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Interview with Urna

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you right now?
A: I’m very fine and I hope you’re the same. I‘ve just returned from Mongolia to Cairo.

So, what’s on your schedule right now?

A lot of preparatory work for my forthcoming concerts and also my „Amilal“ child welfare project for a school in Inner Mongolia. „Amilal“ supports 24 pupils whose parents cannot raise the school fees or even their daily living. Though I do this beside my concerts and other work I feel I have to spend a bit more time on this. But to see that those children enjoy going to school and are able to learn makes the delight much bigger than the effort.

In an earlier interview you talked about your youth in the steppes. Perhaps you remember some special incidents that had a concrete and sensible influence on your music or lyrics?
I remember a lot of wonderful things from my home Ordos (Inner Mongolia). The people of the steppes who were closely connected to nature, the living and singing at home together with my grandparents and parents, how I travelled on horseback to school and and and... The influences on my music are the infinitely breathing nature, all the movements of the steppe, my grandparents, my parents and all the people from my homeland. Alltogether they are my teachers, too. I never wanted to have singing lessons but I also never wanted to stop being aware of learing from life and anyone who’s around. The music is intimately connected with my life. I was born and brought up in the Mongolian steppe as a nomad’s child and that’s all a part of me – getting carried into my music.
Sincere thanks are given to my parents who are two very special stockbreeders of the steppe.

What was the reason for leaving Mongolia in favour of China and to what conclusion did you came there whilst your sojourn?
After secondary school I failed the municipal qualifying examination and at that time it wasn’t naturally to go on studying. Against that coming home and getting married was kind of a usual way. So I told my parents the whole summer holidays through I’d like to study. With patient appeals I could convince them in the end. So I was allowed to go on studying  and I went to Hohhot (capital of Inner Mongolia) for a year. It was my first journey into a big city. There I had a friend through which I got contact to a Yangquin-teacher of the music school where I could get lessons. Because I had no money to pay these I attended to her children. So I had to do a lot of different things: getting Yangquin-lessons, learning Mongolian, history and geography at another school, having an eye on the teacher’s child and of course practicing Yangquin at the time when the pupils had their break `cause I had no own instrument. Often their was not even enough time to get something to eat. After half a year of education my teacher had to move to Shanghai. Two months later I got a letter and a telegram  from her in which she told me to come to Shanghai and take the examination there at the conservatoire. So I took the train to Shanghai with no single support by my relatives and friends. Everyone was against my travel into this „unknown world“ without speaking Chinese judiciously. But I went there and it really was „another world“. For the first time in my life I’ve seen so many people – it all seemed like a big ant-hill!
As a student at the conservatoire of Shanghai I visited many concerts and tests for violine, cello, chant and piano with big interest and curiosity. There were students of all nationalities from whole China, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, East Turkistan. When I listened to the examinations I couldn’t hear the cultural diversity `cause they all sounded the same – particularly the female vocalists – which is a pity. Only the lyrics were in different languages. I believe when I take care and be aware of my own culture the intercommunion will be more vital. It’s a wonderful exchange of giving and getting.

You mentioned you weren’t able to speak Chinese when you started studying at the university of Shanghai. Did this appear to be a time of isolation?
At the beginning I couldn’t really understand nor speak this language except some few words. But nevertheless I went on singing it allthough the people were gazing at me sometimes. Anytime I began speaking the language automatically. This has alaways been the way how I learned the languages I’m speaking today. It’s not perfect but I can communicate with everybody on a good level.

At that time you’ve learned the Chinese instrument Yangquin but as far as I know it never appeared on any of your albums – why not?
That’s right – because I’m just singing. My Yangquim-studies have been the bridges to the music I do today.

How would you describe the music scene in Shanghai back to the time when you were living there and how would you compare it to Beijing where you recorded your first album?

I only can give you my perception but it seemed to me that the musical way there was kind of a narrow one. Maybe even nowadays although China’s housing around 50 diverse nationalities. A whole country full of only yellow flowers – so the other colours are absent.

One question regarding „Crossing“: how came the contact to Robert about? What was so exciting about his ideas?

Robert Zolltsch also studied at the conservatoire Guqin in Shanghai. I listened to his CD „Shesh“ – a very interesting recording. At that time he was looking for musicians for his compositions so Wu Wie, Wang Wie and myself went to the rehearsals. For „Crossing“ I just had to sing off the cuff. I think „Crossing“ is a beautiful track. It was a musical meeting between Mongolia, Germany and China.

It is often said that music’s a universal language. Would you agree with that and wouldn’t a Mongolian audience perceive your music in a total different way?
It is difficult to put a lot of things into words alone. I believe that every human being has a different perception and every of our languages are like this world’s countries with borderlines. Our languages have bounadiers but I feel melody has none. That’s what I’ve experienced in my concerts – all you get from those people. Somehwhere inside of us we are all just human beings.

During their careers many musicians explore an always more opulant sound – sometimes adding a whole orchestra. Within your music it developed exactly the other way around. On your actual album the instrumentation is very sparse and minimalistic compared with its predecessor. Has this been your intention – to create a musical equivalent of the Mongolian steppe?
It’s no special intention, no – it is what it is. Sometimes you don’t have to say a lot but...maybe sometimes you have to just for bringing it a little bit closer. It always depends.

A lot of folk- and „worl music“-artists demand you have to experience them live in concert just to get behind their intentions. In contrary you’ve always recorded albums and accepted this as an art form on its own. Where are the advantages and disadvantages of that in your opinion?
It depends on what you want to hear, see or simply how to feel something. I cannot say how it is with other artists but with all those great musicians I’m working and going on tour with (Djamchid Chemirani, Zoltan Lantos, Keyvan Chemirani, Jurek Bawol and the engineer Christoph Stoll) it’s big fun and joy. So every song is different, every concert is different and every moment is different, too. The moment is in the moment and we really like to share this with each other. At this point I’d like to thank all my musicians who are giving me so much wonderful things – as artists and human beings.

What is your opinion about crossover-projects like Enigma in which electro and ethno-samples are combined in a way not so dissimilar to your singing. Interesting experiments or bad imitations?
I really can’t say something about that in general but every musician has to know what he wants to do and can do. Also how to handle with colleagues and the audience.

You then moved to Germany. What was your motivation for choosing this country? Hasn’t it been an even bigger cultural shock than your former move to China? What are you missing in everyday life and in the music scene – and what does it make interesting in turn?
The changing from the steppe to Shanghai was much more drastically than the removal from city to city. So the way from Shanghai to Germany was almost a „normal“ journey `round the world for me. Since the end of last year I’m living in Cairo – so the reason for the moves lies in my roots it seems. Just a nomad I think.

What are you favourite musicians or bands at the moment? Are there some who you’d declaim as influences?
At the moment my favourite ones are Djamchid Chemirani, Zoltan Lantos, Keyvan Chemirani and Jurek Bawol. Also the bands in which they play.

How would you describe your relation to spirituality?

This question is very difficult to be answered. The languages have – as I said – boundaries like every country. I believe when we people can rest in ourselves maybe then we’ll find what we’re permanently looking for.

Introduction & Interview by Mirko Uhlig and Tobias Fischer

Crossing (1994)
Tal Nutag (1995)
Hödööd (1999)
Jamar (2001)
Amilal (2005)


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