Hurd: famous Mongolian rock band aims to cross-over

 

Three long-haired men sit around the table, frowning and shifting in their seats. A young Australian woman has just asked them to tell the time in English, and after a long pause, one says, slowly, “Three fifty.” He sighs deeply, and with effort, adds: “-Or, ten to four.” They are all visibly relieved when the lesson is over.

An unusual view of one of Mongolia’s foremost heavy metal bands, Hurd. Three albums down the musical highway, Hurd remain one of the original rock bands to form before Mongolia’s transition to democracy. (

In Mongolia’s socialist past, new forms of music were suppressed and controversial lyrics outlawed. People expressed their love of music through traditional instruments such as the horse fiddle and folklore songs. But soon enough secret imports of western music such as the Beatles began to find their way into the young generation’s hands and Mongolia’s own pop and rock bands of the 1980s were gradually accepted by the government. After the opening up of Mongolia in the early 1990s, bands began to travel abroad and foreign groups came to do historic performances here.

Rock and heavy metal music quickly became popular and today there are several well-established bands. Hurd has one of the biggest followings, showing an ability to cross over into gentle ballads and even mixing with classical instruments. Citing musical influences in rock legends, Metallica and AC/DC, the band has evolved over time from speed metallic to heavy metal sounds. Yet it is their ballads that are replayed constantly on Ulaanbaatar’s radio stations; among the most famous are “Girl in a Painting” and “Don’t Cry”. The lyrics are mostly about parents and the motherland, as found in many of the traditional Mongolian songs.

.

“We worship our parents. If it wasn’t for them, we would not be here,” says band member, Otgonbayar. “If we translated our lyrics, people elsewhere (could) listen to the words, and they would love their parents more.” Otgonbayar’s three brothers are also in the band. He taught himself how to drum by playing on cups while living in the countryside, and later moved to Ulaanbaatar to study, when he first heard western heavy metal music.

“We are a young country and this is the music of young people,” he says. “We are not ignoring traditional long song. It still exists.” The latest figures recorded 42 per cent of Mongolians are under 18.

The country’s small population has left no room for the adulation and pop star worship found in most contemporary music scenes around the world – another factor setting the Mongolian music scene apart.

“Support is strong in our concerts, but Mongolians are mellow,” says bass player, Nara. “So in the street, people come and ask for autographs, but they don’t make idols out of us. People listen to all the popular bands. There are no real fans.”

A mix of wholesome lyrics and gentleness gives Mongolian heavy metal a softer edge, although some of Hurd’s faster tracks are not that different to their western equivalents. The band are now planning a series of concerts for the summer, this time performing with a classical orchestra, and will release two singles in April and May.

In the long-term, Hurd have the same dream as many young Mongolians, to travel abroad. Six of their songs are already translated into English and two have been recorded. To reach audiences in other countries, the band feel they need to sing in English.

“We have to work hard. The first step is English, to sing songs in English. We can’t just sit in Mongolia,” says Naya. Otgonbayar nods and quotes a well-used Mongolian saying: “If you have language, you have legs.”

 

 

 

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