Urtiin Duu : Traditional Folk Long Song

The Urtiin duu or “long song” is one of two major forms of Mongolian songs, other are “short song” (Bogino duu). As a grand ritual form of expression associated with important celebrations and festivities, Urtiin duu plays a distinct and honoured role within Mongolian society. It is performed at weddings, the inauguration of a new home, the birth of a child, the branding of foals or other social and religious festivities celebrated by Mongolia’s nomadic communities. Urtiin duu can also be heard at the naadam, a festivity celebrating sports competitions in wrestling, archery and horseracing. 


Urtiin duu is a lyrical chant made of 32 verses with a highly ornamented melody praising the beauty of the steppe, mountains and rivers, the love for parents or close friends, expressing reflections on human destiny. It is characterized by an abundance of ornamentation, falsetto, a long and continuously flowing melody with rich rhythmical variation, an extremely wide vocal range and a free compositional form. The rising melody is slow and steady while the falling melody is often intercepted with a lively triple continuant, imitating the pace of life in the grasslands. Performances and compositions of Urtiin duu are closely linked to the nomadic pastoral way of life, which is still widely practised in Mongolia.

Urtiin duu are believed to date back 2,000 years and have been recorded in literary works since the thirteenth century. A rich variety of regional styles has been preserved until today, and performances as well as contemporary compositions still play a major role in the social and cultural life of nomads living in Mongolia and in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Republic, which is located in the northern part of the People’s Republic of China.

Since the 1950s, urbanization and industrialization have increasingly superseded traditional nomadic lifestyles, leading to the loss of many traditional customs and expressions. The repertoire is gradually diminishing, while the remaining songs become increasingly standardized. Parts of the grasslands where tradition-bearers used to live as nomads have fallen victim to desertification, causing many families to shift to a sedentary way of life where many classical themes of Urtiin duu, such as the praise of typical nomads’ virtues and experiences, lose their relevance.