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Anda Union, and why Savannah Music Festival is so important 

Shows like the Mongolian group’s performances at SMF 2019 are what make it a crucial experience

Going into Anda Union’s 12:30 P.M. show at the Charles H. Morris Center on Thursday, April 11, I knew I’d be experiencing something special. I’d already interviewed the band’s manager, Tim Pearce, and thoroughly enjoyed making my way through some of their recorded catalog.

But when the lights dimmed at the Morris Center and the band took the stage, it was an entirely new experience I hadn’t yet had relating to music.

This might seem hyperbolic, but Anda Union might have been the best show I’ve ever seen. I’ve been playing music since I was a small child, have toured around the world and seen shows in some of the most beautiful venues in the country, and I can confidently say that this might have been the most transformative musical experience I’ve ever had in any capacity.

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There was no elaborate stage show or lighting, and no real production. The entire show was centered around the music and nothing more.

I don’t claim to be the most well versed in world music. Through musical exploration as a teenager I discovered the work of artists like the great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Through one of my heroes, Peter Gabriel, I was turned on to artists like Youssou N’Dour, the legendary Senegalese singer.

As a child whose paternal grandparents were Irish immigrants, I developed a deep love of Celtic music and the Gaelic language as a whole.

So, I did have some semblance of musical understanding outside of the various forms of American music or more modern styles like blues, jazz, rock, and folk.

What I was shamefully unaware of prior to April 11 was the rich musical foundation of Inner and Outer Mongolia. Anda Union brought that to Savannah last week.

There were moments when the music, which I found at times to be melodically quite similar to the Celtic music I grew up on, moved me to tears. The members of Anda Union are all masters of their instruments, and that includes the human voice. To see such powerful musical ability on display was remarkable at times.

What this performance did for me most of all, aside from introduce me to a beautiful form of music that I wasn’t previously familiar with, was make me realize how important Savannah Music Festival truly is.

It’s a bold move to bring in artists from all around the world over a three-week span, and it would be easy to cater solely to the Americana or country/bluegrass world that fills seats so quickly and reliably.

But taking a leap of faith and recognizing the importance of giving international artists like Anda Union a platform in Savannah is something that deserves immense applause.

Why? Because those are not just shows. Performances like Anda Union are a true education. It allows us to understand the world around us a little more intimately, and experience a small slice of another culture that we might not otherwise get to experience.

In no way does this diminish the other great artists who have been a part of the festival. I’m a huge Jeff Tweedy and Wilco fan, and a lifelong admirer of some of the folk, Americana, and country greats that have been part of this incredible festival.

But shows like Anda Union send a clear message that this isn’t just a bluegrass festival or an Americana festival. This is a world music festival. This is about education. This is about cultural enlightenment.

This is about understanding that music is the most universal of languages. There wasn’t one lyric that I understood, and yet I felt every note and was moved by every line.

The relatability of music doesn’t just have to come from the lyrical content, and international artists like Anda Union prove that. Musical connection can take place in the form of a melody or the delivery of a vocal, and that’s exactly what occurred for me during this experience.

We need more of that, especially in the current political climate. We need a more worldly musical education as Americans, and Savannah has taken great strides in that regard thanks to the folks behind Savannah Music Festival. I can’t wait to see what musical education awaits me next year.

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Sean Kelly

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