Various Artists

Mongolia: Shamans and Lamas

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The French label Ocora has been dedicated to bringing into light -- often for the first time -- obscure musics from the various hallmarks of the world. To this end, this volume of field recordings concentrates on one of the more obscure musical traditions of the world, Mongolia and its two great religious musics: that of the rites and chants of shamans and the ceremonial music of Buddhist ritual. The two traditions are tightly connected, though they have not always existed in harmony. Shamanism, the oldest of all religions in Mongolia, was repressed, often violently by Lamaism and then almost totally wiped out by the Communist Chinese. This series of field recordings portrays the various types of shamanism and their attendant ritual prayers. And purposes. The shaman on the first track, "Shamanic Journey," goes into the realm of the spirits, carrying with him his drum and the friendly spirits he will need to protect him during his quest through heaven and hell. The quest is usually to obtain a healing or determine the outcome of an endeavor. In this case it was the safe return of these recorders -- it obviously worked. The next journey, from a Buriat Mongol, of a later tradition more closely allied with Lamaism, and in spirit the chants of Native Americans, is a journey by the shaman to obtain a healing for a sick child. To the shaman, her parents have represented the child's request -- she was already in the hospital. The Shaman agrees to plead her case with the spirits in a "therapeutic séance." Here the shaman prepares himself over and near an altar with Buddhist images, a small fire to heat his drum skin, and a glass of vodka before masking himself and chanting a long, repetitive series of prayers. The final two selections on the disc are from two Mongolian monasteries. The first, from the Gelugpa lineage -- the longest reigning lineage in Mongolia -- is a common office that begins each long prayer sessions. Two conch shells announce the beginning followed by drums and bells and a cymbal. The prayers repeat themselves, seemingly endless, changing only a line or two at each pass through. Likewise, the "Office of Qailangyin Qural" is an office that is seasonal and celebrates the passing of summer into autumn. The entire choir is present from the opening bar to the end of the prayer, accompanied only by periodic percussion. It is a preliminary office, an offering to a daka, or protector; when it is complete, the monks assembled -- with full ritual orchestra -- begin to chant the ritual 45 regular offices. What is most fascinating in both cases, in the shamanic tradition and the lamaist tradition, is how similar the approaches are and how the use of repetition with only slight variance from line to line creates the powerful effect of trance-inducing states. This is an awesome recording in sound, selection of material, and production.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
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