Steve Morel is a young Frenchman who fell in love with Mongolian culture and traditional musical instrument, the Morin Khuur. He used to live a “normal” life, working for a job the meaning of which he was starting to question. And then there was the change, a calling, an irresistible passion for the music he discovered. Following his heart, he soon made the trip to Mongolia and never quite came back: Steve is now living in the country’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar (Oulan-Bator in French). Today, Steve’s purpose is to spread and share his knowledge of the Mongolian culture and the Morin Khuur. Both his personal story and insights are fascinating. I really wanted to invite Steve on the podcast to help spread his passion and knowledge for a people and traditions that are little known and also because I admire him for all the hard work and dedication he puts into his projects – I know too well how much time and effort he is investing to give a voice to Mongolia.
In this first part, Steve will share how his life changed and how he discovered the Morin Khuur. He’ll also discuss the French name for Morin Khuur and will reveal which translation he finds to be more accurate. Steve’s fascination for the instrument couldn’t be limited to trying to play it. Indeed, if you want the Morin Khuur to show its moving soul, you need to be able to make people who listen to it feel the wind of the steppe, imagine the smells, etc. In other words, if you want to do justice to the instrument you need to understand Mongolia.
Steve will tell you what the Morin Khuur looks like and what the two different trends/schools are. These differences are very interesting on the historical and cultural points of view. You’ll find out which side Steve took regarding these two ways of playing.
I mentioned the soul of the Morin Khuur: Steve will give you an incredible example of how the Morin Khuur is sometimes used to save a baby camel that is being rejected by their mother.
We recorded this episode in July, just before the Naadam, the traditional festival in Mongolia that is also the National Holiday – so we’ll talk about this just a little bit too.
I also asked Steve about his first impressions when he arrived in Mongolia and this part will end after we talk about the development of the country as I wanted to know whether Mongolian people were still predominantly nomadic or were settling in large cities.
à l’oreille = by ear
bosser (fam.) = to work,to slog
caisse (nf) = body (of instrument)
chambouler = to shake up, to turn upside down
chameau (nm) = camel
chamelet (nm) = calf (baby camel)
chamelle (nf) = she-camel
corde (nf) = string
crin (nm) = horsehair
en vouloir à mort (fam.) = to resent to death
fétiche (adj) = national animal; lucky, favourite
lutte (nf) = wrestling
manche (nm) = neck, shaft
mec (nm) (fam) = guy
mettre bas = to give birth
mongol,e (adj) = Mongolian
monter à cheval = to ride a horse
nomade (n, adj) = traveller, nomad (n); nomadic (adj)
partition (nf) = sheet music, score
puits (nm) = well (water)
se sédentariser = to settle down (in one place)
tir à l’arc (nm) = archery
trapèze (nm) = trapezium
vie antérieure (nf) = previous life, former life
vielle, vièle, viole (nf) = viol (old instrument)
yourte (nf) = yurt
- What is the French name for the Morin Khuur? Which translation does Steve prefer to use instead?
- Describe the differences between the traditional Morin Khuur and the modern instrument.
- What picture of Mongolia did Steve first see from the plane?
- The French name for the instrument is “vielle à tête de cheval” but Steve finds the name “instrument de cheval” more accurate.
- The traditional instrument has a body made of skin. The strings are made of horsehair. The tuning of the instrument is not as precise and you learn from oral tradition.
The modern instrument is made of wood and nylon strings. The tuning is precise and the learning is formal. The modern Morin Khuur can be used alongside other instruments in an orchestra.
- He saw an ocean of mountains dotted with a few white yurts here and there.
Links & Resources
- Website: https://stevemorel.info/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ekion
- YouTube (Steve Morel): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiaA4K958ZFqno_4_wK75Dg
- YouTube interview mentioned in the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRIXEorlANY
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