Next Level: Mongolia

From September 16th to 28th, 2019, four hip hop artists traveled to Mongolia as part of the Next Level program. DJ Excess, MC A. Billi Free, Beatmaker Aaron “DJ A-L” Ladley and Dancer Stuntman were joined by team manager Kane Smego to perform for audiences and collaborate with local artists to promote cross-cultural creative exchange and conflict transformation. Team Mongolia is part of a larger Next Level cohort of American MCs, DJs, beatmakers, beatboxers and dancers seeking to create global community through hip hop culture.

Next Level, a cultural diplomacy program that uses hip hop to create connections is an initiative of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Meridian International Center that promotes conflict transformation, entrepreneurship and artistic and professional development among younger and under-served audiences around the world.

Their first day there, they kicked off the Next Level Academy Workshops at Ulaanbaatar Ensemble, a cultural arts center run by the city government. There was great diversity of experience and skill levels, artistic styles/disciplines, and geographic diversity of participants at the workshops. Student-collaborators arrived from 11 different provinces, with some from Inner Mongolia (China) and from Russia. Topics they covered included arts education, conflict transformation and entrepreneurship.

Summarizing the workshops on their last day, DJ A-L wrote:

“I’m really proud of all the progress my beat making students in UB, Mongolia have made over the last 2 weeks! Today is our final day together and we’re getting hype for tonight when we get to showcase our MPC production live, freestyle a beat together using the Tr-8 and compete in a beat battle by using a Mongolian sample pack containing traditional instruments!! The show is just hours away!!!”

The Next Level team also performed at the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Open House Day in Sukhbaatar Square. The event welcomed cultural performances and groups from various countries cultural representatives who all danced and waved along to the music.

During a Jam Session, the Next Level team worked with five musicians that were members of Ulaanbaatar Ensemble and a dancer. The musicians involved all represented various traditional instruments and musical styles including a horse-head fiddle player, a zither player, a dulcimer player, an upright horse-head bass player who was also a throat singer and a long song singer. Together, they created a song that they performed at the final concert.

Billi Free wrote: “SUPER multi-talented, multi-generational group who wanted to add to their repertoire (dancers, journalists, multilinguists, throat singers, reggae artists, beatboxers, comedians, parents, etc.)! Flow and content was no issue and they rocked the final performance. May you continue to grow in Hip Hop.”

Team Mongolia also organized a block party event for youth and residents of a local community. Young members of the community from ages 3 to 15 came to experiment and play with the deejaying and beatmaking equipment, for some hands-on fun, learning and exchange.

The final concert was held in the UB Ensemble auditorium, and featured performances from the Next Level artist-educator team, student-collaborators, traditional musicians involved at the jam session, and local hip hop dancers of various genres (popping, locking, breaking, etc.).

Stuntman’s thoughts on the final concert were:

“The students were magical. Our concert day will be talked about for a while. Changing lives through this Culture is unmatched. Love love love it.”

Project summary

Next Level: Mongolia | September 2019
Number of Visitors: 5
Regions: East Asia and Pacific
Countries: Mongolia
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy
Program Areas: Culture
Partners: Public Sector