On The Scene: 2013 Hanggai Music Festival


Last year, I failed pretty hard — I gave my day up to the Hanggai Music Festival and didn’t even make it to the last act, which was appropriately Hanggai – the body simply threw in the towel. So this year, no excuses, I was gonna pace myself and be one of the last one of the joint. And holy shit, I’m glad I stuck around cause the Israeli super group, Yemen Blues led by a charismatic Ravid Kahalani, literally blew the roof off of Mako Livehouse.

Exhilarating. Haven’t been slapped in the face with ‘the soul of music’ in quite some time. Check out the rest of the festivities with Nasascha Rogers, The Tribe, WHAI, The Randy Abel Stable, and of course, the one and only Hanggai.


Things kicked off smoothly with the smooth, soulful jazz outfit Natascha Rogers, a four-piece outfit from France who surprisingly sing mostly in Spanish and English. Bangos, clarinet, every sound out of these guys was a pleasure to the ears.

Lay out some candles, pop open some of the red, and you got the makings of a romantic night on the town.


Next up were The Tribe, out of Inner Mongolia, a mix of young and old, who had quite the fan base in attendance. Really, never heard of these folks before. Alt country with Chinese sensibilities?

I must admit I was thrown off a bit at first. At times, it comes off as too safe, too predictable – too country, too lovey-dovey chinese. But when they find that balance, and rip into those guitars, you can see how these guys might hit it big. They have a lot new material out on the webz now – check it.


And of course someone invited WHAI – I just loved seeing the look on some of the peoples faces who were expecting to hear the pristine ethnic sounds of Ningxia. Didn’t see this one coming.

Fuck yeah.  WHAI is just dirty, psychedelic, prog sex. It’s worms its way into your head and doesn’t stop till you’re on its level.

I firmly believe WHAI are one of the best acts in town, a band who have taken their sound by the horns and are pushing to new planes.


And of course, it wouldn’t be a Hanggai festival without the whip wielding, beer guzzling, jolly horsemen themselves. Just sit back and enjoy.

Hearing a lot of new stuff from the horde and loving every second of it. A lot more rock there, even heard some reggae spilling out of those instruments.

And the genuine emotions that they can rip out of their sounds, well it’s real – definitely saw a few watery eyes around the room. Maybe it was the beer.

Seriously, if you’re making people break into tears, I think it’s safe to say you my friend are a bonafide rock star. It’s rep – and Hanggai – who will be swinging though the great Lincoln Center in NYC next week – have it in spades.


Stuffed awkwardly between the two mega acts of the night, the Randy Abel Stable had the misfortune as acting as a buffer (yes, even Hanggai didn’t want to play before Yemen Blues). Nevertheless, the bluegrass, hay-chewing, tobacco-chewing (neither of which I saw sadly)  ‘stable’ had plenty to offer. Bluegrass at its finest.

Love the melancholic streak some their songs reside in – deep wounded lyrics with the imagery to boot. Almost makes one want to buy Randy a drink already and tell the man, it’s all gonna be alright. Dude doesn’t even have shoes on.

Randy and the gang give bluegrass its rightful dues, and I’ll glad I finally had the chance to check them – oh, and new album up on iTunes now. Check it.


My reward for making to the end of the night – Yemen Blues. How’s that for a treat. Mixing music of Yemen and West Africa with contemporary grooves from funk to mambo and the deep soul of old chants, Yemen Blues, the multinational collective, is a monster of a band – epic, intimate, important, fun, inspiring, dance–crazy, timeless, modern, and just what the doctor ordered.

Besides the ‘what-the-fuck’ montage of sounds that are created in insane ways (‘is that a globe he’s hitting?’), lead singer Ravid’s voice is on a whole other level of intoxicating. Singing in Jewish Yemeni in ways I’m guessing language professors had not anticipated, it’s a hotpot of influences and emotions that grips you each song.

Jaws were dropped, girls were swung around, dances circles were made, and smiles were pass around like hot candy – Yemen Blues simply are one of the best live bands I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Kudos Hanggai for getting it done.

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