Urna: the songstress of the Mongolian steppes

By Gavin Phipps, Taipei Times, Friday 11 October 2002, Page 18

After her hugely popular appearance at last year’s Taipei International World Music Festival (台北國際世界音樂節), where her songwriting dexterity and haunting vocals wowed the crowds, Mongolia songstress, Urna Chahar-Tugchi, makes a welcome return to the capital this weekend with a one-off show at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Born into a family of farmers in the Ordos region of Southwest Inner Mongolia, Urna and her hauntingly atmospheric vocal prowess have traveled the world for almost a decade, enchanting audiences with her repertoire of both traditional and contemporary Mongolian tunes.

Entering the Shanghai Conservatory’s Institute of Traditional Chinese Music (海傳統音樂學院) in 1990 at the age of 20 unable to speak a single word of Mandarin, Urna studied the traditional Chinese lute.

She put down the stringed instrument shortly thereafter, however. Having mastered the lute as well as the Mandarin language, she set out on a career as a singer. Her first vocalizing venture was with the Gaoshan Liushui (高山流水樂團) ensemble, China’s first and most influential world music troupe.

Urna’s solo recording career began in the mid-1990s after she was picked up by German label, KlangRaume. Since releasing her first album, Tal Nutag, in 1995, Urna has seen her three subsequent albums make inroads into music charts around the globe. Her most release being last year’s Jamar.

Not allowing her international fame to cloud her musical outlook, Urna makes regular trips back to her homeland to collect songs and stories and tours the steppes searching for elderly folks with whom to exchange musical ideas apropos interpreting and performing age-old Mongolian songs.

Assisting Urna in filling the Taipei venue with a heap of Mongolian color and sound will be her international backing group of Indian national, Ramesh Shotham on percussion, Hungarian Zoltan Lantos on violin and Germany’s Maria Reiter on accordion and zither. Tomorrow night’s support act will be the nation’s favorite politico-folk group, Labor Exchange (交工樂團).

Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (台北國父紀念館) on Saturday, Oct. 12. Tickets cost between NT$300 and NT$1,200 and are available from FNAC and ACER ticketing outlets nationwide.