Tonight, I decided to take in some live music at a popular performing venue, Wrestler’s Palace, about 2 km from my apartment. The building is a huge version of a ger, seating about 1500 people – maybe more, with decorative huge flags draped from the sloped ceiling. Mongolian wrestling takes place there every Sunday afternoon, but the rest of the week it’s used for live music shows.
A student walked me there, and the air was so polluted we could not only barely breathe, but hardly see ahead of us either. She cheerfully said that it’s from the “ger zone” outside of town, where the ger dwellers heat their dwellings with wood fires or other combustibles, causing a great amount of smoke. It was truly extreme. People wear face masks against pollution, but — this has to be corrected, fast.
So, I bought my ticket, 10,000 tugrig, about $8, and my guide was allowed to come in with me to help me find my seat. There was a fair amount of pushing and shoving at the door, including by women, and I’m not sure why. Was it by people without a ticket, trying to force their way in? It wasn’t sold out, and we had fixed seating, so it shouldn’t have been about those issues. Anyway, inside there is stadium seating, rows and sections of small fixed seats with curving sides to them. The seats are really narrow and small by American standards, and both sides of my body were pressed against my neighbors during the entire show.
I was advised to come about 7:30 for a show posted to start at 7, and it was right on the mark – it started at 7:30. The advertised performer was a singer named Amarjargal. She is apparently nearly blind, and needs to be led on and off the stage with great care. She came out with a minder and sang two songs, which everyone enjoyed and sang along with, then left the stage. There were three more acts, each singing two songs, and then Amarjargal came out in a new outfit and sang two new songs. She left again, and 4 more singers came out to sing one or two songs. Amarjargal came out a third time, in a traditional Mongolian outfit, with a male singer in a matching outfit, and they sang two duets.
All this time, a flower vendor was circulating and people were buying bouquets to hand to Amarjargal. Each person who bought a bouquet was able to just mount the steps up to the stage and put the bouquet in Amarjargal’s arms, as she sang! At some points she was cradling three bouquets in one arm and holding a cordless mic in the other. Another fan – a mother/daughter team, bought a huge cellophane wrapped teddy bear and brought it up on stage, leaving it beside the electric piano, which I assume she was going to play later in the show. Of course, it worried me that she might trip on it but I figured her handler would make sure she didn’t – and this must be a regular occurrence for Mongolian artists.
Well, she sang well enough, but — during more than an hour in the audience, I never saw a single musician pick up a musical instrument. To me, it looked like just karaoke in fancy costumes ~ oh, in some cases, the music video by the same singer was playing on two screens behind the stage. That was also disconcerting to me because the synch on the music videos was just a little off, so when the singer was singing it live, the lips on the closeups on the music video were a couple of words behind. Anyway, the audience loved it and sang along at the top of their lungs – men, women and children. Mongolia is an incredibly singing centered culture!
I left after an hour because I knew I had a long walk home. There is absolutely no danger walking at night in Mongolia – no words, no looks, no hassles whatsoever. People just go on their merry ways. The main concern at night is lighting. The pavement is so irregular and there is no street lighting on many streets, so all you have to go on is the headlights of the cars, and they are in your face. So you pick your way along, carefully.
I guess I sound rather disenchanted with the show – I like to see people play instruments; it’s my “bias.” I do know that exists – in the Tumen Ekh show (see my link) which I’ve already seen twice. It is so spectacular it’s at the level of a Broadway show in its perfection: fabulous voices including two toned throat singing, expert instrumentalists, dazzling dancers, and a truly captivating writhing contortionist, all true to real Mongolian traditions and practices