Mongolian Enigma

Meenday and Carrie at
Urumqi Massage Parlor
April 16, 2007

One night, late last year, Meenday was over at my apartment. It was a fairly typical evening of hanging out at my place: apple-flavored tobacco was smoldering in the clay bowl of my hookah. Meenday and I were sharing a bottle of red wine. I had the stereo on, a random selection of music was streaming from my laptop to the speakers across the room.

At one point the song that came on was some piece by Enigma. I never knew the song by name, but certainly recognized it. I own a couple albums by Enigma, their music lends itself to being played while sitting around at somebody's house, sharing conversation; red wine; apple-flavored tobacco; or all three, as was the case this particular night.

A few seconds into the song, Meenday announced, "This is a Mongolian song!" Presuming she was mistaking the music we were listening to for some similar-sounding other song she knew, I corrected her: "Uh, this is Enigma. I think these guys mostly whisper in French over samples of monks chanting, all set to a drum beat. I bought this CD in America many years ago. It's not Mongolian."

Meenday merely re-affirmed her first statement: "This is a Mongolian song."

I started to pay attention, actually listening for the first time to a song I'd heard dozens of times before. There was indeed a woman singing in some language I couldn't identify.

"Wow! Is that Mongolian? Can you understand what she's saying?"

"The dialect is different, but this song is so obviously Mongolian," Meenday replied. "It's the type of tune you belt out when you're by yourself, riding on horseback across the grasslands. Nobody but Mongolians can sing like this. And yes, I can understand."

Since that night I've been meaning to record Meenday singing that song. I'd heard the Enigma version so many places and times before: on my own stereo, on the radio, at other people's homes. It's a tune I think most Americans around my age will recognize.

I finally got around to recording Meenday singing last night. It was another typical session at Chez Wong, nearly identical to that one last year: a bottle of red wine, music randomly served up by the computer, and a fresh bowl of tobacco--this one cola-flavored. I thought back to that night last year and asked Meenday if she would be willing to let me record her singing. Not only was she willing, she even insisted on recording a couple additional songs. Below are audio clips of Meenday singing:

This is her take on the song we were listening to last year which I didn't realize was Mongolian:

The Eyes of Truth MP3 file 605KB

This is Meenday singing another piece, also in Mongolian, which appears on that same Enigma album: The Cross of Changes:

Age of Loneliness MP3 file 534 KB

This is a song in the Xinjiang dialect of Mongolian:

Xinjiang Mongol Traditional MP3 file 2.1 MB

This is her singing a song from Outer Mongolia (the independent country):

Aichin Bodul MP3 file 2.1 MB

Improbably, this entire chain of events happened once again. I had a houseguest visit not long after that initial night of musical revelation. A friend of mine from Taiwan, Carrie, came to explore Xinjiang for several weeks. She stayed in Urumqi for a couple nights at my flat, we spent one hanging out in typical fashion, the variation only in small details. That evening it was Bailey's Irish Cream and lemon-flavored tobacco. Again, Enigma came into rotation on the stereo.

Right after the Mongolian song finished, Carrie made a familiar, if unexpected comment as the next track on the album began: "Oh! This is a Taiwanese song..."

Return to Innocence MP3 file 324 KB