Interview for the Website Medee
12th of April, 2016
I was interviewed by the website “Medee.mn”. They visited me at my home in UB, and we talked for a bit more than an hour. They were curious about my activities in Mongolia, asked my opinion on some cultural aspects, about how I managed to live here and my feelings about life in Mongolia.
You can download the Mongolian version of the newspaper here: Medee interview. (It is not online anymore)
Below the English translation of the interview
There is a guy named Steve E. Morel, who came all the way from France, about 7000 km away, and who has been passionate about Morin Huur, long song, and Mongolian culture. He is been studying calligraphy and Mongolian language in the University of Language and Civilisation of Ulaanbaatar.
When I arrived at his apartment to interview him, I could smell a small scent of Arts (powder made of dried leaf / wood to burn, used mainly in Buddhist temple). Also I noticed some paintings of the Mongolian countryside, calligraphy pieces on the wall, there were Morin Huur as well, and a souvenir of Chinggis Haan. It felt as if I were in a Mongolian person’s home, not in a foreigner’s home.
We talked about why he left his birth place which is in the center of European culture to come to Mongolia, why he is so curious and interested about Mongolian traditional culture. Although he could not speak fluently, I was able to understand him.
1. People say it is really hard to learn Mongolian, but you seem to speak pretty good. When did you come to Mongolia for the first time, and did you learn Mongolian since you came here?
I came to Mongolia in October of 2014. I tried to learn the language as soon as I was in Mongolia. I must agree that it is not the easiest language to learn. I really had a hard time being understood by people, and also understanding what people would like to say. Now it is getting a little bit better. I started to study at the university of CITI, and my skills developed during my study in that university. I thought after 6 months in that school that I wanted something different. I was studying music there but had no language class. I felt that I should learn the language properly first. That is why I looked for a language school.
2. When you were in France, what were you doing and what was your profession?
I worked around 12 years in the computer graphic industry, in TV, cinema, etc… After all that time I was just tired of working all the time. I was working so hard, almost non stop, and I felt I needed some rest. I wanted to let my creativity out and the nearest thing was the music, the art, and I felt rejuvenation from those fields. And suddenly I had the chance to listen to Hoomei music (from Tuvan Band “Huun Huur Tu”). I felt shocked and amazed when I heard that music. I was wondering what kind of melody and sound it was? I got absorbed by it. A little bit after that first hearing, I discovered the Morin Huur and I was even more amazed by its sound. I noticed that the Morin Huur sounded so different than any other instruments I heard before. How can I say… I felt it is so soulful, so alive, so deep and I decided to learn it, learn to play that instrument. I just hope one day I will make people cry with my music, as I cried listening to the Morin Huur music!
There was a Mongolian person that was selling his Morin Huur in France, which I bought. I felt very very great when I tried it for the first time. It felt as if something deep inside me came out, or awoke, it felt really good. And then I met a Mongolian woman in France, who can play Morin Huur. After asking her to teach me, she accepted. I had lessons with her for 6 months. After that I decided to visit Mongolia. I had the opportunity to enter in CITI university so I went back to France, sold all my things except for my books, and I came back to Mongolia. I wanted to study at SUIS but my budget was too short for it.
3. Did you learn Hoomii?
I have not learn it well yet. I really would love to study Hoomii but I think that my heart is more attracted by Long Song. I think that the Long Song is absolutely incredible!
4. Do you know about Norovbanzad? Have your heard about her or her song?
Of course I have! She is the pride not only of Mongolia, but the pride of all the world. When I hear her songs, I cannot hold my tears. She is outstanding, and I am so proud of her, she belongs to Tenger.
5. As a student, how do you organise your budget? Do you work? How do you earn money?
I do calligraphy that I sell sometimes. I also started to do some performances with Morin Huur. I also earn a bit by working on computer graphics with people in France. Also I am a photographer and I could sell some of my photography. I just live more or less like any other student, as they live their life day by day. I lost my interest in sitting on the computer for long hours. Now I like doing things by hands, and that is my main interest! I hope to earn my living with those news skills I am building now. There will soon be a calligraphy exhibition. To be part of it I am going to write a “Praise of Camel”. Lately I started to learn how to sculpt stone stamps.
6. Is that your homework? (Long piece of paper full of calligraphy)
Yes it is, and soon I will have an exam on a 4 metre paper. I am preparing for that! I wrote here the Oyun Tulhuur – Оюун түлхүүр. I do not think I did it very well, it is sometimes a bit too thick, too thin, and the most important part is to feel the brush to be able to have a consistent writing all the way. I tried my best, but I know that I need to write more and more! I will get there eventually!
7. Are there more foreign students that learn Mongolian in your school?
There are only two foreigners. One comes from Inner Mongolia, and the other one is me.
8. The teacher that actually teaches you the calligraphy, how do they rate your calligraphy writing?
They say that it is okay, but I know that I am pretty bad compared to them, of course! (laugh). My school teachers are totally amazing, there is nothing to compare! (laugh again). They are very sensitive, they are very very skilled, their writing is absolutely amazing and delicate. They also know the DURVULJIN (Square Writing) and the SOYOMBO writing. I am really grateful and I am really lucky to learn with such masters!
9. You have Morin Huur in your home, can you play?
When I asked this question, he grabbed his Morin Huur, and played Jonon Harin Yawdal, Saruul Tal to me.
10. How do you feel when you play Morin Huur?
I feel at peace, I feel like travelling, but I know that I cannot play it well. My skills are not that great, my fingers are still a bit stiff. Sometimes I lose myself in the melody. It has been only two years that I have been playing and I need to keep playing continuously for at least 4 or 5 years to be able to play it a bit close to well! I wish to play the Morin Huur with my heart in a traditional and emotional way. But I do not think I feel as Mongolian yet, because I do not know much about the culture itself, the horses galloping, and country side sounds and life. Because to play this instrument, a Morin Huurch needs to know and feel all those things. Otherwise it cannot be “real” and the feeling is just an artificial one, in my humble opinion of course. I believe that within a few years I might be able to feel it, to get close to the “real” playing and play it like a Mongolian. I have 6 Morin Huur and I made one with the help of an instrument maker.
11. How did your family react when they heard about your decision to live in Mongolia?
My mother was really surprised, and she asked me why I needed to go so far away, to some place in the middle of the mountains… My dad did not say that much, but I believe that when they see me happy, they kind of feel within themselves that everything is all right. Maybe they even understand me, so they accepted my decision and have been quite supportive. Of course sometimes they ask me to come back home (especially my Mom).
I did not contact my brother for 10 years but when I came here, we actually reconnected together. I went to his wedding last year. Now he has 4 kids and is very happy with his wife. I cannot go back so often to France because it is really heavy on my budget, especially the plane ticket.
12. Have you been to the country side?
Yes I have been to Hovd, Uvs, Tes, Hentii. I lived with a herder family for a bit more than a month in Uvs. I really love the country side, it is nice, peaceful, inspiring. May I will be a herder one day (laugh). This year, I would like to visit Huvsgul and the Gobi desert.
13. Is there any other instrument that you can play?
I can play Jaw Harp a little bit. I have some from Tibet, Vietnam, India, Yakoutia, and Mongolia. This one is Bamboo, which I made it myself. This one has two tongues and ivery thin, so it is very quiet. I also have some from India that are much louder, more like a percussion playing style! I learn to play by myself with advice from people I met here and there. In France, I met a lot of people that could play really good. I also play a bit of Guitar, Didgeridoo, and Algoza.
14. Do you have many Mongolian friends?
I “know” a lot of peoples but I do not have good friends at the moment. I think that because of the culture difference it can be difficult to understand each other. I feel in some way there is some kind of wall between us. The language barrier is not helping.. I guess it will be better when I will speak fluently!
15. What are your next goals? Could you share your dream with us?
I would like to learn the language, and speak excellently. I would love to become a professional Morin Huurch, just like my teacher. He is part of the Domog band, Mister D. Shinetsog. I think he is one of the best Morin Huurch in Mongolia today, if not the best!
Today we can find many similarities between Asian and European cultures. People become more or less all the same, same clothes or make up etc… Only a few things can differentiate people, and I think it is their own culture and traditions. This is why I would love to advertise and promote the Mongolian traditional culture and art to the whole world, and being able to contribute to keep this culture strong and alive! Because this Morin Huur, the Hoomii, and the Long Song has basically changed my life. Before knowing those things, my life was not that great, sort of wrong or empty but now it has changed. I have a purpose, I find out about many incredible things and that is why I live here in Mongolia. It is also the reason I am learning all this culture and tradition.
16. I am glad you took the time to talk with me, and good luck to you.
Thanks a lot, it was a pleasure, and all the best to you too!