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.
Wolves were once federally protected but now can be hunted again, making the fate and future of the wolf more controversial than ever. UK journalist Jim Wickens reports from Wyoming and Montana to provide his unique insight into the wolf wars of the West. His blog accompanies the exclusive Earth Focus report, Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves, now online!
A sharp intake of breath. The bow tightens. A momentary silence, and then a whip-like crack as a silicon-tipped arrow flies, hammering into a tree trunk 30 meters away with a determined thud. We are with the president of Helena Bow hunters, a proud organization of local people who hunt down elk, deer, mountain lions, and even bears with just a bow and arrow. Reviled by animal rights advocates, bow hunters are a fairly cautious lot. But after a lot of effort we managed to track down the president to ask about wolves.
As anyone who has ever lived abroad will attest to, the international media love to frame US hunters as a uniform bunch of tea-party, gun-toting, trophy-chasing elderly white men from Texas. Forgive the painfully simplistic stereotype, but I'm sure you get the point.
Predictably perhaps, I was in for a shock. In our naivety, we hadn't been expecting a woman, let alone a nurse in a beat-up old car, to be meeting us at the archery range on the outskirts of Helena. With a wide smile and a contagious fire in her eyes, Joelle Silk then spent the next two hours shooting down the stereotypes that cling to attitudes regarding hunting in the US. A deep knowledge of Montanan forest ecology, a passion for the outdoors and a distinct humbleness marked out Joelle from anything I was expecting to find. For the last 20 years she has immersed herself in traditional bow hunting, a past-time that requires the hunter to get within 30 yards of their quarry, requiring immense skill, patience and dedication. Joelle had got involved with hunting two decades ago when she worked for the national park service, seeing it as a way to feed herself with a limited income. And she was quick to explain that for many people in Montana who live on below average national income, the bagging of an elk or deer can keep a family fed for months. There are people out hunting for trophies, but for Joelle and indeed almost every interviewee we had met in Montana, the annual 'elk tag' fee that people buy over the counter enables people to eat a meat that is natural, hormone-free and a world-away from the factory-farm hell where the majority of meat and dairy on sale in American supermarkets comes from.
The problem is that wolves like elk too. A lot. Since wolves were introduced to Yellowstone the elk herd has dramatically reduced. It is, according to wolf advocates, a 'leaner but meaner elk herd' that we see today in Montana. But there is no doubt that the huge herd sizes have gone and that elk have dispersed around the state. Ordinary blue-collar folk in Montana are finding it harder to locate the elk, and so it is not surprising that they feel threatened by wolves, a species that is now competing with them for the cheapest, healthiest and arguably the most ethical source of meat in the state. Earlier on in the day I had spent time chatting with a middle-aged Montanan couple sat in the booth next to us in a diner. The lady said that when her kids were growing up, she wouldn't have known how they would have got by were it not for the free meat that wild-elk in the freezer provided.
However understandable these fears might be, fish and game authority figures do suggest otherwise: the elk herd in Montana is currently at or even above the desired size of 150,000 animals, and that is with a wolf pack in excess of 600 animals. But there does seem to be little doubt that wolves are dispersing elk, breaking them into smaller groups and dispersing them out of traditional grounds, basically making the chase just a little bit harder for would-be hunters and home providers.
Joelle doesn't seem too worried about this, but adds that her members are simply relieved that finally Montanans can begin to manage wolf numbers through a legalized wolf hunt, as they do any other species from ungulates through to bob cats or mountain lions.
As I have come to learn over this last week, for outsiders looking into this debate, the empowerment aspect of the Rocky mountain wolf hunts should not be underestimated. Numbers aside, and irrespective of the ethics of hunting carnivores such as wolves with traps, guns, or bows; paradoxically it seems to me that wolves may just stand a better chance of acceptance within Montana precisely because they can be legally hunted and killed.
Although she won't admit it on camera, I suspect that Joelle might be one of many secretly hoping that wolves remain in Montana for a long time to come.
Jim Wickens is one of Britain's leading investigative journalists and the co-founder of both the Ecologist Film Unit and also Ecostorm, the environmental media agency. Jim has spend the last decade documenting unreported issues around the world, including exposing illicit whale-meat smuggling networks in Japan, filming the brutal Namibian seal hunt, documenting soya-related murders and poisoning in Argentina, breaking the story of fracking problems in the US, and filming illegal trawlers far out to sea on the Burmese border.