Keeping culture, identity alive
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.
Earth used to be a humongous place, full of vast expanses where nomadic people could thrive. These days, things seem to be getting a bit crowded, however. As the population spikes and technology erases distance, nomadic cultures are being pushed to the brink.
What: Ensemble of Mongolian musicians performs throat singing and music on traditional instruments
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday
Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road
Tickets: $30 general admission, $10 for UF students
The Mongolian musical group, AnDa Union, is trying to do something about that.
“Mongolian culture is a nomad culture,” says the group's manager, Tim Pearce. “So, although Genghis Kahn introduced writing, their entire tradition is an oral tradition. If they lose their music, and they lose their storytelling, then they've lost their culture.”
The group will perform three shows at the Phillips Center Sunday through Tuesday.
“The music they're singing today, it also has a direct connection to the past,” Pearce says. “For them, it's about keeping their culture alive and their identities alive.”
The group, which consists of nine Mongolians from northern China, plays traditional Mongolian music using authentic instruments, including a horse-hair fiddle.
“It's played quite differently from the violin,” Pearce says of the fiddle. “It's just two strings, but each string is made up of 250 smaller strings, which were traditionally made of horse hair.”
They also do throat singing, an unusual vocal style in which one singer creates two different notes at the same time.
“They resonate, they create this very deep sound,” Pearce says. “As the sound comes out, there's various ways they change it with their mouth or their tongue to produce a second note.
“The other style of singing they do is called 'long song,'” he says. “Basically they hold very long notes, and waver between high and low notes.”
Pearce says that music is more than just a throwback; it is still current for Mongolians.
“That is today's Mongolian music,” he says. “There's no break. It was the music of the past but it still is today's music. They have found a way to take that experience and translate it to a stage where you feel like you are on the grasslands.”
Part of the reason the group will perform three shows is that roughly 3,000 University of Florida students will attend the performances as part of UF's general education course, “What Is the Good Life?”
“The premise of the class is to help students when they're in their first year to think about what will comprise a good life,” says Michael Blachly, director of UF Performing Arts, which includes the Phillips Center. “It's more than just money or a good job. It sort of takes your mind, your heart, your psyche, your emotions to make a good life. I wanted to be a part of the planning committee because I didn't think you could be a part of the good life without having a cultural component to it.”
Blachly says he was fascinated by the music and mission of AnDa Union, which drew a rousing response from the audience when the group played the Phillips Center in 2011. The group also is known for crowd-pleasing performances around the world as well as throughout China.
“There's an attempt within China to try and move them within metropolitan areas, and they don't want to go,” he says. “They want to stay where their ancestors were. They're incredibly warm and very gentle, and they represent a group of people who believe in who they are, what their culture has meant, what their future holds. Their art is just reflected in everything they do. They're unbelievably transparent in giving you, the audience member, an idea of who and what they are.”
Pearce is quick to note that even though the musicians are interested in preserving their heritage, they are also modern people with modern tastes.
“Recently, we were in Shanghai, they all went to see Metallica,” he says.
But, they also realize the danger that their culture faces and the importance of keeping it alive.
“They're very aware how young people will maybe shun the old Mongolian music and maybe lose their identity,” Pearce says. “They're very keen to see that the Mongolian language is still spoken.
“They just want to do everything they can to keep the music alive.”