Greetings from snowy Beijing! I’m going to make it a goal to write as often as I can from China these next few months, as long as workload and new content will allow.
We are currently enjoying the third snow of the year and everyone is freaking out. Snowmen roam free on the campus of Capital Normal University and Chinese people are doing what they do best — taking selfies.
Sometimes the strangest connections can lead to the craziest experiences. In this case, I saw on my friend’s WeChat moments that he would be performing in a Mongolian music performance the next day. I first met Hongmai when we were both 16, when I had worked in a bike shop in Beijing. Back then, we called him 小胖 — “little fat.” Originally from Inner Mongolia, Hongmai currently studies ethnic music at the Minzu University of China (中央民族大学). Not knowing what to expect, I brought two of my classmates along for the ride.
Hongmai said to meet him outside the performance hall at 7 (the show started at 7:30). As we walked through the darkness, a man in Mongolian dress suddenly appears. It was Hongmai. “Long time no see!” he says in English. He whisks us past the security guards and ushers and tells us to sit anywhere in the concert hall, which could easily seat 400 people.
The main attraction of the performance was Agudamu (阿古达木), a fourth-year undergraduate student at the university, as this was his graduation music recital. Think senior thesis, except this was in front of 400 people and included many camera and tech crews. There were also two MCs for the whole event, one who spoke Chinese and the other who spoke Mongolian. The first six songs were solos with Agudamu and an accompanist on the piano. The “intermission” included videos wishing Agudamu well from two of his Mongolian teachers, who were unable to attend. A third teacher gave a performance in person on a box-shaped cello. It was only during the second half where things started to get spicy. The Chilege Band came out (of which my friend was a member) and rocked out to songs such as “Come Back, my Trusty Steed,” “Ulaanbaatar Nights,” and “I Long for the Grasslands.” I’ll let this video speak for itself — the performance was absolutely incredible.
Following the 12 scheduled performances, chants of “再来一张!” (encore!) reverberated throughout the crowd. As is usual with Chinese performances, the MCs made Agudamu publically say his thoughts on the performance, during which he thanked his adviser, Li Xiaofeng, a company who sponsored part of the performance, his band and his parents, who happened to be sitting right behind us. Towards the end of his speech, he struggled to hold back tears as he explained that he was from a very poor village on the Inner Mongolian grasslands. His parents sold their house just so he could attend school at the Minzu University of China. This was the first undergraduate performance of a music major in this large concert hall. Agudamu is unsure of what he will do with his major in the future, but he wanted to continue singing and spreading his music. He then sang a rather emotional ballad (do Mongolians have ballads?) about his parents, none of which we could understand as it was all in Mongolian.
For a finale to this spectacle, Agudamu whipped out a Mongolian classic which the crowd seem to all know. The video below shows the final minute, where he went all out and the crowd went wild. Just listen to that sound. This was no ordinary senior recital. This was Agudamu and the Chilege Band.
Following the performance, I shook hands with Agudamu’s parents in the row behind us. “We come from America,” I said. “Congratulations on your extremely talented son.” We also attracted the attention of another older couple who wanted to take pictures with us.
This was truly an unforgettable night exploring the richness of China’s ethnic minority music. I’m extremely grateful to Hongmai for the opportunity to see such an incredible performance. If you’re at all interested in seeing a video of the performance, you can find it here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Until next time! It’s another normal week here in Beijing.