14 September 2009

Monday's mp3: Life After Tsunami

Laya Project (EarthSync India)

In December 2004, a tsunami swept through communities bordering the Indian Ocean in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar and India. This DVD and two companion audio CDs document the music and the culture of these people and their post-disaster resilience. The video cuts together images of the musicians recording with scenes of everyday life for these cultures on the edge of the sea to a musical track of field recordings sometimes mixed with studio recordings.

The filmmakers and audio engineers don't make an appearance in the film. No narration tells you what to think of these cultures; local people speak (a little) and make music (a lot) for themselves, and titles identify locations. Otherwise the meanings remain open to one's own interpretation, though it is clear that the filmmakers value the region's rich history, cultural diversity, and physical beauty. Young boys run along a dirt street rolling bicycle tires; muslims pray in a mosque; fishermen tie nets beneath ominous clouds.

In India, the filmmakers' car became their mobile recording studio, with the seats removed and car batteries connected for power. In the Indonesian village of Takengon, locals performed the Didong, a popular song including remarkable body percussion. My favorite may be the Muslim chant "Ya Allah," whose lyrics translate in part as:

I am not the one who forgets you in this living world O Allah
When sadness surrounds me, you give me comfort O Allah
There is no God but Allah
[mp3] unidentified artists: Ya Allah
from Laya Project

The film's focus is on the local people, whom you can find out more about at the website www.layaproject.com -- including a wealth of information not included in the photo-rich companion booklet. Much of the music and imagery conveys a rich local life focused on work, school, community, and spirituality. The film doesn't show much explicit joy; neither does it include any sympathy-milking images of sorry or destruction. The people are just people, living their lives, apparently pleased to share their formidable musical skills with the wandering filmmakers.

If there's a flaw in Laya Project, it may be that the filmmakers tried too hard. They cleaned up the audio so much it's hard to believe that the sounds you're hearing actually came from the outdoor sessions you're watching. And except for a few interviews (with subtitles), the film contains little to acknowledge the massive tragedy that took more than a quarter-million lives just five years ago and that was the very impetus for the filmmakers. But the Laya Project is dedicated to the survivors, not the dead, and this region is their home. They're more than survivors, statistics, victims; they are vibrant living people, and this film is a deep, respectful, and touching glimpse of their life and culture.

Laya Project videos:

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