BIFF doco reveals Mongolia’s hip-hop underground

Mongolian Genghis Kahn to ghetto beats: Mongolian Bling hits BIFF.

It’s hard to imagine the land of Genghis Khan as a hip-hop mecca.

But that’s exactly what tour guide turned filmmaker Benj Binks discovered while working in the region.

“I guess I rocked up expecting herders and nomads and this ancient lifestyle, but stumbled into Ulaanbaatar, which is modern … I heard the hip-hop and thought it was cool,” says the 33-year-old Victorian.

Friends back home couldn’t believe there was an underground hip-hop scene in the Mongolian capital, so after completing a filmmaking course, Binks decided it would make a great subject for a documentary.

“For some reason I thought going back to Mongolia and shooting a documentary in winter, in a foreign language, would be easy,” he laughs.

Mongolian Bling took five years to make, with shoots in 2006, 2008 and 2010. It’s now doing the festival circuit, and screens at BIFF on Friday night.

The film follows several key players in the country’s burgeoning hip-hop industry, but also poses the hypothesis that due to its rich heritage of epic song cycles, throat singing and spoken word, hip-hop has its roots in Mongolia.

It’s an interesting premise that makes for a charming 90 minutes in the cinema, with a cast of passionate and talented characters.

“We just started interviewing people, and every single time we would interview someone, they would say “you need to speak to this person, and this person, and this person’,” Binks says.

There are three main protagonists in the film – Gee, a popular rapper influenced by Western styles, Quiza, who mixes hip-hop with more traditional music, and Gennie, Mongolia’s first female rapper, whose frenetic vocals are a revelation.

“They’re three great stories from a cross section of the industry,” says Binks.

Binks is proud of making what he feels is the first documentary about modern Mongolia, rather than its nomadic origins.

“Realistically only about a quarter of the population live like that,” he says.

Indeed, Mongolia is urbanising at a rapid rate, with about half its 3 million citizens living in or near Ulaanbaatar. But about 70 per cent of those people live in the “Ger Districts”, the traditional tent shelters of the nomads, where there is crime and poverty.

Mongolian Bling examines the way hip-hop is being used by the country’s young people to criticise the government for corruption and failing to do more for its people – particularly as it sits on the cusp of a resources boom.

“Gennie sings about mining in particular, quite explicitly, about foreign companies coming in and tearing up the land,” says Binks.

“They’re genuinely concerned about what that’s doing to their country, their nation, their homeland.”

Mongolian Bling screens at the Brisbane International Film Festival at 6pm, Friday November 23, at the Tribal Theatre 2.

It will also screen on ABC2 this Sunday 25 November at 11pm. See the Mongolian Bling website for more information. (www.mongolianbling苏州美甲美睫培训)

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