August 15th marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two. It's also the day when Japanese honor their war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Yasukuni is controversial because it also commemorates fifteen men convicted for war crimes. So, paying respects at the shrine angers many in Japan and abroad, because they view the shrine as a memorial to Japanese militarism. This year, many notables, including members of the Japanese government, stayed away from Yasukuni. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported from the shrine.
Many Japanese observe this rite year after year. They head to Yasukuni shrine which honors the war dead. They stop and pray for those who died for Japan.
Shrine visitor 1:
I'd like to come here as long as I live and pray that my father's soul is in peace.
Shrine visitor 2:
My father died in the war. I come here to feel close to him, even at my age.
This shinto shrine was constructed in the late 1800s to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the process of building Japan. The shrine commemorates two and a half million people. In the 1970s, officials here decided to enshrine wartime military and political leaders. Some have been convicted of war crime by the international military tribunal after World War Two. A number of Japanese lawmakers visit every year on this day. About one hundred came today, including members of the cabinet.
Yoshitaka Shindo, Japanese Official:
I came here today to pay my respects to those who devoted themselves to protect the country and their loved ones.
Chinese and South Korean leaders have criticized their Japanese counterparts for going to the shrine. Four South Korean lawmakers tried to get in to protest in person, but police blocked them to prevent trouble. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said other members of his cabinet were free to visit on the anniversary. He chose not to go. He says he will not disclose whether he will visit the shrine in the future, noting that it could cause diplomatic difficulties.
I first heard Falu at a concert in a yoga studio, about 6 years ago. There was a buzz about her then, but her presentation was quite different. Falguni Shah (Falu) seemed bird-like, fragile and shy although her voice was strong and assured. Over time, I was sent a CD and I kept track of her in an oblique way, as her various publicists kept me informed. Everyone knew she was talented, but I personally never felt that the package was quite right. Now, with the release of the independently produced Foras Road, I think she has found a production sound that fits her artistic explorations, and is the right setting for her fine voice. Kudos to producer and bass player Danny Blume for that.
Not that Falu hasn't had her triumphs in the intervening years; she has done her share of high-profile gigs playing with her band for the Dalai Lama, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She has collaborated with the likes of A.R, Rahman and Yo-Yo Ma. She emerges now as a sleek, confident performer with a devoted following both within and outside of the Indian community.
Her sound, as you will hear, is a mix of different worlds. In this song "Ghumar," for example, a Dhol drum pounds out a bhangra beat, while a Givson (no that's not a misprint, it's not a Gibson) mandolin provides the textural ear candy as Falu's sinuous voice hovers and dips through complex, compelling melodies. The lady has chops, for sure, honed by a lifetime of rigorous study with various Indian vocal gurus.
The Highline Ballroom was packed, and this video was taken from the balcony, so I was thankful for the zoom on my camcorder. And besides "Ghumar" there were several real standouts from the show as well; "Savan" was a deeply sensuous song of longing accompanied by the versatile Mark Tewarson on dobro, injecting a languid, country blues feel. In "Eastbound," Falu utilized the taan technique, a kind of scatting, in a rapid-fire exchange with the tablas of Deep Singh. For "Bahaar" Falu brought out an actual string quartet to perform on stage with her, and it worked beautifully. The band itself was tight and spirited, rounded out by the excellent David Sharma on kit drums, Soumya Chatterjee on violin, and Gaurav Shah on harmonium and vocals.
I had invited my niece Rachel to the concert, whose ears are quite open, but whose contact with Indian vocal music has been minimal. On the way home she asked me "Why is it that when we hear a voice singing, we feel such a direct physical and emotional connection?" While the answer to this question may seem axiomatic, the fact that she raised this issue speaks volumes about the caliber of Falu's performance.
The performance at the Highline was co-sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization whose mission is to showcase and build an awareness for performing, visual and literary arts from/of/about the Indian subcontinent.
For more information about Foras Road the CD, and Falu, visit: falumusic.com
For more information about the Indo-American Arts Council visit: iaac.us
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.