EarthSync’s Laya Project packages traditional rhythms with contemporary appeal

Laya Project, a collection of sights and sounds from the shorelines of six countries hit by the 2004 tsunami, has an irresistible charm because it captures music without frills and Nature in the raw.

While unearthing and recording the folk music of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar and India, commentaries, more visual, about the land and the people have been inserted unobtrusively.

With the lens running over atolls, wharves and jungles, the images complement the music, and together, they evoke a sense of the primal and pristine.

This rare visual-aural experience has been presented at live concerts around the country and beyond.

Now, anyone can have a taste of it in the comfort of his living room, as EarthSync, the music label behind the Project, has made a DVD and an audio CD of it. The product will be formally launched in the market about two months from now.

EarthSync has great expectations from Laya Project because it has presented traditional music forms in a way that has contemporary appeal. Sonya Majumdar, chief executive officer of the record label, says musicians featured in Laya are extremely faithful to their music forms, and their ‘sounds’ were not tampered with while being ‘treated’ and arranged into a format in the studio.

At a time when rural youth are also moving towards commercial music, packaging folk music can help it in its struggle for survival.

Sonya believes that with some help, folk musicians can have wider influence. “After watching our portion on tapattam, those interested in trance music were excited. Tapattam is trance music in its natural form,” she says.

As the team hopped form one shore to another, it noticed a unity in the sentiments people held towards the sea. Despite the misfortune it had brought, the ocean had not fallen in the eyes of the fisherfolk. The respect for the ocean was still intact. From different places, they recorded folk songs with the common theme of thankfulness to the supreme power. A small booklet helps one navigate through what one hears and sees in the DVD. There is English translation for some songs and commentaries on music forms.

The focus of Laya Project is not on the victims of the tsunami. References to the natural disaster are few, with a man in the Maldives narrating how the waves lashed at their dwelling and a Thai boatman explaining life after the tsunami. “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.”

As the EarthSync team embarked on the project, the brainchild of Sastry Karra, immediately after the tsunami, they could experience the tragedy from close quarters. “North Sumatra wore a deserted look,” recollects Yotam Agam, director, sound design. “Most of the people had fled to the mountains. We stayed in an abandoned hotel.” There was no one around to make a bill for their stay!

A voice like no other

As it traced the devastated tracks, the team gained cultural and social insights and made interesting discoveries. In the Maldives, they encountered a community where the women lingered in the backdrop while the men hogged the microphone. After a whole day of recording had gone past, a woman literally appeared out of bush and asked if she could sing a folk song. Prior to that, she had got the nod from her husband. The beauty of her voice eclipsed any other that was heard before.

In Nagore, the team was surprised to discover a group of Sufi singers, normally associated with the North West of the sub-continent.