Photo courtesy of Tengger Cavalry
We may never know the true origins of that famous Carnegie Hall joke—”How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”—but now, thanks to Mongolian metal-slash-folk musician Nature Ganganbaigal, the path to its hallowed stage seems a little clearer. Ganganbaigal’s Mongolian folk metal band, Tengger Cavalry, will play a special one-off concert at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve, joining Led Zeppelin and, uh, Spinal Tap as the third metal-oriented act in the concert hall’s long, colorful history to grace its stage. They launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to help cover the costs associated with such a big event—production, promotion, compensation for the guest musicians Ganganbaigal has recruited—and tickets are on sale now through the Carnegie Hall website.
The performance itself will reflect the duality of his own musical journey, with a pure folk portion followed by a full-on folk metal performance. Ganganbaigal will be handling vocals (including traditional throat singing) and playing horsehead fiddle, and will be joined by bassist Alex Abayev, drummer Yuri Liak, fiddler and throat singer Robert McLaughlin, harpist Rob Randazzo, pianist Li Zong, guitarist and vocalist Ayusha Sanzhiev, and vocalist Darina Sanzhieva.
The idea first bubbled up in his head after his first appearance there; in addition to his work in the metal world, Ganganbaigal is an accomplished solo musician, and right before he appeared at Lincoln Center with Americana ensemble The Amigos, he was invited to play Carnegie Hall. As he explained, “I was playing with a Chinese vocalist; she was having a solo concert, and she wanted to sing one Mongolian song, so she asked me to accompany her. That was a good chance for me to scope out the venue and its sound and think about what I could do there. I spent a lot of time researching venues for this; it’s very different from a metal concert, of course!”
I called Ganganbaigal to catch up on what Tengger Cavalry’s been doing since we last spoke, and to find out how one young man followed his dream all the way from Beijing to one of America’s most famous stages.
Noisey: So where did you first get the idea to try to play Carnegie Hall?
Nature Ganganbaigal: It goes way back to when I’d just graduated from NYU in May. I’d been studying composition, and that academic environment didn’t really teach me anything about the real world—I didn’t really know what to do next. after I graduated from school, i found that the industry’s really full, and competition is very intense, so I started thinking outside the box and decided to pursue something different from what I was studying in school. Playing at Lincoln Center with The Amigos was a really inspiring concert, because I saw that people’s response was so positive, and I also wanted to do something besides metal. I love metal but remember that Tengger Cavalry is folk metal—I also love folk music! Ii wanted to push the band a little bit; there are a lot of folk metal bands who have put out folk albums, so I though, "Let’s try something cooler." Also, once you play Carnegie Hall, the whole band’s reputation is going to be different, so we need to push ourselves very hard.
Can you tell me more about what the concert will entail?
IAt Carnegie Hall, the show has two parts— the first hour, intermission, and a second hour—so my plan is for the first part to cover a lot of traditional Mongolian folk songs, and then after the intermission, the second part is all Tengger Cavalry music. We’re going to change our clothes to look more metal to create that kind of feeling, and make people say, “Wow!”
Why did you decide to book the show for December 24?
That was the only available date they had [laughs] I know since it’s Christmas Eve, like 50 percent of my friends are going out of town. It’ll be a challenge to sell tickets; I’ll need to reach out to Americans who are staying in NYC for the holiday, so it’ll take some time to reach the right audience.
So... how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
You have to get in contact with them. I have a friend who’s played there three times, so she knows the bookers and introduced me to them. I sent an email telling them who I am, what I have accomplished, various media coverage, et cetera; they reviewed the material, and said, “Yeah, cool, we’d like to have you perform here.”
I think the hardest part about getting invited to play there is that you should be either unique, or super super super good, If we were just a Western classical quartet, it’d be very hard because there are so many out there. You have to wow them in a way that also fits the brand of Carnegie Hall
Do you think you’ll make any money off it?
My first goal is not to lose money, or at least, not lose too much! It doesn’t matter if I do lose money, I’d still pay my musicians, because i have some guests-—a harp player, a piano player. We’re doing a harp and mongolian fiddle duet, and a fiddle/piano duet.
When we last spoke around the release of your latest record (Blood Sacrifice Shaman), you were trying to put together a live lineup for Tengger Cavalry, and since then, you’ve formed a full band and played several shows in the area. How did you find people who are familiar with these very specific traditional instruments?
On a website called bandmix.com, it’s a very traditional way to find people! I was asking everybody if they knew good drummers, because in NYC drummers are so busy, it’s pretty hard to find people, then posted on that website. It’s interesting because our fiddle guy is a total folk guy, but he listens to Lamb of God, Pantera, Metallica, so he knows what metal is. My bass player is from Central Asia, he grew up with nomadic Mongolian, Kazakh, and Uzbek music, so for him not playing folk is very weird! It’s been easy for everyone to pick up, and I hope we can continue at this pace.
Upcoming Tengger Cavalry live dates:
December 5 - Downhouse Lounge (unplugged performance)
December 8 - Saint Vitus Bar
December 24 - Carnegie Hall (tickets here)
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; she's on Twitter.