27 February 2007

Singing - Dancing - Must Be the West Bank!

By now you movie buffs will certainly know that Pan's Labyrinth won three Academy Awards, though not the one for Best Foreign Language Film (that went to The Lives of Others, described as "a German wire-tapping film).

SoundRoots readers, who tend to have a global scope to their entertainment choices, will also have noted that the Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar went to a truly cross-cultural work. West Bank Story is a 22-minute-long Middle-Eastern satire/take-off of West Side Story, which was a modern adaptation of some crusty old English play in which everyone dies.

West Bank Story hasn't come this way yet, though we're eager to see it. In the meantime, we've got an exclusive interview with the film's music director, Yuval Ron.

SoundRoots: How did you get involved in doing the music for West Bank Story?

Yuval Ron: The director Ari Sandal was looking for a composer who could do Bernstein plus East European Jewish Klezmer plus Arabic. He started asking around in the LA film and music scene and was told: call Yuval Ron.

SR: Was the music from West Side Story echoing in your head? How did you deal with that?

YR: Of course it did, that WAS the job!!! I had to recall some beautiful treatments of Bernstein in orchestration and in song writing in order to make the movie the crazy spoof that the director wanted it to be. Just like other composers in the history (see Beethoven through present day composers) could quote or paraphrase musical treasures of the past in a meaningful ways, that is how I approached the challenge of writing original new music that would recall Bernstein's West Side Story but in present day Palestine.

SR: What are the challenges and benefits of dealing with such a heavy subject through comedy? How is this reflected in the music?

YR: We had to take another perspective of it, which was refreshing and also brought out the element of ridicule that is in that conflict.

SR: How did you choose the musicians and singers to work with?

YR: I used Broadway singers who sang on Disney movies as well and who are the best in the business for musicals. These singers worked for me before on various projects and I love to work with them, they are the very best! The orchestra musicians are professional film and TV players who work in LA on many film productions and worked for me on numerous other films scores which I composed and the ethnic musicians are members of my ensemble The Yuval Ron Ensemble.

SR: How does the music reinforce the message of the film?
West Bank Story still
YR: The music makes the audience feel the emotions that the director and writers hope they invoke. The music make you identify with the heroes, bring out their humanity and make you like them more. The music make you laugh and the music opens the heart, softens the heart so you may feel rather than think!

SR: Were you watching the Oscars? How did it feel to win? What were the first words out of your mouth?

YR: We watched it at an Oscar party for the cast and crew of West Bank Story in Malibu, California. It as an incredible explosion of emotions of happiness and release of tension. I jumped to my feet with my hands up high and I screamed: YES!!!!!!!

Songs from the soon-to-be-released soundtrack:

  • West Bank Story was the first film featured on MySpace Film
  • The competing falafel joints in the film are Kosher King and Hummus Hut
  • Yuval Ron has also created music for 15 Films about Madonna, America's Most Wanted, Planet's Funnies Animals, and Spiderman, among many TV shows and films.

26 February 2007

Monday's mp3: Zaman 8 Emerges

Six Degrees Records has a track record of ambitious thinking and modern sensibilities. Among the artists they've shone a spotlight on are some enduring favorites: Bobi Cespedes, Issa Bagayogo, Cheb i Sabbah, Ojos de Brujo, and Trio Mocotó. Yes, there's a pattern to these artists: they all combine traditional roots with elements of electronic or dance music.

Not only does Zaman 8 do that, but their newest tunes are part of a new digital-only strategy by Six Degrees. Yup, no physical CD to clutter up your place. Just those wee ones and zeros on your whateverPod, arranged in tasty order to bring you this sparse but satisfying musical blend. As the band puts it,

What separates Suryaghati from other forgettable discs in the too-cluttered bin of “worldtronica” is a passion to create originality and permanence from the building block-influences of distinct roots music styles: Afro-Persian, Afrobeat, underground hip-hop breakbeats, drum n’ bass, Afro-Brazilian percussion, Gnawa, South-Asian, Afro-Cuban, Andalucian. The clear and potent result is never secondary or subservient to a hastily applied electronic beat. Like Sun Ra’s saxophones blasting the cosmic wisdom of ancient Egypt into the ears of contemporary Western consciousness, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things, Suryaghati brings the past into the future and the future into the past.

"Much of what exists in our genre seems very momentary," says Sanaz Ebriani, the duo's Iranian-born singer. She and guitarist/programmer Dan Newman looked for a Persian word that reflected their music, a modern fusion with deep traditional roots. "Zaman means time, duration, era," Ebriani says, "and the number 8 turned to its side is the infinity sign, so put time and infinity together and you get timelessness."

Whether it will stand the test of time I do not know. But I like the subtle rhythms and bass that underlie the floating sax and flute lines. Think Mercan Dede in a jazz club.

[mp3] Zaman 8 Hafez Modir: "Sani"
from Suryaghati EP 1 (available only as a download)
Zaman 8 website

You can hear more such stuff on Six Degrees' Emerging Artists Sampler Vol. 1, available from Calabash:

24 February 2007

Favela Rising; Bloody Pan (Film Review)

Two works of global cinema in mind this week. Both contain graphic violence and distasteful living situations. Only one of the was what I expected.

Favela Rising: You probably recognize "favela" as the term for slum, as in the 300 poverty-infested neighborhoods around Rio de Janeiro. In the worst of these slums, in the crossfire of corrupt police and battling drug armies (some shown in video clips), Anderson Sá emerges as a voice of hope.

A former drug trafficker himself, Anderson turns to the transforming power of music, starting the performing group Afro-Reggae and teaching samba percussion to kids. Some of the stories and images of violence are deeply disturbing, though they're counterbalanced by images of more and more kids swayed by the possibility of a nonviolent future for themselves.

The film portrays Anderson's own trials as well, in which he finds a parallel to the transformation of his neighborhood. The film includes a great soundtrack, including some crazy harmonica beatboxing as well as tunes from Chico Cesar and Pink Martini. Mix that in with the compelling story and add Anderson's affinity for the Hindu deity Shiva -- and a powerful "cameo" by the Orisha Obatala -- and you've got one amazing film that I highly recommend.

Favela Rising trailer

Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno): Oscar-nominated for (among other things) Best Foreign Language Film, Pan's Labyrinth is being lauded as an adult fairy tale. I like such things, and I like supporting foreign-languages films when they (rarely) show up at our local uberplex. So rare are they that the girl selling the tickets issued a special warning: "You know that this is a foreign film, in Spanish, with English subtitles, right? You still want to see it?" Yes, I said, I do.

Pan's Labyrinth

At least, that's what I thought at the time. The warning I wish she'd given is "You know that this film is a very dark fantasy, and that the villain is not only mean and overbearing, but also psychotic and violent? You know that even once his tyrannical credentials are well established, you'll be exposed to further images of torture, murder, and gore, right? You still want to see it?" Um, well, when you put it that way...

Knowing what I know now, I would have headed to another theater at that point. Yes, Pan's Labyrinth is a gorgeous film, with amazing sound and visual effects. But I went seeking fantasy, and the fantasy was too little and too late, with the bulk of the film taking place in the hard, violent reality of 1944 fascist Spain. And this reality was very realistic. Seeing this kind of lovingly detailed film violence makes me wonder: Would it be a good thing if all film violence were so realistic? Would this help re-sensitize jaded movie-goers?

I don't know. But I do know that I would rather take the stylized violence of, say, a Stephen Chow movie over this brutal realism any day. Any day at all. If you do see it, don't say I didn't warn you.

Pan's Labyrinth trailer

22 February 2007

World Tidbits: Malaysian Master Plan, Johnny Clegg

When I hear of someone's global master plan, I tend to hear in my voice the guy with the movie-trailer voice saying "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!" But all master plans are not created equal. Take for example the laid-back master plan outlined in the not-so-evil animated Malay music video "Enjet-Enjet Semut."

I laughed myself silly watching the video (particularly the part about the flowers and the Vespa, as well as the Malay Master Plan!), then asked a friend to explain the Malay verses. She explains:

The refrain literally means: enjet-enjet (pinch-pinch) semut (ant), siapa sakit (who hurts) naik atas (go on up). It refers to a game all Malay children (mostly girls) used to play when we were small.

We gather around in groups of 3 or 4 and then one by one we pinch another person's back of the hand and make a tower that way. Of course we cannot pinch our own hand. but both hands have to be used.

Then we sing the song and when the person whose hand is at the bottom-most feels the pain (sakit) and strain of the whole "ant" tower, he/she will move her hand up to the top-most position and the game goes on while we continue singing the refrain.

Are Malays the chilled-out Hawaiians of SE Asia? Anyone want to fund my travel-intensive research efforts to find the answer to this burning question? Watch the video by clicking on the image above. This video, by the way, was the result of the Back to My Roots competition, which asked youths to express what ‘Malay’ meant to them.

Umoya: Tribal Beatz of Africa feat. Johnny CleggIn other news, The Gazette (Canada) today published an interview with Afropop legend Johnny Clegg. My favorite quote: "South Africa is not a place for sissies." By the way, did you know that Clegg has put out a recent album under the group name Umoya? The album is called Tribal Beatz of Africa, and includes the Clegg solo number "Sihamba Nawe (We Walk With You)" on which he plays all the instruments.

20 February 2007

Mardi Gras with the Wild Tchoupitoulas

The Wild Tchoupitoulas are a New Orleans legend, and the perfect way to kick off Mardi Gras, even if you can't get to New Orleans today.

The Wild Tchoupitoulas, as you may know, are one of New Orleans' Black Indian tribes, also known as Mardi Gras Indians. The tribes, krewes, and assorted other revelers and bystanders, take to the streets today for one last day of parades and celebrations.

Today's parade themes include:
  • Zulus: "Zulu in the Wonders of Life, Fantasy and Nature"
  • Rex: "The Lunar Realm"
  • Choctaw: "Choctaw Visits Horror Movies" (riders on 30 floats will throw bobble-head dolls and Choctaw flying discs)
  • Mystic Krewe of Covington: "The Wizard of Oz"
It all started at 8:00 a.m. today, so get there if you can. No word on what the Wild Tchoupitoulas will be doing under the leadership of Big Chief Roderick Sylvas, but you can be that Sylvas will be under a Golden Crown. And lots of feathers.

[mp3] The Wild Tchoupitoulas: "Big Chief Got a Golden Crown"
from the album The Wild Tchoupitoulas
(this album, recorded in 1976 and produced by the legendary
Allen Toussaint, marked the first time that the Neville
Brothers recorded together!)

Here's a poor-quality video snippet of the Wild Magnolias, who were featured in SoundRoots' 2006 Mardi Gras salute.

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Happy New Year

Year of the BoarImage by ChiBart via FlickrBy the way, Happy New Year!
It's the Chinese Year of the Boar, year 4704 by the Chinese calendar.

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19 February 2007

Monday's mp3: Saving West Papua

Map of Papua and West Papua Province (before t...Image via WikipediaMerdeka: Artists from around the world unite in support of the independence movement in West Papua (CD Review)
Dancing Turtle Records -- release date 5 March 2007

I really wanted to love this album. Really I did. Among the 20 tracks are a couple from artists I really enjoy: Norwegian yoikers Vajas and Gypsytronica troupe Shukar Collective. Digging into the album, however, I found the musical selections from 17 nations to be disjointed. Irish singer Laura Baker's "In Our Hearts" has a great message, but its smoothness jars after the wonderful island-guitar vibe of Modeste Hughes Randriamahitasoa's Malagasy "Celestina." I won't give you a track-by-track accounting; suffice to say that other juxtapositions cause a similar disorientation. And there's no justifying text in the packaging explaining why the tracks/artists were selected, or any translations of the lyrics.

That said, I don't want to discourage you from checking out this compilation. It does contain good music -- not least Zambian Dominic Kakolobango's "Ubukwa" and Ohayo-Samba's "Brazil Yori." And the whole thing is for a great cause: the independence movement in West Papua. West Papua -- also known as the Indoensian province of Irian Jaya -- lies in the western part of the island of New Guinea, and its indigenous people have been struggling against Indonesian occupation, which has resulted (the notes say) in "one of the world's worst cases of ethnic cleansing" with more than 400,000 West Papuans killed since 1963. All proceeds from CD sales go directly to refugee support programs.

So yeah, it's a great cause. And in the face of the social/political /military situation I feel petty for nit-picking about the tracklist. I just wish the flow of the album was a little more natural. I would even have suggested two discs: one of music from West Papua, one of musicians from elsewhere who support the cause. You can find out more about the album and hear song samples at the Dancing Turtle Records website.

[mp3] Zambian Dominic Kakolobango: "Ubukwa"
from the album Merdeka

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14 February 2007

New Love from Vusi Mahlasela

Love is a funny thing. Lots of folks are blathering about love today, some may even be feeling it. Me, I'm wallowing in it. You see, the new Vusi is here.

The new album, called Naledi Ya Tsela in Africa but translated for the March 6 US release to Guiding Star, features a raft of guest artists, including Derek Trucks and longtime Vusi supporter Dave Matthews.

Mahlasela wrote and recorded this album as he toured the globe. Its soul-stirring title is very much a product of the new friends he's met and experiences he's had touring. Bearing the influences of various music and voices from throughout the world, Guiding Star features guest appearances from friend (and partial ATO Records label head) Dave Matthews ('Sower of Words'), band leader and Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks ('Tibidi Waka'), Australian didgeridoo star Xavier Rudd ('Chamber of Justice'), singer-songwriter Jem ('Everytime') and longtime friends and touring mates Ladysmith Black Mambazo ('Heaven In My Heart'). Mahlasela also drew on the talents of numerous South African guests, including the legendary 'Black Moses' Ngwenya of the Soul Brothers, the children's choir from the Agnes Chidi School in his home Township, Mamelodi, and the KCC Gospel, among many others.

Devoted SoundRoots readers and world music fans in general will be familiar with the voice and guitar of Vusi Mahlasela, one of the key musical figures in modern South Africa (and the revolution that made it the "modern" nation it is today). I realize that after last year's Valentine's post, I'm in danger of training you to expect new Vusi every February, but get over it. There's no telling what tomorrow will bring, so enjoy heaven where you can find it. In the love of another, in music, perhaps in your own heart.

[mp3] Vusi Mahlasela feat. Ladysmith Black Mambazo: "Heaven in My Heart"
from the album Naledi Ya Tsela (Guiding Star)

sample more Vusi at Calabash

Vusi will tour the western USA this spring:
March 20, 2007 Aspen, CO The Belly Up
March 21, 2007 Boulder, CO Boulder Theater
March 24, 2007 Seattle, WA The Triple Door
March 25, 2007 Portland, OR Berbati's Pan
March 27, 2007 Chicago, IL Chicago Cultural Center
March 29, 2007 San Francisco, CA (Benefit for 46664) Palace of Fine Arts w/ Taj Mahal, Mickey Hart, David Hidalgo
March 30, 2007 Los Angeles, CA Skirball Cultural Center

And here's Vusi from the Live 8 concert

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12 February 2007

World Music at the Grammy Awards

The Grammy awards were dished out yesterday, and once you've shoveled through the pile of Grammys picked up by the Dixie Chicks, and the oddity of Bruce Springsteen winning best "traditional folk album," you'll find a few artists of particular interest to SoundRoots readers that aren't getting as much play in the headlines. Among them:
  • Traditional World Music Album: "Blessed," Soweto Gospel Choir.
  • Contemporary World Music Album: "Wonder Wheel," the Klezmatics.
  • Latin Pop Album (tie): "Adentro," Arjona. "Limon Y Sal," Julieta Venegas.
  • Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album: "Amar Es Combatir," Mana.
  • Tropical Latin Album: "Directo Al Corazon," Gilberto Santa Rosa.
  • Mexican/Mexican-American Album: "Historias De Mi Tierra," Pepe Aguilar.
  • Tejano Album: "Sigue El Taconazo," Chente Barrera.
  • Norteno Album: "Historias Que Contar," Los Tigres Del Norte.
  • Banda Album: "Mas Alla Del Sol," Joan Sebastian.
  • Latin Jazz Album: "Simpatico," the Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project.
  • Native American Music Album: "Dance With the Wind," Mary Youngblood.
  • Hawaiian Music Album: "Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar — Live From Maui," Various Artists.
  • Reggae Album: "Love Is My Religion," Ziggy Marley.
Nothing against Soweto Gospel Choir, whom I enjoy, but honestly... should they have beat out the wonderful Gypsy group KAL or Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra? Nope. Oh wait... those two weren't even nominated! For that matter, how do they figure that Soweto Gospel Choir is "traditional" and Ladysmith Black Mambazo is "contemporary"? Does any of this make sense? Why do I even find myself caring? Arrgh!

Bottom line: Since none of SoundRoots' Best Albums of 2006 appear on the Grammy winners list, it just shows that you should trust us more than the Grammy folks. Not that we're necessarily smarter or anything, we simply aren't distracted by also having to listen to the likes of Christina Aguilera and Madonna. We're focused. Also, we're completely unbeholden to money-flinging corporate interests -- though anyone wishing to fling a little money into our Tip Jar (see top of right column) is most welcome.

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Monday's mp3: Garifuna Soul

Yesterday's post on Andy Palacio did not (thankfully!) purge Garifuna music from my brain. Indeed, the anticipation of his tour in the fall and the impending visit of Aurelio Martinez this spring are wedging more of this unique music into my cranial nooks. So here's one of the most catchy tunes from Martinez's 2004 album, Garifuna Soul (available on CDbaby or via Stonetree Records - Spin The Globe album review). The lyrics translate thusly:

If I told you about the pain in my heart,
what would become of me
I would be tied
I would be tied up and taken to the prison
My child, because I am not prepared, I do not deserve it
Because I am not well read, I do not deserve it
I do not deserve it so they gossip about me
I will not say a word, my child, lest I be the guilty one
I will not say a word lest I be the guilty one
The newspapers, I will die and leave all of this behind

[mp3] Aurelio Martinez: "Tagarigu Nanigi"
from the album Garifuna Soul
Listen to more of Garifuna Soul (at Calabash)

Aurelio Martinez's 2007 tour dates include Austin, Brooklyn, Seattle, and San Francisco in April and May.

11 February 2007

Andy Palacio: Garifuna Ambassador (CD Review)

Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective: Wátina
(Cumbancha)Andy Palacio & the garifuna Collective: Watina
buy CD | Listen To Watina

It is isn't necessary to be entranced by the story of the Garifuna people to enjoy the music of Andy Palacio. The rhythms and melodies give hints of Afropop, yet the swing and the maraca infuse a distinctly Latin-Caribbean flavor.

Despite these influences, the music is unique. Raw and rattly drum beats are paired with guitar and vocal harmonies on the title track, for example, which tells of a person stranded on a road as drivers zip by, unsympathetic. Such everyday occurances are a common theme in Garifuna music. Other songs include the bluesy prayer "Weyu Larigi Weyu" with its call-and-response refrain; the upbeat reggae-meets-Garifuna call for unity "Lidan Aban;" and the Paranda-style guitar piece "Sin Precio" with its somber message of feeling worthless.

Born and raised in the Atlantic coast village of Barranco, Belize, Palacio heard a mix of traditional and imported music, and played both in his early musical career. His music took a turn while he was working with a literacy project in Nicaragua in 1990 and he realized how the Garifuna language was dying out.

"I saw what happened to my people. The cultural erosion I saw deeply affected my outlook," Palacio says, "and I definitely reacted to that reality." His response was to become a musical ambassador for things Garifuna, helping other musicians get recognized, and recently cutting this album of songs based on traditional Garifuna rhythms.

While the music stands alone, the story of The Garifuna people is the stuff of legend, ripe for wider appreciation. Essentially, they emerged from a transportation accident. Two European slave ships sunk off the coast of St. Vincent in 1635. The surviving slaves mixed with the local population, and spread to the Central American mainland. [more history]. They have expanded from fewer than 2,000 people in 1800 to more than 200,000 today, and the work of artists such as Palacio (who tours in fall 2007) and Aurelio Martinez (who tours in spring 2007) are bringing the culture wider global recognition it richly deserves. This is a must-have album for curious ears.

09 February 2007

World Music Top 10: February 2007

SoundRoots / Spin The Globe
Top 10 World Music Albums - January 2007

1.Ojos de Brujo: Techari
2. Samba Squad:
3. Forro in the Dark:
Bonfires of Sao Joao
4. Ismael Lo:
5. Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective:
6. Tartit:
7. Vieux Farka Toure:
Vieux Farka Toure
8. Chambao:
Pokito a Poko
9. Vajas:
Sacred Stone
10. Boom Pam:
Boom Pam

World Music Tidbits:
Last weekend's 3rd annual World Sacred Music Festival featured stunning performances, and I feel sorry for the folks who stayed home to watch what I understand was a dismal Super Bowl game. I'll try to refrain from saying "nyah, nyah, nah nyah, nyah!"
Favela Chic: An acquaintance recently told me she prefers resorts to third-world villages because she doesn't like her vacations tinged with guilt. She would undoubtedly shudder at the rich but emotionally powerful vacations some are choosing. I keep running across articles on tourism in South African townships (Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor), for example. In fact, Johannesburg provides a handy Tourist Guide to Visiting Soweto. The favelas of Rio are also luring tourists (Christian Science Monitor).

Little Mosque on the PrairieWe've been greatly enjoying the CBC TV series "Little Mosque on the Prairie," a light but smart look at a small Canadian prairie town dealing in various ways with Muslims in their midst. There's the ignorant, incendiary radio host, the shallow mayor, a helpful older Anglican minister (and the mosque's landlord), and a variety of Muslims including the open-minded but inexperienced imam, older immigrants from Nigeria, Pakistan, and Lebanon, and a Canadian woman convert. The characters (at least the Muslim ones) are developing some depth, and the clever writing makes religion funny again. When told to keep certain things to himself so as not to offend Christians coming to a mosque open house, Pakistani Baber Siddiqui says "They'll think we're wierd? They drink the blood of Christ!" You can catch some clips at the show's website.

The results of the pop-oriented World Song Festival 2006 are out, though not of much interest to fans of world music with real roots.
Finally, we've been inundated recently with people touting new technologies and such. What do they want you to know? Among other things, that there's a new flash music player called MOG, with content focusing on roots, rock, and reggae (what, no ragas?); there's a new peer-to-peer thing out called GigaTribe; and the Guardian shares a list of where to download music legally. Other suggestions removed for your mental protection.

08 February 2007

Welcome to Bolivia...

Location of BoliviaImage via Wikipedia"Bolivia is by far the poorest country in South America." Thus begins the narration for this high-quality, slow-loading, big-hearted video called "Bolivian Rhapsody."

One musician and a small production crew went to Bolivia hoping to create something that could provide help for the poor of Bolivia. In the end, the warm hearts and rich culture of the Bolivian people wound up giving them more then they could ever hope to give in return.

If you're the patient type, you can watch the film here. There's also an equally slow-loading but shorter "Bolivian Rhapsody Jazz Battle." Me, I'm still waiting for them to finish loading.

What I've gleaned in the meantime is that a film/audio crew went to Bolivia to record, with the hopes of selling the recordings to help fund the charity CECASEM, a nonprofit that works on health, infrastructure, and agriculture in the Andes. More on the group (in Spanish) here.

The crew were: Ronald Trijber, sound/mixes, Mike Del Ferro, piano/arrangements, Jan Anno Boonstra, camera/photography, Mike van Veen, camera/candlelight, and Katja Trijber, direction/editing.

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05 February 2007

Monday's mp3: The Bells! The Bells!

World Sacred Music FestivalImage by dreamsjung via Flickr
With a head still full of great sounds from yesterday's World Sacred Music Festival, my offering today follows that theme. Jugalbandi Trio plays music rooted in the ragas of North India, but spiced with a European/jazz sensibility. Suman Sarkar's tabla sets the atmosphere for their compositions. Fabian Fiorini's piano is probably the most improvisational element. And Fabian Beghin's bansuri (transverse bamboo flute) weaves melodic lines atop them.

On this track--probably my favorite from this album--Beghin puts down the flute and instead plays bells. The unusual combination of bells with tabla works remarkably well, to my ear.

[mp3] Jugalbandi Trio: "Raga Bageshree"
from the album Doab (2005, Home Records)

sample the entire album online at the Home Records website.

A Home compilation available for download at Calabash includes another track from Jugalbandi Trio, along with music from Turlu Tursu and others (click to hear):
Homerecords - Volume One

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