongolian influenced folk, with each member taking turned to sing and lead the group. Unfortunately the space of Mao didn’t provide much on an atmosphere for this style of music, I’d recommend catching them in a smaller venue such as Jianghu or JiangJinJiu.
Ajinai may not be as well known as their Mongolian brothers Hanggai, but they’ve been playing around Beijing for around 2 years. I remember catching an unadvertised acoustic set one night in Amilal last winter and really enjoyed their striped back traditional Mongolian folk style. I missed the album launch earlier this year at Yugong Yishan, so Sunday was my first time seeing them on a big stage. They’ve added a bass player playing a 6 string bass and the city’s happiest drummer to the mix since last time I saw them, but still stay true to their Mongolian roots incorporating throat singing, and traditional instruments, without going too far down the rock path Hanggai have claimed.
I love the harmonies Ajinai produce with three singers covering all ranges, the deep gutteral throat singing, powerful high notes and mid ranges blending together perfectly. Apart from the bass and drums they use traditional instruments, morin khuur (horse head fiddle), hel khuur (Jew’s harp), a flute, various short necked instruments and cymbals. The crowd, including a large Mongolian contingent, were really enjoying the show, singing along, dancing and waving scarves given out along with CDs by the band to 5 lucky fans. They played a long set including original songs and versions of traditonal Mongolian songs, some from their album and others I hadn’t heard before, coming back for an encore to finish with my favourite song Grass.
If you haven’t seen Ajinai yet, you’ll have to wait until after the summer when they come back from Inner Mongolia for their next performance, but in the meantime their album is available at C Rock and on taobao here.