Laya Project: The Movie (EarthSync / Clementine Studios / Boo Films, 2008)
Not too long ago World Music Central ran a review of the Laya Project. What appeared was a music review, since I couldn’t get the companion DVD to run on any of our computers or our DVD player. The music on the two CDs was simply too wonderful to go without mention, so I thought that a good music review would inform fans. What was a film going to do that the music couldn’t, right? Well, after the review was posted the nice folks at EarthSync sent me a email, thanking me for the review despite that I hadn’t seen the film. They quickly offered to send another DVD that would be American friendly. While I waited, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they had thought I had missed something by not seeing the film. Now, after seeing the film, I can say they were absolutely correct. By not having the film documenting the music, I had missed the very point of the Laya Project.
Part sumptuous music video, part documentary and part ritual, the Laya Project film is a journey into the 2004 tsunami-affected areas of India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. But this is no ordinary look back at disaster-stricken region. There are no shots of a broken toy stuck in the mud, no overhead views of demolished villages and no crying in this film. I think that’s important to mention here, because this is the sort of knowledge we should have of places, peoples and music. It’s the proof that what’s being shown is precious, fragile and worth saving.
Doing what I do, I often fall into the thinking that music falls from the sky in perfectly formed disks and ends up in my mailbox. This is where the film of the Laya Project set me straight. Music bubbles up from the earth, rains down from the sky and rolls in on a wave through the very pores of musicians and singers. Where I got it wrong was thinking that I could come up with satisfying music review without the physical places, the people and the rituals from which this music springs. Without the film I had missed the context.
This film is indeed about the music and that music springs from everywhere. Musicians and singers weave their magic spells from the spare interiors of studios, open ground in front of a wooden building, in the middle of coconut trees, a Muslim mosque, a Buddhist temple, a simple room as two children peek through a window and around a bonfire at night. Interspersed in between shots of the musicians and singers are the faces of the children and people from each of these countries. Director Harold Monfils opens a line of real understanding by capturing not only the faces of these peoples, but by offering a glimpse into the very architecture these lives with shots of farms and farmers, fishermen on their boats going out to see and the spiritual centers around which these peoples’ lives revolve. But always there are the shots of the sea and the sky. Shots of rough waters crashing against the shore and monster-sized, angry-looking cloud banks sailing across the sky serve as a reminder that these people live very close to nature, a nature that can be cruel and unforgiving.
There can be no doubt that the Laya Project film put the music in perspective for me. The open air shots of the percussion circle of vocalist Ismail AK and chorus in "Katalu," the studio footage of musicians and Dr. K.A. Gunasekhran singing "Hai La Sa" and Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Sabumudeen Babha Sabeer singing "Ya Allah" in the mosque made the music of Laya perfectly plain. The wonderfulness of the photography combined with the music of "Water Side Tales," "Rain Buddha" and "A New Day" made all the difference. The music and the film footage of the musicians on "Tapatam" with tabla and percussionist K.V Balakrishnan is a percussion masterpiece and a personal favorite. The extras on Laya Project are equally engaging with villagers gathered around to hear the song "Abudaho," the women singers from Maldives on "Watifa" and the story of the singing fishermen from "Arugam Bay."
The Laya Project film did more than bring the music to life – it made the music precious. This music lives a fragile existence, not on the CD that I receive in the mail, but in the very lives of these people from India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. The good people at EarthSync, Clementine Studios and Boo Films, director Harold Monfils, music director Patric Sebag, recording wizard Yotam Agam, producers Sonya Mazumdar and Joanne de Razario and executive producer Sastry Karra have made a film that is as equally precious as the music itself.