Mongolian Beatles

In 1971, Mongolia’s Minister of Culture decided that the country needed its own rock band, and so Soyol Erdene was born.

Chinggis Khan
Laika ac from UK / CC BY-SA

The Beatles’ striking success around the world produced a host of imitators, followers, and innovators. Many countries saw this kind of rock music as corrupt or dangerous – the Indonesian band Koes Plus were arrested for their Beatles-inspired songs in 1965, for example – but other countries saw not a problem but an opportunity.

1971 Mongolia was under strict control by the Mongolian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party. Western music was frowned up but the government recognised its power, and so rather than fight it they decided that a state-sponsored band was the way to keep some control over youth culture.

Soyol Erdene was Mongolia’s answer to the Beatles. The Ministry of Culture paid their salaries, bought their instruments, determined their look and the topics they could sing about, and let them loose. Here’s a taste:

Soyol Erdene originally performed rock interpretations of popular Mongolian ballads and sung songs about the landscape and modern agriculture… all very proper for a state-sponsored band. But as their popularity grew they branched out, into music that was more psychedelic:

And also more political. The song “Chinggis Khaan,” by Soyol Erdene founding member D. Jargalsaikhan, celebrated Genghis Khan’s legacy:

Veneration of Genghis Khan was strongly discouraged by the ruling party – I suspect because he was not popular with Mongolia’s close “ally” the Soviet Union. Genghis Khan was a symbol of Mongolian pride and autonomy, so writing a song about him (and even apologising on behalf of the nation for forgetting about him!) was a controversial political act. Jargalsaikhan only got away with it because of his popularity as a musician. And when the revolution finally came (in 1990), it was rock music that led the way.

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