Monday, June 11, 2007

Music from Asia's tsunami-ravaged coastline will come alive in India

Georgina Maddox

Two unknown singers from Myanmar croon a plaintive tune as percussion players from India lift the piece to a catchy beat; a Buddhist prayer cymbal chimes on the offbeat and the whole piece comes together as a song in the album, Laya Project. The musicians - a woman from a Maldivian isle, villagers of Polhena in Sri Lanka and Gayo in Indonesia, Buddhist monks from Myanmar, Tamil folk musicians from India and Thai islanders - are hardly known outside their sunny strips of coastal land. But they share a moment: the angst-ridden instance when the fury of the sea shattered their lives into smithereens, killed their children and washed away their homes. Laya Project is the sound of that pain, of wails waving across desolate shores, of the lapping of the waves against bodies half-buried in sand. It is also the music of survival.The sounds come to India at the first live performance of Laya Project at Mumbai's National Centre for Performing Arts on June 9.Laya Project began in the aftermath of the tsunami on December 26, 2004, when Sonya Mazumdar of Clementine Studios, Chennai, and Yotam Agam, a recording engineer from Israel, decided to collaborate on a folk-musical project; it ended as a unique amalgamation of folk sounds from the regions, under the label EarthSync. On the way, music connoisseurs from Malyasia, Canada and the Netherlands joined in."In the album, Buddhist monks chant with Tamil temple drummers," says Paul Jacob of Chennai-based Bodhi Muzzik. Jacob, who has been working with folk musicians for the past 12 years, had got Mazumdar and Agam in touch with folk musicians scattered along the tsunami-hit shores. Then Mumbai-based Frenchwoman Aurelie Chauleur, a concert coordinator, stepped in. Now the concert is travelling to Europe and the US."We started the project after doing a lot of research on the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and India, but a lot of the magic happened spontaneously while working," says Mazumdar. "Like the instance we met Farihi, a Muslim woman in purdah, who lives in a small coastal strip called Maroosh in the Maldives. We had been recording all day with percussionists and were ready to pack up when she came out from behind a wall and requested us to let her sing a song. It was pure magic and she became the mascot for our album," adds Agam.The album (Rs 500) and a documentary on the making of the Laya Project (Rs 1,200) will hit the shelves after the concert. Goan DJ Mafiza will open the show along with a few guest artists - Chen Zimbalista, a percussionist from Israel, and Tibetan monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

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