Tengger Cavalry interview (03/2015)
This past weekend I caught up with Nature Ganganbaigal, Tengger Cavalry's founder, composer, vocalist, and guitarist, among still other roles. The Chinese band plays a refreshing style of folk metal with traditional Mongolian instruments and folk music as well as Mongolian throat singing added into the metal mix. Things have been going well for them lately: in 2013 Tengger Cavalry won the Best Songwriting Award at the Wacken Metal Battle Competition in China; later that year they opened for Turisas in Beijing. Their 2014 release Ancient Call earned a Metal Storm Award nomination, and now Nature tells us the band is wrapping up their most ambitious record yet.
Thanks to Metal Storm user flightoficarus86 for contributing questions!
Susan: It looks like the band is based in Beijing but must of the inspiration seems to come from Mongolian music and instruments. Please tell us about your personal background and how this influence came about.
I was raised in Beijing. But back in the history (Yuan Dynasty) Mongolian people spread out through the northern China; they settled down and blended into the population. The province my family comes from is a very typical Mongolian settlement and they never went back to the grassland. More importantly, I just always have a strong connection with Mongolian music, culture and tradition; it just feels like something deep down in my heart being triggered. So I studied Mongolian horse-head fiddle performance and throat singing with many different Mongolian musicians in Beijing for many years and also keep traveling back and forth between the city and Mongolian grasslands to find the connection and faith deep in my heart. So naturally, I want to use heavy metal, my beloved music genre, to express my deep love to my culture and to the boundless Mongolian grassland and the eternal blue sky.
Susan: Would you talk about the incredible Mongolian throat singing, and how you studied to be able to do this?
Mongolian throat singing is very special indeed. My ancestor developed this type of singing to imitate the echo and overtone sound in forests and deep mountains. I am pretty sure you have this experience when you walk in the mountain or forest and hear different sounds come from different directions, like the symphony of nature. Throat singing is all about imitating the beautiful sound of the primal natural environments. You use your throat to generate a drone and create another sound in your mouth, creating two pitches at the same time. It is very hard to learn I have to say because there is no very scientific way to tell exactly how to do it. It is more about a spiritual and experiential way to master it.
Susan: Did any of you study music classically?
We are very proud that we are not classically trained because it gives us more freedom to feel the sound with our heart not just doing something that other so-called masters tell you what is the real music. haha. But I did studied orchestration, harmony and music theory in New York University, and I have to say it is indeed very helpful to help you expand your music "toolbox" when you want to create certain emotions but have no idea how to start. Also I am a professional Mongolian horse-head fiddle player and guitarist but none of these instruments are very classical either.
Susan: What is the metal and general music scene like in Beijing?
Actually living in New York for nearly around two years, I find out the metal scene in NYC is not as good as Beijing. In NYC there is more Jazz or indie rock bands but in Beijing we have many metal bands and lots of rock live houses with pretty good sound equipments like Mao and Tango. And even though metal is not that popular in China, we are still able to invite famous metal bands like Arch Enemy, Eluveitie, Ensiferum, Dream Theatre and Exodus to Beijing.
Susan: Do you consider it a struggle to write extreme folk metal in a country less known for it?
Oh yeah definitely, people think you are weird as fuck. When everyone else is listening to stupid and gross pop love songs, you are working your ass off to let more people recognize that there is another amazing music genre that is much cooler and heavier both spiritually and physically. haha
Susan: What first inspired you to write metal music?
I think the initial inspiration was my emotions that came from my real experience that, living in such a close-minded and conserve country with so many judgments and social pressure, nobody care about freedom. I need something to protect myself and keep a honest mind inside me.
Susan: You mentioned that you now live in New York. How long have you been based there and how often do you get back to China? Do the other band members live in New York as well?
I have been here for nearly two years. I am studying Music Composition for Film and Multimedia so basically I compose original soundtrack for game and film (and my fav composer is Hans Zimmer). I travel back to Inner Mongolian every winter break and spring break to experience my simple grassland life. Other band members live in Beijing now and we want to plan a tour in the future.
Susan: It looks like you're able to branch out musically in New York. I saw that you'd played a traditional fiddle with a jazz band in Brooklyn. Can you tell us about some of these collaborations?
Yes. I find out American people are very interested in Mongolian culture. There are so many times when I carry my fiddle case with me and people bumped into me to ask what it is. And I do perform a lot with different musician. People love combining ancient ethnic instrument with jazz or concert music and it is truly fascinating how the new sound we create between different cultures. I love different cultures meeting up and party together haha.
Susan: What is your favorite album you have written and why?
Good question. I think my favorite album is this upcoming one "Blood Sacrifice Shaman" because it represents both of the modern Tengger Cavalry and the primal Tengger Cavalry back in 2009. And also I recorded the horse-head fiddle by myself and composed a lot of very interesting melodies that I love. Also this album is a total soundtrack album without death vocal but still very heavy so more people could enjoy it, probably including my mom this time, LOL.
Susan: Please tell us what to expect from Tengger Cavalry's upcoming album, and how you chose the Shamanistic theme.
People gonna hear the musical balance between folk and metal developed from the 2014 album Ancient Call but also with more primal Shamanism music tradition such as the shaman bell and shaman chant. The song "Blood Sacrifice Shaman" is actually about a shaman ritual, from the beginning of shaman invite the deity, to the end where deity possess and shaman speak for the deity. Very cool concept.
Susan: 2014's Ancient Call was an awesome step for the band, and well received by the fans here at Metal Storm. How was it received in China?
I really feel grateful for my fans. We comes from China so we have lots of fans in China. But as nomad, we never stop riding. We want to go further and let the world know us. That's our dream.
Susan: Can we expect any Tengger Cavalry tours in the near future?
I can't say it yet sorry. But I do really want to tour. As you know for an Asian band we are still growing our audience and it is a high risk to tour without enough fans.
Susan: For fun, if you could tour with any band at all, who would it be?
Love this question, haha. Let me daydream now, haha. Well I would love to tour with Eluveitie, the best folk metal band ever. And also Turisas, great Scandinavia warriors. Actually we did an opening show for Turisas when they went to Beijing to perform.
Susan: Nature, you have some gorgeous photography on the band's Facebook page, and I you mentioned you also do film scoring. Could tell us about your connection to the visual arts?
Yes sure! My bachelor was industrial design and I worked for Microsoft China as website designer in 2012. And then I decided to pursue film music career since it combines both visual art and sound together, which is perfect for me. If you are interested, this is my personal website: http://www.nature-ganganbaigal.com/ (film score) and http://www.nature-ganganbaigal-art.com/ (visual art)
Posted on 11.03.2015 by
Susan appreciates quality metal regardless of sub-genre. Metal Storm Staff since 2006.
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