New Day: Laya Project Remixed
[earthsync]   review from douglas heselgrave  

When a tsunami struck South Asia on December 26, 2004, the world's communities put aside their differences and flew into action. Donations of food, money and resources poured in from every corner of the earth. Humanitarian aid groups hit the ground running, and in the wake of such tragedy and devastation, the kindness and care that often lays obscured deeply within the human spirit came shining through. For weeks, the evening news was filled with individual stories of great sacrifice and bravery undertaken on behalf of those who had lost everything in the storms. Incidents like this remind us of how tenuous the threads of life are, and that a single incident can change the lives of thousands of people. It was gratifying to see how in a world as torn apart by sectarian differences, war and economic strife as ours is, that people still chose to rise above divisive forces and exhibit compassion and care to strangers in need.

As the tsunami subsided, Earthsync — a world music enterprise based in Chennai, South India - sent a crew of field recordists and film makers into the areas most seriously affected by the devastation to document the struggles of the people trying to rebuild their lives. As the crew traveled through Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, The Maldives, Myanmar and India, they recorded songs that reflected the folk traditions in each place they visited as a way of capturing the voice of common people affected by a natural disaster. Though the singers and players were often unknown outside of their village or had little experience with formal music making, the vitality of their performances made up for what they lacked in polish and sophistication.

The resulting film and 2 CDs that came out of Earthsync's two year journey through the region reinforce the idea that music does not stand or exist separately from the rest of existence. It is an integral aspect of human communication and is part of the ebb and flow of life. It is the most eloquent expression of a people that transcends language, place, religion and belief. To see and hear the performances on Laya is to understand absolutely that music has the power to heal, and that it would exist even without people to sing and play it. The music on Laya seems to emerge from the air and water and to be borne on the wind. Without even intending to, the contributors to the original Laya release blessed their audiences - not only with a peerless collection of songs- but also with tangible proof of the resilience and strength that lies dormant within the human spirit.

For the original release, Patrick Sebag and Yotam Agam took the field recordings into the studio and selected the best of them to work with. Then, they established a running order of songs spread over two CDS that told a story. The pair unified the recordings from different musical traditions by adding subtle touches of electronica to weave the disparate songs together. They were then mastered at Clementine Studios in Chennai. The result was a seamless, floating musical journey through the tsunami lands — that solidified the lesson of the tsunami that floods and natural disaster neither blame nor spare anyone. The accompanying film directed by Harold Monfils is just as indispensable as the music, and provided a visual illumination of the people and processes that gave birth to the songs.

The original Laya Package that included both the music and the film was so perfectly conceived and pure in its intentions that it was with some trepidation that I learned about Earthsync's decision to remix the original songs into a new 2 CD set. Some things, I thought, are better left alone. Yet, having spent two weeks listening to the remixed songs in a variety of contexts and situations, it's been a relief to discover that in most cases the recalibrated tracks are every bit as worthy as the originals were. The cuts on New Day: Laya Project Remixed do not sound tossed off or as if they exist simply to cash in on the success and good will created by the original project.

The remixed CDs do not include new versions of every song in the original set. More than twenty of the planet's top world music DJs were offered the opportunity to choose a track to tinker with for the project, and not surprisingly some of them chose to work with the same song. Yet, it is a testament to the creativity of the assembled artists that none of the remixed tracks sound even remotely the same. The re-imagined tracks are divided into two CDs entitled 'Embrace' and 'Union' with the songs on the first disc embracing a more 'chilled out' sound while the songs on 'Union' generally have a harder edge.

Certainly, some people will prefer the songs on one disc over those on the other, but that is primarily a question of personal taste and inclination. The quality of each of the tracks is surprisingly high for a project with such scope and diversity. Those who like their electronic music to be ethereal and dreamy will find a lot to enjoy on 'Embrace.' Beautiful vocals meshed with calming bird and water sounds over a gentle bed of electronic and folk textures make this disc a perfect collection of sacred songs, ideal for reflection and contemplation after a long night out. It's hard to fault any of the tracks on this disc, but Pitch Black's 'A new Day' and 'Glorious Sun' by Bhakti Brothers and MC Yogi are amongst the best cuts. Yoga practitioners will certainly also enjoy 'Pathaan Tribute's version of 'Sunrise' as the singer takes the listener through the paces of a hip hop inspired Sun Salutation sequence.

The tracks on 'Union' honor the original versions, but the remix artists have generally chosen to emphasize the rhythms embedded in each song rather than the obvious melodies. The electronic sounds and effects are generally sharper and more insistent, so they're often more dance friendly than the tracks on 'Embrace'. For example, the ethereal swirling textures that Pitch Black lovingly created for 'New Day' on the first CD, disappear under layers of looping polyrhythms in Chris Zippel's vision of the tune. Cheb I Sabbah's Touare and Ya Allah show off his continued interest in Islamic and Sufi grooves and are amongst the many highlights on this disc. In terms of dynamics and playful dalliances with the ebb and flow of dance rhythms, dimmSummer's 'Rain Buddha' and Midival Punditz's Katalu Talu are wonderful tracks, brimming with creative musical ideas.

In the end, there's something for everyone to enjoy on Laya Remixed. Ethno-musicologists will admire how sensitively the original folk aspects of the songs have been preserved and expanded upon. Ambient music lovers will have a field day with the tracks on 'Embrace' and the dance crowd will find a virtual treasure trove on 'Union.' With Laya Remixed, the people at EarthSync have beaten the odds to produce a follow up 'Laya' that is every bit as dynamic and enjoyable as the original.

ethnotechno rating: 5
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  1. A New Day (Pitch Black Remix) (pick)
  2. Nium Nium (Earthrise Soundsystem Remix)
  3. Glorious Sun (Bhakti Brothers Remix) (pick)
  4. Sunset In Akkarai (Desert Dwellers Remix)
  5. Hai La Sa (Eastern Spirit Remix)
  6. Glorious Sun-Ya Allah-Muliya-Farihi (Ferenz Kallos Remix)
  7. Muliya (Shaman's Dream Remix)
  8. sunrise In Injumbakam (Pathaan's Tribute Remix) (pick)
  9. Waterside Tales (Bombay Dub Orchestra's Blade Runner Remix)
  10. Glorious Sun (Karsh Kale Brand New Dawn Mix) (pick)

  1. A New Day (Chris Zippel's Genuine Remix) (pick)
  2. Tapatam (Dub Gabriel Remix)
  3. Ya Allah (Sufi Dubstars Remix)
  4. Sunset In Akkarai (Desert Dwellers Dance Remix)
  5. Touare (Cheb I Sabbah's The Ambergris Remix)
  6. Ya Allah (Cheb I Sabbah's The Please Wipe Our Tears Remix) (pick)
  7. Rain Buddha (dimmSummer Remix) (pick)
  8. Katalu Talu (Midival Punditz Remix)
  9. going To Seville (Kaya Project Remix)
  10. Hai La Sa (Nickodemus Remix)
  11. Farihi (Fabian Alsultany Remix)
  12. Laya Mantra (Kartick & Gotam Yalla Mantra Remix) (pick)