I was interviewed by the news website “Мэдээ.mn”. They visited me in UB, and we had a talk for a bit more than an hour. They were curious about what I was doing in Mongolia, asked my opinion on some cultural aspects, how I was living here and my feeling about living in Mongolia.
Also a French version is available here: Medee interview in French.
The English translation of the interview below:
There is a guy called 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’s been studying calligraphy, Mongolian language in the University of language and Civilisation of Ulaanbaatar.
When I arrived at his apartment to discuss with him, I could smell a small scent of ‘Арц’ (powder made of dried leaf / wood to burn, used mainly in Buddhist temple). Also I noticed some painting of Mongolian countryside, calligraphies on the wall, there were Morin Huur as well, and souvenir of Chinggis Khaan. It felt as if I would be in a Mongolian person home, not in a foreigner home.
We talked about why he left his birth place which is in the center of Europe culture to come in Mongolia, why he is so curious and interested about Mongolian traditional culture. Although he couldn’t speak fluently, I was able to understand him.
1. People say it’s really hard to learn Mongolian, but you seem to speak pretty good, when did you come in Mongolia for the first time, and did you learn Mongolian since you came here?
- I came in Mongolia in 2014, in October. 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’s getting a little bit better. I started to study at the university of CITI, and my skilled 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’s why I looked for a language school.
2. When you were in France, what were you doing, what was your profession?
- I worked around 12 year in the computer graphic industry, in TV, cinema, etc… After all that time I was just tired to work 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 most nearest thing was the music, the art, and I felt rejuvenation from those field. And suddenly I had the chance to listen to Hoomii music (from Tuvan Band “Huun Huur Tu”). I felt shocked, and amazed when I heard that music, I was wondering what kind of melody, 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’s so soulful, so alive, so deep and I decided to learn it, learn to play that instrument. I just hope one day I’ll 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 lesson 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 in France, sold all my things, except for my books, and I came back in Mongolia. I wanted to study at SUIS but my budget was too short for it.
3. Did you learn Hoomii?
- I haven’t 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 can’t hold my tears, she’s outstanding, I’m so proud of her, she belongs to Tenger.
5. As being a student, how do you organise your budget? Do you work, how do you earn money?
- I do calligraphy that I sell sometimes. I start to do some performances with Morin Huur. I also earn a bit by working with France. Also I’m 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 computer for long hours. Now I like doing things by hands, and that’s my main interest! I hope to earn my living with those news skills I’m building now. There will be soon a calligraphy exhibition, I’m going to write a “Praise of Camel” to participate to that exhibition. And lately I learn to make stone stamps.
6. Is that your homework? (Long piece of paper full of calligraphy)
- Yes it is, and soon I’ll have an exam on a 4 meters paper. I’m preparing for that! I wrote here the “Оюун түлхүүр” from Chinggis Haan writing. I don’t think I did it very well, it’s sometime 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’ll get there eventually!
7. Are there more foreign student that learn Mongolian in your school?
- There is only two foreigners, one comes from Inner Mongolia, and the other one is me.
8. The teacher that actually teach you the calligraphy, how do they rate your calligraphy writing?
- They say that it’s okay, but I know that I’m 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 now the “DURVULJIN” (Square Writing) also the “SOYOMBO” writing. I’m really grateful and I’m 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 in peace, I feel like travelling, but I know that I can’t play it well. My skills are not that great, my finger are still a bit stiff, sometime I loose myself in the melody. It’s been only two years that I’ve 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 don’t think I feel as Mongolian feel, because I don’t know much about the culture itself, also the horses galloping, and country side sounds and life. Because to play this instrument, a Morin Huurch need to know and feel all those things. Otherwise it can’t be “real” and the feeling is just an artificial one, in my humble opinion of course. I believe that within 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 reacted 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 mountain… My dad didn’t 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 sometime they ask me to come back home (especially my Mom).
I didn’t contact with 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 can’t go back so often in France because it’s 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 in a herder family for a bit more than a month in Uvs. I really love the country side, it’s 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, Yakoutia, Mongolia. This one in Bamboo, I made it myself, and this one has two tongues, very thin, so it’s very quiet. I have also 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 there and there. In France, I met a lot of people that could play really good. I play also a bit of Guitar, Didgeridoo, and Algoza.
14. Do you have many Mongolian friends?
- I “know” many peoples but I don’t 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 isn’t helping.. I guess it will be better when I’ll speak fluently!
15. What’s your next goals or purposes? 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’s part of the Domog band, Mister D. Shinetsog. I think he’s one of the best Morin Huurch in Mongolia today, if not the best!
Today we can find many similarities between Asian and European culture. People become more or less all the same, same clothes or make up etc… Only few things can differentiate people, and I think it’s their own culture and traditions. This is why I would love to advertise, promote the Mongolian traditional culture and art into all the world. And being able to contribute on keeping this culture strong, and alive! Because this Morin Huur, the Hoomii, the Long Song has basically changed my life. Before knowing those things, my life wasn’t 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’s why I live here in Mongolia. Also why I’m learning all this culture and tradition.
16. I’m 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 to!