It is, perhaps, a common trait of any reviewer to speak in hyperbole. Writing, however, that the majesty of AnDa Union is something that has to be seen to be believed is more certified truth than journalistic exaggeration.
Image via andaunion.com
A proud and earnest 10-piece from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, AnDa Union are an acoustic-folk band that have made it their aim to preserve an endangered form of Mongolian culture, as industrialisation creeps ever closer to the countryside from which they came. Evident in their performance, they are a group of people that clearly understand the power and importance of music to carry and translate the most primitive of customs.
Their use of the Morin Khuur (translated as “fiddle with a horse’s head”), for instance, pays tribute to the most revered animal in Mongolia, the horse, while a singing style known as Urtyn Duu (meaning “Long Song”, in relation to its employment of extended syllables) is used to figuratively depict Mongolia’s vast mountain valleys.
On this night, they stand before a sold-out audience at the Norwich Arts Centre minus two of their ensemble, though this does little to dampen moods. Each member, taking turns throughout the evening to talk to the crowd, is as endearing as the last (“My name is Otgonbayar. I like to drink”, one exclaims in bold, deadpan fashion), their personalities only complemented by the florescent colours of their individual deels (a traditional, elegant piece of Mongol dress).
The set flows from the fast (a particular highlight being the rampant Heimori), to the poignant (with two songs dedicated to the family and homeland they unsurprisingly miss), each song making exquisite use of the range of instrumentation at the band’s disposal, including Mongol variations of the violin, harp, flute and lute.
Impressive though this is, it all pales in comparison to AnDa Union’s oral wizardry, which is nothing short of mesmerising in a live setting. Using a form of throat singing, they showcase their ability to produce the most atmospheric of sounds right from the beginning of their act, by imitating birds in a forest.
From this point onwards, the night becomes an atmospheric, audio tour-de-force that sees them stretch from the deepest of tones to sweeping highs, and indulge in multi-layered vocalisation (each member has the astounding ability to chant and whistle simultaneously). It’s so perfectly performed that it’s almost illusory; many, in their wonderment, may have indeed questioned whether there was an extra contraption lurking behind the stage making these sounds. They would’ve been proven wrong – this was a natural, organic display of talent.
Meditative, soulful and enlightening, AnDa Union are a privilege to watch. They paint an intriguing image of a culture far detached from our own, one that, unfortunately, may not be as prominent in the near future. If only for the self-indulgence of being able to experience acts as wonderful as AnDa Union, let’s hope it remains.