Home in Terelj
Benj + Steve at Quiza/Qool
A much overdue update from Team Bling! We‘ve finished our time in Mongolia and we’re now all back in Australia to get into story development, editing and swimming togs. Loads has happened since the last blog, so I’ll break this up into 2.
You may not be surprised to hear that the last weeks in Mongolia were manic.
We had been lucky enough to spend time with two incredible traditional musicians – Bayrimagnei and Tserendorj. We first met with Tserendorj, one of the countries most awarded traditional musicians who, when not singing for this or that government function, is busy entertaining visitors or looking after guests at his gorgeous hotel – each room is created like a ger and as far as hotels go, it’s incredible. We had a great chat with him, and then he played traditional songs on the Morin Khuur, the countries most common instrument. It’s a 2 stringed cello-like instrument that is cradled in the lap and played with fingers both above and below the strings, but not actually pressing them onto the fret.
We also spent time with Bayirmagnei who is another great traditional musician I met last time I was here. In his humble timber home in the ger district on the edge of town, we listened as he spoke about the countries rich musical history and how that was being threatened and disappearing. Bayirmagnei is one of the most passionate Mongolians we have come across and, grinning, he told us how the traditional music had many links to hip hop – occasionally picking up a traditional instrument to play to back up his claims.
As the city of Ulaanbaatar itself is a main part of the film, we have been keen to find out what it is about this city that is drawing hundreds of people a week to it. We met with a family who were living pretty tough – they had been living at the dump until a charity helped them out with a ger (a traditional Mongolian felt tent) and they were able to move to a piece of land. Sometimes they could get work sorting glass bottles where they would make $2-5 per day, and when there was no work for them, they would go back to the tip to scrounge for glass and other valuables. Despite their situation, they were incredibly positive and confident of the situation improving.
My mates Griff and Trace arrived just in time for the much-anticipated Quiza concert. Quiza had been planning the concert for November, however the swine flu curfew had meant that he had to postpone it and we were worried that we’d leave before it happened. The gig was unique in that it was the most ‘live’ gig for a Mongolian hip hop artist to have happened in UB. Most gigs are just the MC and a backing tape, occasionally a DJ and sometimes an entire backing tape and miming. On the odd occasion, real musicians play, so a curious crowd came to check out ‘Quiza/Qool’ and we were there to catch the action. Pre-show, Quiza came up to me and asked me to intro the show so with video camera in one hand and mic in the other, from the backstage came……….LAAAAADDDIIEEEESSSSS ANDDDDDDD GEEEEENNNNTTTLEEEEEMMAAANNNN………QUUUUUUIIIIIIIZZAAAAAAAAA QQQQQQQQQOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!! After the show we had the unofficial Quiza after party and rocked on into the night with a bunch of mates.
Next day we went out the ger district where we had been chasing a young kid called Badral who we had heard was doing hip hop. A few days earlier we had found his school, and his father at their home, but Badral had taken off to boxing training. This time we caught him and had a great chat and spent the afternoon with him as he hung out with mates and kicked about the ger district. Later in the week we followed him to boxing, but it would have been better to spend more time with him.
And so we entered the last week. With Griff in town, we got the opportunity to do some stereo recording and he and Steve went out to record the city in stereo, along with Tracie taking photos. Nacho also ran about town getting the last shots and cutaways that we needed.
On Tuesday we got out of UB to Terelj – a national park just over an hour’s drive away. After an ominous start, we crammed in the ‘van’ and just out of town we were lucky enough to see 2 wolves running towards the hills. As we warmed up, stocked up on biscuits and vodka for our guest, and the sun rose, we made our way into Terelj. We wanted to get some more shots of rural Mongolia, do some stereo recordings, and get out of UB – a rare treat for us and where the real beauty of Mongolia is. We stopped every couple of k’s to flim sheep, horses, homes, camels, and the stunning landscape. After a bumpy few hours of start stop driving, we arrived at friends of Oyunbileg – our first translator. They had cows and horses and were happy for us to film them as they went about their day – chopping wood, cooking, breaking ice for water, herding and feeding animals and other chores that made up their days. After filming in the cold, we were grateful for their hospitality and cosy ger – its amazing how warm these felt tents can get – 50-60˚C warmer than outside with only a simple wood oven and layers of felt. They’re also cool when the 30˚C summer hits.
Back in UB we finally got to interview Quiza in the city’s biggest venue where the concert was to take place, as well as spending time with him at home, at Amnesty where he is a ambassador, and in a bunch of places leading up to the gig. We also got to film the amazing breakdancing crew Crush – we had filmed them in a gym, but we managed to convince them to do some outside which they bitched about as it was freezing, but figured if we were mad enough to film twice in winter, they could bust a few moves. And after putting it off for ages we finally filmed the much dreaded sunrise, spending one and a half hours in minus 30 something pacing around the hilltop and watching one of the most un-majestic sunrises possible!
Griff had written a track on the train up from Beijing and 11pm the night before he and Trace were leaving, Gennie came around and wrote a rhyme, then with Mc Mo and another rapper went to a studio and put it down – they finished up around 4am and had to be up at 5 for a taxi ride to the airport!
This ‘Last minute Mongolia’ was a sign of our last few days.
To be Cont…
Benj and Team Bling