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A Feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Eye 4 Films presents


AnDa Union


From the Steppes to the City


Otgonbayar's family home in From the Steppes to the City

Directed by Tim Pearce, Sophie Lascelles and Marc Tiley



This engrossing documentary takes us on a journey from Inner Mongolia’s outer reaches to the city of Hohhot, where AnDa Union, the group of ten musicians the film centres on originate from, giving insight as to the band’s nomadic ancestry and mission - to carry the torch of tradition.

AnDa Union, whose stunning live performance you may have read about in brief in my previous feature on Edinburgh, are highly skilled young musicians who’ve been actively on a quest to find and release ‘the power and magic’ of the Mongul culture for contemporary audiences for over eight years now, thrilling listeners in the process, thus proving that following tradition needn’t be dull.

Unassembled, the ger, a form of yurt, for lack of a better comparison, seems little more than a pile of poles and skins, set up, it becomes a traditional home to the plains-people of Inner Mongolia. Far from being romantic theirs was, and in diminishing cases, is still today, a rugged, challenging life, as such nomads are pitted against the mother of us all – nature. But as this film progressively shows, the descendents of such plainspeople don’t always choose to live like them. On the contrary, in most cases, parents live in houses and offspring naturally follow suit. Though, some grand-parents still uphold the traditional way of life, even amid growing clusters of red brick houses springing up around them and gers are still a source of inspiration and celebration, centring on family life.

The film has the intimate look and feel of a home movie, affectionately and thoughtfully shot, aimed at showing as many angles of the Inner Mongolian way of life as possible, from the preparation of meals, to the wedding of two of the band members, in beautifully coloured traditional silk robes, while highlighting AnDa Union’s special place among it. The band is unique and very vital, as they blend the enthusiasm of youth with the rich tenacity of age old traditions, enlivening them in a way possible only through fond reinterpretation. It’s very exciting watching them perform live, and the film captures a sense of that excitement through intermittent concert clips. Despite the inherent harshness of their ancestral environment, there is an inborn romance to their playing that is almost palpable, as it is as passionate as they are driven. To discover AnDa Union and their music is almost akin to finding a lost world that they are, effectively, in the process of preserving for posterity. In a very real sense, their music is not only their legacy, but that of their people as well. 



Tuya and Urgen's Wedding in From the Steppes to the City


From the Steppes to the City has been described by director/ band manager Tim Pearce as a ‘touring AnDa Union festival,’ truly, worthy of celebration. Through it, we are also privy to the making and expert playing of their instruments, among them, horse hair fiddles and a reed like instrument actually played while throat singing. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about their performances is their throat singing unlike any ever heard for its intensity, gravely harmonics and hearty bass timbre. You cannot help but clap along enthusiastically to showcasing song ‘Derlcha’ and smile as you do so.

A kaleidoscopic montage of shots, like photographic stills in themselves, for the most part, take precedence over fades in the film, though the few fades there are, are seamlessly and imaginatively realised. Panoramic scenes of vast plains full of waving grasses almost seem as sea rather than earth. The land itself oozes a knowing sense of inborn harshness, though locals seem, by and large, very amiable. There is much appreciation from Mongolians for what AnDa Union is accomplishing on behalf of their people. Touching scenes in which young, modern looking lead singer Nars is being taught traditional songs by his elderly grandfather help put the band’s mission into human context.



AnDa Union in concert at the Ulan Theatre in Hohhot From the Steppes to the City


‘A Thousand Galloping Horses’ is so enthralling and atmospherically performed in the clip shown here that it enables viewers to feel as one with a herd of thundering beasts, as they raise and lower their clopping hooves in a mighty stampede, inciting both amazement and respect for their power and beauty. Live, I was mesmerised by the emotive singing of ‘Altargana’ by lovely Qipigoma, possessor of one of the most glorious voices this listener has ever heard. Though I had no idea what she was singing about, it brought a tear to my eye, and, somehow, despite language barriers, I feel it’s haunting melody sums up the message of this insightful ninety minute film - Live, love and rather than lament the past, venerate and above all, celebrate it, by carrying on its’ finest traditions into the present.  The band is welcome to correct me if my assessment is wrong. Meanwhile, I’m happy to revisit them via From the Steppes to the City, as they travel the length and breadth of Inner Mongolia, from plain to city and back again, retracing their roots and those of their nomadic grasslands ancestors.


Hohhot the blue city in From the Steppes to the City


Editor’s Note:
We’re told that AnDa Union will be coming to London again Jan or Feb 2013. Stay tuned for details of their upcoming concert and accompanying screenings of From the Steppes to the City.




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