…singing fishermen from Arugam Bay …


Indomitable spirit

...The Laya Project does not dwell on the tsunami itself, nor is any footage on the DVD of it included.

Project takes a fascinating musical journey across tsunami-affected communities

The 2004 tsunami caused havoc across Asia, affecting many coastal communities from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to the Indonesian archipelago. We know of the horrors of this tragic event from the news media which showed the awful devastation. But what of those who survived? How have they survived?

The Laya Project shows the incredible spirit and resilience of the coastal peoples.

A team of producers, filmmakers and musicians from the Chennai-based EarthSync music label travelled for two years across the tsunami-affected region, visiting coastal communities and recording the music each one played. The aim was to produce a part-documentary, part-music video and part-travelogue that would show the incredible spirit and resilience of these coastal peoples. The result is a wonderful package, the Laya Project, which includes two audio CDs of studio and field recordings, produced by Patrick Sebag and a film (DVD) directed by Harold Monfils. The film has already received worldwide airplay and has garnered many awards. The Laya Project does not dwell on the tsunami itself, nor is any footage on the DVD of it included. Instead, we are taken on a fascinating journey that includes the Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Indonesia. The focus is very much on those who have survived and so we follow fishermen, farmers, street vendors, teachers, monks and imams, priests and children, and of course, musicians. Or as the subtitle to the project says: “Six shores sharing one ocean, one sky, and one language of survival and music.” I would recommend that readers watch the DVD before trying out the audio CDs. The film provides the social context for the music – you can see how musicians perform their music in their homes and villages. Music appears to be everywhere and is played with real gusto. The film includes no narration at all, just a few well-placed comments like the lady who is sad about the loss of her community’s songs or the Sri Lankan boatman and singer who tells how fishing songs are dying out because fishermen

no longer row their boats (songs were based on the rhythm of rowing) as oars have been replaced by engines. And a boatman from Koh Phi Phi says that the area is not haunted by spirits of the dead; he roams the sea at night just like he used to. The film is beautiful to watch, with its footage of sunrises and sunsets, brooding skies and misty mornings, and the ever-present sea, both provider and taker. Director Monfils has done an outstanding job of capturing the lives of coastal people, the faces of children and parents and communities joining together to launch their boats, to go to their spiritual homes in temples, mosques and churches. I found the film both calming and inspiring. There are so many standout musical scenes in the film, which are subtly linked by Sebag’s synth keyboards, that it’s hard to pick favourites. I particularly liked the opening song, from Burma Glorious Sun, which features the haunting vocals of Shwe Shwe Khine and Khine Zin Shwe set to a pair of hand cymbals and has been running around my head for weeks. The studio performance of Dr Gunasekhran and his musicians on Hai La Sa (the rowing song) and the performance of Abdul Ghani and his crew of Hai La Sa in a mosque are other standouts as are the location sessions of Rain Buddha (Burma), Watifa (Maldives and sung under a Bo tree) and the studio session featuring table player K V Balakrishnan on Tapatam. The DVD also includes extra footage of women singers in the Maldives, singing fishermen from Arugam Bay and a clip of shadow puppetry from Burma that features the beautiful Burmese harp, which sounds so like West African harps – my first view of this fascinating instrument. The 2 CDs contain all the tracks from the DVD and extras, plus a few not on the film. Two traditional tracks on the film and CDs from Thailand, Premjam and Poothai feature some excellent saw playing and a phin Laotian lute jam. At first, I thought it odd that an instrument from the landlocked Northeast of Thailand was being played but then I remembered that many fishermen in the South are from Isan. When I stay in Satun province, the squid fishermen I meet are nearly all from Isan. The Laya Project is one of my favourite releases this year. The CDs contain some wonderful music and the film provides the social context – you see how people make music in their homes, on the beach, at places of worship and you begin to understand just how important music making is to each community. Highly recommended. To purchase the boxed set (DVD & CDs), try http://www.layaproject.com for more information or the usual sources at: http://www.amazon.com, http://www.sternsmusic.com and http://www.allmusic.com. This column can be contacted at: Clewley.john@gmail.com

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