The film Mongolian Bling follows three young rappers as they combine traditional Mongolian music with western rap to create nomadic hip hop. Witness sat down with Quiza, a Mongolian rapper profiled in the film, to talk about keeping ancient Mongolian tradition alive for the younger generation through hip hop music.
Witness: Can you tell us about yourself?
Quiza: My real name is Battsengel. I’m 32 years old. I live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. I’m a rapper and I work with other Mongolian singers as a song writer and music producer for RnB, pop and hip hop music. I do this as part of my own music company.
How did you first become interested in the rap scene?
When I first heard US hip hop I really liked it. It had a great rhythm, lyrics and flow. But when I say I liked it, I don’t mean I liked the meaning of the music, for example when the singers rap about bling or gangster life.
I want to represent Mongolian life. Mongolian lyrics are very traditional so I wanted to put a new spin on it with a hip hop flow and modern lyrics about urban life.
You have won many awards for your music. How has the older generation perceived you?
I think the older generation likes it because I rap about real life. I rap about everyday issues. Some older people have told me they like my music even though they had never heard hip hop before. Mongolians have traditionally listened to our own country music which is also been about daily life. So there are similarities.
Where do Mongolian rappers get their inspiration from?
Corruption is a big problem for us. Mongolia’s political situation also inspires us too. We have only been a democracy for a [short] while and there has been a lot of change but there is still a lot more to do.
I have recently accepted a position in Ulaanbaatar’s Art and Culture department. I was the only artist to work with and support the Democratic Party so this year they gave me the chance to work with them. Next month I will start the new position.
I’m trying to improve aspects of the Mongolian music industry, specifically issues to do with copyright. We still need many music professionals, especially producers, programmers and other engineers. Show business has a long way to go in Mongolia and copyright infringement is the biggest problem. We need to change laws and we need to work with politicians.
In the film Mongolian Bling, many of the rappers speak about how they want to keep ancient Mongolian tradition alive for the younger generation. Why is this so important to you?
In the last 20 years, our lives have changed very quickly. It’s great but we shouldn’t forget our own lifestyle. We need to mix tradition with modernity – like how I do in my music.
Mongolian rappers should use more traditional instruments in their songs because people really need to know who we are. We’re not Americans, we’re not Chinese and we’re not European - We are Mongolians.
Our music is not about being 100 per cent traditional. It’s not about a nomadic life. We need to promote our brand of Mongolian urban life. More people should listen to our music and we need to be proud of our history.
You now refuse to be sponsored by cigarette or alcohol companies but you've agreed to partner with a juice brand. Why is being a good role model so important to you?
When I was younger I used to work in a beer company which sponsored my concerts. I didn’t want to tell my fans ‘drink beer’ I only wanted to introduce my music to them.
There are lots of under-age victims who are addicted to alcohol and tobacco. This is because tobacco and alcohol companies are very powerful. They sponsor artists in Mongolia and that’s why there is a lot of addiction here.
On one hand, musicians need sponsorship to do concerts and produce albums but on the other hand, we have an addiction problem so we need a balance. We have a responsibility to think about how we affect the younger generation.