rowing up in Bayankhongor Province in Mongolia, Batzorig Vaanchig spent much of his childhood living the typical life of any other Mongolian child. After becoming love-struck with the traditional music of his country, Vaanchig began learning Tuvan throat singing, or khoomei, from his mother at a young age. As time passed, he picked up the morin khuur, also known as the horsehead fiddle, and would eventually become one of the most renowned musicians of his unique genre, traveling the globe and performing on famous stages around the world. Back in 2015, unbeknownst to Vaanchig at the time, his music and likeness became known among the internet world through a series of memes known as Mongolian Throat Singing, which portrayed the traditional style as the ultimate, most enjoyable form of music. To learn more about how this online phenomenon surrounding Vaanchig impacted and reached him across the world, we caught up with the legend himself to hear more about his backstory and what he makes of the memes.
Q: Welcome, Batzorig. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. I’d like to start with some details about your background. Can you tell us a little about your childhood, where you’re from, where you’re currently based, and what you’ve been up to recently?
A: Thank you for the invitation, and greetings to all the readers! I was born in the Zag sum of Bayankhongor Province in Mongolia. Bayankhongor Province is well-known for its cashmere, it is also the biggest provider of cashmere raw materials in the country. Currently, I am based in Ulaanbaatar city. Recently, I am working on my second solo album, our band Khusugtun is working on our newest album, and preparations are being done for future concerts. I have also been teaching morin khuur [the horsehead fiddle] to people that are interested.
Let me tell you a little about my childhood, it is a normal childhood life of any Mongolian child living in the countryside. I would wake up around 6 a.m. and ride a horse to bring back the horses from pasture. Usually, then we would separate the foals from their mothers. That way my mother and grandmother would milk mares so we could make Airag, which is Mongolian fermented milk. It is a must-taste if you ever come to Mongolia!
Anyway, this is just the beginning of the morning. Later on, I would do a similar activity and help my mum and grandma to milk the cows. Then later in the day, I and my siblings would go together for the sheep and yamaa [Siberian ibex] — about over 500 of them. Horses around 40-50, cows over 100.
My childhood is the same as every Mongolian child. In the winter, I attended school and in the summer, I would go back to my grandparent’s place in the countryside to herd livestock and help them.
Q: In the online meme world, you’re best known for your clips of Mongolian Throat Singing. Could you tell us more about this traditional music style, where it originated there, some of the history behind it, and anything else you think people should know about it?
A: This is a Mongolian people’s art. Mongolia is rich in arts and culture. It is a Mongolian steppe’s art that’s [been around] since many centuries ago. It has a meaning of nomadic life, steppes and many more. It was inherited from our upper generations, and I am only one of the artists who is trying to promote and introduce it to the world.
It is nothing I created, but I try my hardest to learn the best way to let others know and enjoy my culture. Khoomei is from the western region of the people residing in Mongolia in the Altain Mountains. To people who don’t know khoomei, it is a genre of “throat art.”
Q: How did you first get involved in singing, and when? Were you always focused on this traditional Mongolian style or did that come about later? Did any individuals influence your decision to become a singer?
A: My mum was the biggest influence for me to become an artist. Since I was a child, I loved traditional music — khoomei and morin khuur. My mother was my first teacher to have taught me morin khuur in high school. On the other hand, I learned khoomei on my own. After my graduation, I came to Ulaanbaatar to study at the Soyoliin Deed Surguuli University of Culture. Afterward, I joined to work for the Mongolian Undesnii Urlagiin Ih Performance Art Theatre as an artist for khoomei and morin khuur music. While working there, I established a Khusugtun band with my friends in 2008.
There was a time that Mongolians used to neglect or admire Western rock and pop music. At that time, my band Ardiin Urlag Zaluujij used to play a modern way, and since then the audience became younger, and we were able to increase the number of our fans.
Q: In the online world, your music started being incorporated or referenced in various meme videos around 2015 and 2016 but has continuously appeared since then. Do you recall when you first started seeing any of these memes or viral videos? How did you find out you had become a meme, and what was your reaction to it?
A: I used to be mentioned in the past when it started. I was scared that perhaps it was an insult, it did not really register with me back then, but later on [I understood what it was about]. Positive vibes are the best vibes. In some ways, people had learned about me and other Mongolian artists. Now [I say] thank you for the meme. Artists have drawn me and sent them in. I would like to thank all the fans in Mongolia.
Q: What are memes like in Mongolia? Are they a thing there or is the concept more so from America and other countries? For your meme, did its popularity in the West ever reach Mongolia in the same fashion?
A: Memes [are still new]. It is just starting [to be introduced from] people who had studied and lived abroad.
Q: Undoubtedly, your song “Chinggis Khaanii Magtaal” (Ode to Chinggis Khaan) is your most popular and viral video with over 8.3 million views on your YouTube channel. Can you tell us more about the backstory behind it, as well as where the video was taken?
A: Before I started my channel on YouTube, “Chinggis Khaanii Magtaal” was uploaded by strangers on YouTube and it hit over 12 million views. I did not really develop any of my social media channels until 2018. I now have a few small accounts. That video was recorded by my wife, and once it was uploaded, it went viral and it contributed to my fame. Nomgon [a sum of Ömnögovi Province in Mongolia] is a blessing to me, and it helped me to get invited and play on many famous stages all around the world. I am very thankful for that reason.
Q: As one of the prominent singers in the genre, what are some other Mongolian throat singers or groups out there that you’d suggest to readers to listen to?
A: Khusugtun, The Hu, Altan-urag and Yesun-erdene of Inner Mongolia.
Q: To conclude here, I’d like to know what’s the one thing that people should know about Mongolian throat singing, such as a misconception about it, and what you’d like to say to some of your internet fans from around the world?
A: People ask to be taught via online methods about how to sing [in our traditional style]. It is not that easy to teach, however, I am trying to make it easier for those who are interested in [learning it]. I would like to sincerely thank all the fans and supporters of me and Mongolia. I will do my best to promote Mongolian heritage and Mongolian arts and culture. Come to Mongolia! Maybe I will see you soon at my concerts!
Batzorig Vaanchig is one of the world-leading khoomei musicians based in Mongolia, better known in the internet world as the man from the Mongolian Throat Singing meme. You can keep up-to-date with him on Facebook and Instagram, or find his music on his YouTube channel or Spotify. Check out his personal website for more.