JOJO: I still cannot call myself a singer

  • By chagy5
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  • 2024-03-13
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A famous journalist said about you, “Jojo is “Once in America” of our city”. How did you feel about it? 


I was about to cry. I have been singing jazz for the past five years. I work with the desire to sing songs that can’t be sung live by their original singers in Mongolia. Foreigners say, “I feel like I'm at home,” but Mongolian people always say, “It's like being abroad.” I am ecstatic when people praise me, but I always try not to brag, in order not to make myself feel over the moon. But the compliment from a professional journalist touched my heart. I get excited again just thinking about it now.


You worked as a host of the “UBS music” program. Since it is a music program, it is necessary to study many genres of music and prepare the information. You mentioned that you discovered jazz at that time. Seven years ago in Ulaanbaatar City’s “Goethe Musiklabor” music hall when you learned to sing jazz under the guidance of German teachers, did you meet some very nice people?


I think I learned more about the life of a jazz musician than about jazz there. Perhaps choosing such a life is not desired. A jazz musician has to do a lot of repetition and constant learning. Moreover, artists in this genre love their music too much and cannot live without it. It is quite difficult to make a living by only playing or singing jazz unless you are teaching and working while playing. But we don't see anything else other than playing jazz. I feel like planning our future path with jazz makes us stronger. With the help of jazz, I have had a lot of role models. One of the last people I met is the group named “NaraBara” from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which plays jazz music combined with Mongolian folk tunes. They make the music that is inside of all Mongolians, but better. Their music is like a lullaby, a folk song, and a Mongolian epic. We will probably do and create more together in the future.


People designate their time to go to the club and listen to live music. How does that make you feel?


Actually, we consume music like we eat food. Therefore, listening to music is our daily use. In particular, listening to live music is starting to become a new part of our lives. Assimilation into a lifestyle constitutes a specific cultural genre. There are several unique factors that create a specific genre of music. There is a set of cultures you learn from playing musical instruments, such as special techniques, expressions, and contexts. For instance, when it comes to hip-hop, the special language, clothing, and dance are used in it. For a particular genre to survive strongly, it must be shaped by the culture that surrounds it. As it is mentioned, Mongolians who go to a jazz club, listen to live music and feel the atmosphere will form the basis for creating their own jazz.


All music genres are “well-known” among young people. It is common to see and think that the music genre, jazz, only started recently. But people who like jazz are not just appearing lately, but there have been “hidden” listeners before? Isn’t it?


Exactly. I was once told that “Why are you underestimating Mongolian listeners?” The musicians of the “Soyol-Erdene” band and the “Bayanmongol” ensemble are said to be the pioneers in this genre in Mongolia. They were great at the time. But the process of Mongolian jazz music has recently become more formal. 


How do you describe the spirit of jazz music? 


The spirit of jazz is that musicians play their music freely, and through it, people of many nationalities can understand each other. In recent times, folk music has been combined with classical, African, and Mexican music, and it has become a free art field. The fact that it can be freely converted and incorporated elements of the melody of one’s own choice makes me crave this music genre.


How much time do you spend listening to the music of other artists performing on the same stage?


It is part of the artists’ job to listen to music. At first you will enjoy listening, but then you will start analyzing from the next time. The more you listen to music and performances, the less you just listen. 


Does that mean you listen with more intent? 


Most of the time, it is analyzing. Recording a song is a long-term production process. But in the case of live music, the sensations and feelings that remain in the body and mind are very beautiful.


People who have been writing for a long time say that my eyes were beautiful when I was a simple reader. Just like that, is it more beautiful to be a simpler listener? 


There are many things to improve, starting with the sound and the comfort of the audience. That way, you start doing your work instead of watching the performance.


It seems that every artist has an indescribable sense which is reflected in their art. So do they just follow their instincts or do they do research?


The process of being an artist is to turn yourself off and discover what you have learned so far. By turning off the brain, a person can create art freely. There are also people who have natural fundamentals. But you need to find out what that fundamental can be used for. The question of existence is next. It is important to prepare yourself in the time you have. There are many cases where great works are created in a moment. It is important to prepare yourself and to find out where you are needed the most for what will be created through the artist.


It is said that you were close to the artists when you accompanied your mother to the  “Selengiin Dolgio” folk song and dance ensemble. How did spending your childhood surrounded by talented people affect you?


I have vivid memories of the colorful life in the back room of performance and training. Musicians start playing at a very young age, but singers are different. Learning to be free in front of people seems to require a lot of inertia, starting with opening the body. I think that being able to freely go to the back rooms of theaters and performing arts venues and watch their rehearsals probably helped me to reduce my stage fright. There is a viewer's eye to see artists. Because art touches the human heart, it is as if the artist has come down from heaven.


You are an art historian. Have you ever worked as an art historian?


Research takes a lot of time. However, there is little need for the researcher's material in society. If I want to write art criticism, and work as an art historian, I need to develop myself a lot. But I will probably do it towards the end of my career. Now it is more important to do more in art than to work in research.


Each genre of music is developing according to social trends. Some say that it is important to develop according to the process, while others say that there is a lack of criticism. What is your opinion on this?


It is a natural problem that can be solved in its flow. In general, the most influential factor in the development of a genre is the artist's talent. Besides, it is right that the researcher comes in and presents and explains the music to the public from the basis of research and analysis. Researchers are always behind the art.


You wrote a song about snow when you saw it snowing. But I think it's not your first song. Approximately how many songs have you written?


I sang that song beautifully, making me think “Wow. It's my song. Is it?” It's the first song that gives me the feeling that I'm completely ready to sing it and broadcast it to the public. There's no case where the lyrics and the melody come together like that. But I have many unfinished works.


Live music becomes complete when singers, musicians, and conductors come all together. But in jazz, it seems they are inseparable. 


There is no musician who is less involved in the process of making music. They are there because it has to be. Singing jazz with phonograms is very absurd, isn't it?


Now let's talk about the “Enji's sisters” band. Your band used to sing “close harmony” jazz songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Four years ago, the “Enji’s sisters” released their first album called “Pure Imagination”. In that album, not only the above style, but also the character of each member of the band can be felt.


Three people singing in a harmony style seems to be unique and new to Mongolia. The three of us have different timbres, but when we get together it sounds very strange. If only one of the three of us had a different voice, it probably wouldn't sound like that. The band member, J.Ariunjargal (Ariu) is a super R&B singer. But E.Enkhjargal (Enji) has a lot of Mongolian character. When we performed in Germany, the head of the jazz department approached us and said that you three have a lot of potential.


The “Enji’s sisters” performed twice in Europe. Right?


Yes. After going there, we had set a goal to record an album in 2020, therefore we released the first album. But now, each member of the band is doing their own work. For example, Enji’s “Red” album was included in the top 10 jazz albums of the past year by the New York Times and the first three of the best jazz albums by the Washington post. If the time comes for us to sing together again, it will probably be many years later.


The “Snow melody 2024” New Year's concert was your first concert as a producer. You say you are not a singer yet. However, after the concert, the audience's comments and the singers' ratings exceeded the high expectations. Now are you a singer?


Previously, I worked as a producer for many concerts. But the “Snow melody” was the first performance that I produced for myself. I'm still amazed that I had the courage to do it. At the beginning, I was full of enthusiasm, but in the middle of the preparation for the performance, I thought, what have I done? I learned a lot from this experience. Before, I thought that I wanted to sing beautiful songs to people, but after the concert, I have a real goal to become an artist. I don't know how much difference there is between a singer and an artist. However, I still cannot call myself a singer. But I saw my way to become an artist to where I will walk with confidence.