Urna and Kroke: Ser

April 8, 2019

Grass, Memory and Song

Listening Post 196. The grasslands of China’s Inner Mongolia region are far from any ocean, but Urna Chahar-Tugchi observes that her home turf is often called the “Sea of Songs”—a fitting metaphor for a rich musical culture and for Urna’s awe-inspiring voice, rising like a wave and sailing across a soundscape seemingly as expansive as her childhood horizon. She grew up in a family of herders, surrounded by head-high grass, sand dunes and big sky. At 18 she went east to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, but throughout her career she has traveled in every direction, singing traditional songs and her own compositions with subtle influences from the four winds. On Ser (Awakening), her ninth album, her Mongolian lyrics are in excellent company with Kroke, a Polish klezmer band that likewise branched out. Urna sings of family and identity, love and distance, nature and childhood. Horses are ever present in her stories, often carrying sons and daughters to faraway new homes. In the spiritual/personal title track, her voice climbs gradually with the rising sun (video 1) and the morning theme gathers momentum in Baigal Dalai (Infinite Nature, video 2). Zandan Hureng (My Sandalwood-Brown), describes a child riding away over dunes, ice, riverbed and mountain passes (video 3), while the title figure of Nonjiyaa is a bride leaving her homeland (video 4). Urna, who lives in Berlin, also left home but bridges gaps in time and space. Ten years ago she starred in The Two Horses of Genghis Khan, a documentary about an heirloom violin lost during China’s Cultural Revolution (trailer, video 5). It was in the 13th century that Genghis Khan’s descendants took Mongol power to its height by conquering China—the Song Dynasty, to be precise. Today this daughter of her people floats over a sea of grass and memory with her stunning, panoramic words and music. (Urna Chahar-Tugchi/UCT)

Ser credits
Urna Chahar-Tugchi: vocals, composer

Tomasz Kukurba: viola, percussion, vocals, flute
Jerzy Bawoł: accordion
Tomasz Lato: double bass

Lyrics: Urna Chahar-Tugchi/Music: Urna Chahar-Tugchi & Tomasz Lato

(from the Mongolian lyrics)
I send my sounds into the universe
And connect them to the best wishes for all life on earth
I wish for only positive news and messages
And hope for everyone
My desire for all


Baigal Dalai/Infinite Nature
Lyrics & Music: Urna Chahar-Tugchi

Sunlight glistens
/Gleaming pearls
Over the sea/
Obeying the rhythm of nature
Awakening the peaceful world.

I settle into the sounds/Of the still morning
Quietly joining/
My own melody
And feel/
A sea of harmony
Embracing the world

New sounds steadily flow/Their chimes
The beauty of the morning/The healing energy
Enhance the feeling/Everything united
In an ocean of nature


Zandan Hureng/My Sandalwood-Brown
Lyrics & Music: Traditional

I want to ride my Sandalwood-Brown horse/At the Sandalwood temple I will pray
To all creatures of this earth/
May you live in happiness and peace

Light-footed he trots across the dunes/My horse with white spots
In gold brocade, adorned with coral/Our child leaves to live with strangers

Light-footed he trots across the ice/My black-spotted Silver-Grey
Adorned with silver and coral/Our child leaves to live with strangers

Light-footed he trots on the riverbed/My horse with the tamarisk spots
Adorned with pearls and coral/
Our child leaves us for foreign lands

Three mountain passes lie behind me/Trodden down are my boots
Not three moons have passed/How I long for Mother and Father!

Four mountain passes lie behind me/Worn out are my stirrups
Not four moons have passed/How I long for Mother and Father!


Lyrics & Music: Traditional

On the banks of the Green River a horse waits/It drags its halter along the ground
The gentle Nonjiyaa, she had to leave her homeland/as a bride to follow her fate into distant lands

On the banks of the Haichin-River, a forlorn horse stands/It drags its reins behind it
Loving Nonjiyaa, her fate she had to follow/to a place far beyond the horizon

At home they did not sow corn/They did not eat sweet fruit, nor fine vegetables
Yet what could taste better/
than milk from a mother’s breast?


The Two Horses of Genghis Khan
Trailer from the 2009 documentary film about Urna’s quest to retrieve a family heirloom—a horse-head violin lost during the Chinese Cultural Revolution when her grandmother was forced to break apart the instrument, preserving just the head and neck.




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