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Concert revives ancient sound of the horse-head fiddle

A symbol of Mongolian ethnicity, the horse-head fiddle has been played by Mongols for centuries. On the evening of April 15, a special concert featuring the instrument was staged at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts. Led by horse-head fiddle master Chi Bulag, the performers are putting a new spin on the old music.

Sound from the grasslands, with the horse-head fiddle taking center stage.

This unique concert offered the audience a chance to appreciate the prairie landscape and the passionate spirit of the Mongolian people through music.

It’s also a fusion of eastern and western music, like this piano and horse-head fiddle duet.

The man who has created these fascinating pieces is Chi Bulag. He has been playing the horse-head fiddle for over half a century, and has played a key role in modernizing the ancient instrument.

Chi says his inspiration is the legendary Italian violin master Niccolo Paganini.

“In the past, the horse-head fiddle had to be readjusted every five minutes after playing, which makes it hard perform large pieces or work with other instruments. I came up with the idea to improve it by using the violin,” he said.

“I admire Paganini the most. He took violin-playing to the next level using his knowledge of the guitar. The improved bow can now play many different tunes. If I had not learned the violin, there would not be these new techniques of playing the horse-head fiddle now.”

With only two strings to play on, Chi is still able to create a number of pieces.

He’s also a pioneer of harmonizing multiple horse-head fiddles. He founded “Wild Horse”, the world’s first horse-head fiddle band in 1986.

Chi Bulag said, “the horse-head fiddle usually plays solo because it’s hard to tune in with other fiddles. But it’s quite difficult to compose elaborate pieces with only one instrument. I’m a descendant Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan who united the Mongol tribes and founded the Mongol Empire. And I want to unite the horse-head fiddles to make them play in harmony. It’s an important cultural heritage and I want more people to appreciate its beauty.”

Chi’s most known piece is “Ten Thousand Steeds Gallop” which he played with 208 performers at the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.