Enji at Band on the Wall

Johnny James, Managing Editor
Image supplied by Band on the Wall

Enji at Band on the Wall, Manchester 20 May 2024 Tickets from £10 — Book now

Embarking on her first ever UK tour, Mongolian singer Enji is bringing her intoxicating blend of jazz, folk and traditional Mongolian song to Band on the Wall this May.

Enji Erkhem grew up in a yurt to a working class family in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. As a child she was naturally drawn to music, dance and literature, and had dreams of becoming a music teacher. This plan changed when a programme by the local Goethe Institute sparked her passion for jazz, eventually leading her to become the composer and performing artist she is today, living and working in Munich.

Mongolian music has a long history of producing captivating vocal styles, most famously throat singing, characterised by raw, guttural growls and harmonic overtones. But Enji displays a different, lesser known side to her country’s song – a delicate, dexterous side called Urtiin duu, or the ceremonial long song. It’s a vibrato-laden kind of singing in which syllables are drawn out to create melismatic lines that can spend minutes expressing single words.

Enji takes this style and twists earthy folk and brooding jazz into the mix. In doing so, she creates something that is her own.

It’s this sense of self that Enji celebrates on her 2023 third album, Ulaan, which builds on the jazz, folk, and Mongolian influences from her previous work. “I am Ulaan,” she says in her native tongue at the top of the album, referring to a nickname affectionately given to her by her family. “I have to remember who I am,” she says. “It empowers me.” Across the album that follows, she seeks out new ways to bring these affirming expressions of herself to life, while conjuring visions of her adored home country.

Ulaan is Enji’s third record, and sees an expansion of her band working in lockstep with the expansion of her creative process. With Paul Brändle on guitar, Munguntovch Tsolmonbayar on bass and – newly –  Mariá Portugal on drums and Joana Queiroz on clarinet, lusher textures, more rhythm, and complex interplay between musicians become possible. “They have such deep feelings and such deep love of music,” Enji says of the group, who hail from all over the world.

But as ever it’s Enji’s voice that defines this record, and she pushes it to stunning new heights here, effervescently fluttering over each track, so that it becomes an instrument of its own. “Jazz singers like this rarely sound so unpretentious, original and free” said The New York Times in their inclusion of Ulaan among their Best Jazz Albums of the Year.

The Latin-influenced ‘Taivshral’ (translating to Relief) is an early highlight, each syllable of Enji’s playful, jazz-inflected vocals wrapping perfectly around a hushed arrangement of clarinet, double bass, guitar and drums. The melodically-nimble title track follows suit, its playful rhythms and warm woodwinds longing for an intimate, candle-lit jazz club. The heart-warming ‘Uzegdel’, meanwhile, hugs closer to Mongolian folk, and evokes the feeling of a breathtaking view Enji saw from the window of an early Autumn flight on her way home to Mongolia.

Ulaan feels borderless, universal, and fresh. No surprise, then, that it has earned plaudits around the globe, and brought with it the first opportunity for Enji to tour the UK. The second stop on this tour is the 80-capacity bar room at Band on the Wall. That intimate, candle-lit jazz club we were talking about? Well, this’ll do nicely.

Enji at Band on the Wall, Manchester 20 May 2024 Tickets from £10 Book now

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