Music of the Tsunami

Music of the Tsunami

Life ends but only once

Let us wipe the sweat of fear

We shall convert the salty sea to but a drop

And hold it in our palm...

Hai La Sa, Hai La Sa

(Translated from the original Tamil folk song, Hai La Sa)

Fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu often sing this haunting ode to the Indian Ocean, as the sun rises and they set sailing with fishing nets into the deep. Most of them are survivors of the tsunami, but their reverence and love for, and respect for the ocean’s mysteries have not ebbed. Their spirits are determined by that of the waters’—and they acknowledge this through their music. It’s a poignant fact, reiterated beautifully by the makers of Laya Project, a DVD and CD of music recorded in six tsunami-affected countries—Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and India.

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A team of seasoned sound recorders, producers, cinematographers and other technicians from EarthSync, a Chennai-based records label, travelled through seaside towns and villages of these countries for two and a half years, recording first hand, their songs, instruments, and the sounds of their sea.

The team returned to Chennai and mixed studio sounds of sophisticated instruments with the recorded music and produced a CD and DVD that is a musical tribute to human resilience and man’s relationship with nature. More so, this production can be said to herald a new genre in India: the musical documentary.

The visuals of Laya Project is breathtaking—unspoilt expanses of the sea were their canvasses wherever they went, so let’s not count Laya Project’s cinematography as its greatest achievement. Although the unease and danger lurking between the lines of the fisherfolks’ paeans to the sea can be felt throughout the 1-hour narrative, the picture-perfect visuals work, because they serve as the dialogues of the tsunami survivors.

There are very few non-lyrical, non-musical words in this film. A few, spoken by a Thai boatman, speak on behalf of a people united by fear, its denial and love for the object of fear: “Some people say the island is spooky. Speaking for myself, there is nothing to be scared of. People died and their spirits went away. There is nothing to be scared of."

Says Yotam Agam, chief technical officer, EarthSync, who was on the journey, “Every country had its own set of difficulties that we had to work with—transportation, electricity, and accommodation. Research was also difficult, as the regions we wanted to explore were remote and unknown." Among many others, the team recorded a group of elderly Sufi Dargah singers from Nagore, Tamil Nadu, which make for engrossing listening and viewing. “We did not realize there were Sufi singers down South. We were overwhelmed with their style of singing and we’re soon going to release an exclusive album with them. The release is slated for next month."

As it traced the devastated beaches, some of which were deserted even in 2007, the team made interesting discoveries. In the Maldives, they encountered a community where women were shunned to the background, as the men spoke to them and sang to their microphones. After a day of recording, a woman, Farihi, appeared out of a bush and asked the team if she could sing a folk song. The beauty of her voice and her plaintive song eclipsed others that were recorded that day and the song made it to the final list as Budeburu.

Other gems include a solo track called Waterside recorded in Thailand, overlaid in the studios by chants of Buddhist monks; tribal percussionists sounds of the Tappatam and Tudumbattam drummers from Tamil Nadu; and Gaya dancers from Indonesia.

The Laya Project was aired on the National Geographic Channel earlier this year and the DVD and CD just arrived in Indian stores.