Experience The Music Of Mongolia: Cultural Shows In Ulaanbaatar

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This is Erdeneochir - a talented Mongolian musician. His musical skills include the art of khoomi (throat singing) and playing the horse head fiddle.

Experience The Music Of Mongolia: Cultural Shows In Ulaanbaatar

Visit Mongolia, and you’ll find music everywhere. In rural areas, you might hear a herder singing or whistling as they work, using music to control livestock and encourage animals to give milk or accept their young. Music permeates both domestic and public celebrations, such as Naadam—one of Mongolia’s most traditional festivals—where rhythmic calls are part of archery competitions, and child jockeys perform ritual songs during horse races. In Ulaanbaatar, you’ll hear the beats of urban hip-hop, and during the summer, you may come across families celebrating with late-night karaoke tunes.

Within Mongolia, music remains an integral part of the culture, with traditional instruments often played to evoke the essence of Mongolian nature—the wind, the rolling steppe, the high mountains, birds, and horses. One such instrument is Mongolia’s horsehead fiddle, the Morin Khuur, which is often featured in cultural shows in Ulaanbaatar. Here’s our guide to this instrument and where you can experience these cultural performances:

Horse Head Fiddle being played in Mongolia. Experience the music of the Morin Khuur at the cultural shows In Ulaanbaatar

The Morin Khuur: Mongolia’s Horsehead Fiddle

The Morin Khuur is a two-stringed instrument with a hollow trapezoid-shaped body attached to a long fretless neck, topped with a carved horse head. Just below the head, two tuning pegs jut out like ears from either side of the neck. The soundboard is covered with animal skin, and the strings and bow are made of horsehair. Its characteristic sound is produced by sliding or stroking the bow against the two strings.

The Morin Khuur’s significance extends beyond its function as a musical instrument. Traditionally, it was integral to the rituals and daily activities of nomadic Mongolians. Today, the Morin Khuur repertoire retains some tunes (tatlaga) specifically intended to tame animals. In 2008, it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The design of the Morin Khuur is closely linked to the revered cult of the horse, and when played, it can produce sounds reminiscent of a horse’s noises. This beautiful instrument is celebrated not only for its sound and design but also for the legends surrounding its origin.

The Legend of the Morin Khuur

There are many versions of this legend, but one tells of a horseman who rode through the night sky and visited the ger of a beautiful herdswoman. They spent several nights together, but each dawn, he would disappear. The woman decided to keep him by cutting off the wings of his horse, which had little wings above its hooves. The next morning, the horseman’s mount fell to the earth and died. Grieving the loss, the man carved the horse’s head from wood and transformed it into a two-string instrument, using the bone, hair, and hide of the dead horse. The Morin Khuur is still played today, celebrating the spirit of all horses.

The Hu and the Morin Khuur

The Hu is a Mongolian heavy metal band that calls their music “hunnu rock,” blending modern music with traditional Mongolian rhythms and instruments, including the horsehead fiddle and throat singing. Their music reflects popular concerns and reminds the next generation of Mongolia’s cultural heritage, nationalism, and historical legacies.

In an article in The Guardian, Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar, the band’s lead singer, said through a translator, “Our music is a blend of east and west, old and new. We’re building on a history and a sound that has been around for thousands of years.”

Listen to some of their songs on our YouTube playlist.

A statue of a Horse Head Fiddle in Mongolia. Experience the music of the Morin Khuur at the cultural shows In Ulaanbaatar

Experience Mongolia’s Horsehead Fiddle

Throughout the summer season, Ulaanbaatar hosts numerous cultural shows that combine art, music, and traditional culture. These performances are highly skilled and far from typical tourist attractions. Tickets can be purchased in advance through ticketing sites like EventX and Ticket.mn. Each show varies depending on the organizing body, but they often feature Mongolian long songs, Morin Khuur music, contortionism, Buddhist Tsam dances, and traditional Mongolian biyelgee dance—a unique form of dance celebrating nomadic culture.

 

  • Land Of The Sky | Mongolian National Art Concert |Монгол Улсын Үндэсний Урлагийн Их Театр (Mongolian Grand Theatre of National Art) |  Access their Facebook page here and their website here.

 

  • Жонон хар морин хуурын музей  | Jonon Khar Morin Khuurin Museum (Also Монгол Хуур Төв |  Mongol Khuur Center)

This museum is dedicated to musical instruments, with a special focus on the traditional Mongolian Horsehead Fiddle (Morin Khuur). Here, you can explore a variety of Morin Khuurs and witness the intricate process of crafting these unique instruments. During peak tourist season, the museum regularly hosts traditional musical performances, offering an immersive cultural experience. You can access their FacebookB page here.

 

  • Melody Of Steppes | Mongolian National Art Concert | Улаанбаатар театр (Ulaanbaatar Theatre) | Access their Facebook page here.

 

  • Khur Magnai Ensemble | Muesto | Central Cultural Palace of Mongolian Trade Union | Typically every day at 6 pm throughout the summer season | Access their Facebook page here.

 

  • Hun Totem | National Art Performance | Hun Theatre | Sky Resort | Typically every day at 5 pm throughout the summer season | Access their Facebook page here.

 

  • Nomadic Legends | Цагаан Лавай Чуулга / Tsagaan Lavai Ensemble | Typically every day at 6 pm throughout the summer season with additional performances at 1600 on certain dates  | Access their Facebook page here and their website here.
  • Tumen Ekh Ensemble |Typically every day at 6pm throughout the summer season | A new location for 2024 at the Red Rock Castle in the National Amusement Park | Access their Facebook page here

 

If you’re interested in learning how the Morin Khuur is made or played, we can arrange this as part of our One Day series of experiences for those keen to explore Ulaanbaatar beyond the usual tourist paths. Our structured One Day experiences allow you to engage directly with local culture, offering a genuine glimpse into the everyday lives of those who call Ulaanbaatar home

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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