Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii

Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii is :
A dissemination of ethnomusicological research, a tool for the transmission of khöömii heritage, a chance for its worldwide promotion, a cultural and academic exchange.

Following the inscription of Mongolian Traditional Art of Khöömei* on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010, Routes Nomades Association, promoter of Mongolian culture and music, that participated in the elaboration of the nomination dossier of this inscription, has created the first anthology on Mongolian khöömii. The project aims to promote and disseminate the knowledge on Mongolian khöömii worldwide, strengthen the inheritance link between the old and young generation and foster the exchange and interaction between the stakeholders in khöömii studies.Presenting the contemporaneity of the tradition of Mongolian khöömii, Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii is significant on promoting cultural diversity in today’s global society. The project has the following three phases:

1. Edition of the first-ever anthology of the Mongolian khöömii (Double disc with a comprehensive booklet in Mongolian, English and French, release in January 2017 by Buda Musique);

2. International Tour to promote the disc, (France, Switzerland, Morocco), accompanied with a research protocol on khöömii in Spring 2016 and an exceptional concert of Khusugtun group in December 2016 for the release of the Anthology;

3. A cultural and academic event (Mongolia, 2017)

*Original title of the nomination dossier

Read the Press Release of the Anthology
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Report of the Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii Tour, Spring 2016

In two months, we – a group of 16 people, including 12 musicians, 3 managers and 1 filmmaker - traveled more than 25500 km for over 99 hours, around 2 continents, 3 countries and 11 cities to produce 60 activities that reached an audience of 9287 persons and 54 media talked about us... Take a look at the complete report here.


10th anniversary of Routes Nomades: an Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii, A Musical Creation and a Tour

10 years of research (2003-2013), 10th anniversary of Routes Nomades (2006-2016), more than 10 years of back and forth between France and Mongolia to understand, learn and share knowledge about khöömii (overtone singing) and more widely, the Mongolian musical and vocal culture abroad. Since 2003, Johanni Curtet, a musician and ethnomusicologist, have met and recorded a few hundred Mongolian singers during his numerous visits to Mongolia. Since 2006, Routes Nomades association have produced and organized more than 100 concerts of Mongolian overtone singing and over 50 workshops, co-produced 3 records with the legendary masters of khöömii and bearers of this tradition, in cooperation with the Buda Musique (Music from the World Collection) and Pan Records (Ethnic Series Collection) labels.
This whole adventure has been the subject of a documentary film, "Masters Overtone Singing" by Jean-François Castell (2010), awarded many times.

For the occasion of 10th anniversary of Routes Nomades Association, a double-disc of ‘Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii’ has been released by Buda Records, within the famous collection “Music of the World” in Winter 2016. This unique and brand-new collection of khoomi is an expression of gratitude and tribute to Mongolian musicians. At the same time, it is a tool for the transmission of khöömii, a living heritage. The anthology presents a comprehensive outlook on the overtone singing practice in Mongolia, from early recordings to the present.  It assembles for the first time sound archive data, fieldwork recordings and recent commercial productions around khöömii.

To promote the disc and celebrate the 10th anniversary of Routes Nomades, we organized an exceptional tour with some of the musicians presented on the Anthology, especially those who are the principal heritage bearers and representatives of the khöömii tradition of Mongolia.
Engaging 12 Mongolian artists, this two-month tour in Europe was a direct reflection of the spirit of the Anthology. Such a large-format tour dedicated to Mongolian khöömii was the first to be realized. Preceded by a one-week residency at La Fonderie in Le Mans, the concerts brought together khöömii heritage bearers, female and male professionals, legendary masters and ascending young artists at the same stage, offering an exciting moment of discovery of the rich and diverse aspects of overtone singing practice of Mongolia. Through the concerts and the accompanying workshops, concert-lectures and meetings within the framework of the tour, the audience could discover and enjoyed the different vocal techniques and their repertories, khöömii-nature relation, various accompanying instruments, styles and techniques of overtone singing, rural and urban sensibilities as well as innovations.

As a major event promoting the spirit of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, the aim of the disc, creation and tour was to show the Mongolian khöömii in all its contemporaneity and create a tool for its transmission. It also promotes the cultural diversity and human creativity in today’s global society by contributing the dissemination of this heritage, as it is conveyed by the Mongolian people, all over the world.

Find out the calendar of the tour

Contents of the disc An Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii

The first disc features archive recordings from the funds of Mongolian National Public Radio. The mechanical production rights for the recordings have already been acquired for this project. Supplemented by some field recordings of Johanni Curtet dating from 2000-2015, the compilation presents the pieces performed by both the ancient and today’s overtone singers, representing about 60 years of history.

The second disc includes pieces performed by all current khöömi heritage bearers and professional musicians from the various ethnic groups across Mongolia, such as seniors, masters, men, women, students, nomadic herders, professional soloists, national traditional music ensembles, ethno-rock and other fusion music artists.

This double disc represents as broadly as possible, all aspects of the past and contemporary practices of khöömii in Mongolia. In detail, the double-disc covers the whole diversity of the khöömii tradition: its relation to nature, the various accompanying instruments, different styles and techniques of overtone singing, repertory, the evolution of practice over three generations, rural and urban sensibilities, and innovations.

As a major documentation promoting the spirit of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, the aim of this album is to show Mongolian khöömii in all its contemporaneity and create a tool for its transmission. It also promotes the cultural diversity in today’s global society by contributing the dissemination of this heritage, as it is conveyed by the Mongolian people, all over the world.

Why An Anthology of Mongolian khöömii ?

Expressing the Mongolian identity, khöömii is a precious element of traditional culture. Several legislative documents have been adopted in Mongolia, showing the importance given to this national musical emblem, such as the National Programme on the Promotion of Traditional Folk Arts of 1999 (1999-2006), Presidential Decree on the Development of Khöömii Art of 2006 and the Mongol Khöömii National Programme of 2007 (2008-2014). Moreover, following the nomination from Mongolia, the Mongolian Traditional Art of Khöömii was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

However, to date, there is no referential documentation and mediation presenting scientifically, objectively and comprehensively the diversity of this tradition as a whole to the international audience.

In addition, such a contribution with a dimension of creation is also important for several reasons:

  • Nowadays khöömii is best known in its spectacular and artistic form. But overtone singing is not only summed up to this manner. In order to counterbalance this potential harm to the viability and transmission of khöömii, it is necessary to present the rural practices related to the specific context of nomadism, which should go through the scene.
  • Abroad, especially in the West, the khöömii is perceived and understood as a religious and mystical practice explained in a form that is different from the reality in Mongolia. It is therefore necessary to change the misconceptions created and promoted by the New Age movement.
  • Despite the development established in Ulaanbaatar, by the academisation of khöömii tradition, we observe a lack of knowledge of youth on the older generation, their repertoire and representation of the meaning and the ancient practices. This is probably explained by the fact that: the poor circulation of the existing records and difficult access of sound archives; the weak inheritance link and relationship between old and young generations of khöömii; the decrease of young people to go seek a traditional master to learn khöömii

Following this, Johanni Curtet and Nomindari Shagdarsuren, main participants of the dossier and documentation of the nomination of Mongolian Traditional Art of Khöömii on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, implement a project to release the first discographic edition Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii, followed by a new and unique musical creation and tour.

Thus, this project has not only artistic and aesthetic aspect, but also a dimension of cultural heritage protection, promoting the objectives of the UNESCO Convention of 2003, to document, disseminate and transmit the intangible cultural heritage, making this great event a world premiere.

Why is this project important ?

Calling for the protection of tradition and promotion of its renewal, the idea of this project is realized both on the disc and the stage. With the additional cultural and educational mediation activities, this event made the following contributions:

  • Creation of a referential document on Mongolian khöömii, its singular characteristics, and its multilateral evolution for its dissemination and transmission.
  • Presentation of history, biography and repertoires of khöömii heritage bearers and professional khöömii practitioners, who left their traces in the history of overtone singing and made their contributions in its development.
  • Encouragement of current musicians and their artistic research.
  • Reinforcement of the link of transmission, repertory and aesthetics between the young and old generations of khöömii and fostering the exchange between the khöömii bearers and apprentices.
  • Promotion of equity between the khöömii practitioners in the face of all forms of hierarchy of reputation and social status: professional versus amateur, urban versus rural, decorated versus non-decorated etc.
  • Notable contribution on the reinforcement of the visibility and viability of the Mongolian khöömii at national and international levels.
  • Considerable contribution of new knowledge about the voice. Research programs are under elaboration. One of them is a one-week research protocol at Gipsa-lab in Grenoble, to be conducted during the tour, with the participation of a team of acousticians, speech pathologists and specialists in the singing voice, as well as the invited representatives of khöömii tradition from Mongolia.

What benefits for the invited Mongolian overtone singers ?

Since the Anthology of Mongolian khöömii is relied upon a more than 10 years of ethnomusicological research on this vocal technique, this sound, visual and textual documentation became a reference in all levels.

For the Mongolian overtone singers, participating in this historical document, and the following creation and tour was a great opportunity to spread their works worldwide.

The elaboration of booklet and the selection of recordings was planned and revised with the remarks of the participants to ensure the objectivity, the participation of concerned community as well as the collective dimension of the project. Content of the musical creation, based on the spirit of the Anthology was considered with all the invited musicians in a collective and participatory approach.

Promoting Mongolian culture and traditional music worldwide since 10 years, Routes Nomades Association has constructed a solid network in the traditional music milieu in France and Europe. Through its network, Routes Nomades has been promoting Mongolian artists and contribute greatly for their ascension on the world stages. A concrete example of this can be illustrated by a young virtuoso Tsogtgerel Tserendavaa. Moreover, stable artistic projects such as Dörvön Berkh and Khoyor Altai that Routes Nomades produced had a significant multiplier effect for the Mongolian artists to participate in new projects, giving a birth to the contemporary creations as Urbi&Orbi and Nomadic Voices.

The French label Buda Musique in charge of the edition and the international distribution of the anthology disc (by Universal), reaches to large parts of the world (Europe, North America, Russia, Japan and South Korea and Internet). With the professional network of this label and through the anthology, Mongolian khöömii and works of overtone singers included in this project will be widely promoted and disseminated.

In addition, the 2016 creation and the international tour for the promotion of the Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii allowed the invited musicians to perform on the world stages, while expanding their network of artistic cooperation. Covered by the national media, public awareness and reception on khöömii was considerable.

Aim and Objectives of the Project

The purpose of this multifaceted project is to promote, enhance and contribute to the transmission of the khöömii tradition in all its contemporaneity, equally representing rural and urban practices, heritage bearers and professionals. The project also aims to encourage and disseminate research and current musical creation around khöömii. To succeed this through the disc, creation and tour, it achieved the following objectives:

  • Present the richness and diversity of historical and modern practices of the Mongolian khöömii tradition exhaustively;
  • Make publicly available the recordings from rare sound archives and promote the contribution of the record in the khöömii transmission;
  • Reinforce the inheritance link between the old and younger generations;
  • Promote popular and rural aspect of khöömii that progressively supplanted by its spectacular form and enhance the rural artists and khöömii heritage bearers who have maintained this traditional cultural expression in its nomadic pastoral context;
  • Represent Mongolian khöömii in all the diversity of its context of performance: pastoral practice, scenic representation as well as rural and urban aesthetics and foster the dissemination and transmission of the Mongolian khöömii at national and international levels;
  • Support current creations, artistic research and renewals of style and repertoire of Mongolian khöömii;
  • Promote the spirit of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by strengthening the visibility of khöömii tradition worldwide;
  • Encourage the respect for intellectual property holders of khöömii in Mongolia.

Biographies of the Project Implementers

Johanni Curtet, PhD

Doctor of Philosophy in musicology, Johanni Curtet is a musician and ethnomusicologist specialized in khöömii, Mongolian overtone singing. Affiliated to the Research Unity 1279, History and Critics of Arts at the University of Rennes 2, he is a member of the French Society for Ethnomusicology. Since 2006, he is the artistic director of Routes Nomades Association.

His research on khöömii focuses on the origin, history, spectacularization, heritagization and transmission of this vocal technique in Mongolia. In 2009, by the request of the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO, he participated in the elaboration of the nomination dossier of the Mongolian Traditional art of Khöömei in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In 2013, he defended with honours his PhD dissertation entitled The transmission of höömij, an art of vocal timber: the ethnomusicology and history of Mongolian overtone singing at the University of Rennes 2. In 2014, he taught Mongolian language grammar, Mongolian culture and civilization at INALCO, the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris.

Nomindari Shagdarsuren

Holder of Master’s degree in Mediation of cultural heritage at the University of Rennes 2, Nomindari Shagdarsuren is specialized in the sector of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH).  She has worked for national and international cultural engineering organizations in Mongolia (Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO, Foundation for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage), France (French Centre of Intangible Cultural Heritage) and South Korea (ICHCAP-International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific region under the auspices of UNESCO).

Project officer at the Routes Nomades Association, she also participated in the elaboration of the nomination dossiers of ICH elements of Mongolia to the UNESCO lists, such as Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei, Naadam, Mongolian traditional festival, Mongol biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance and Mongol Tuuli, Mongolian Epic. She published several articles on the ICH in Mongolian, English and French.

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