We can listen to a song and think we know the singer. And in the case of Violeta Parra (1917-1967) perhaps this is so.
She seems to spring fully formed at us, an autodidact revolutionary and creative to an impossible degree. She was the mother of the Nueva Canción movement, tirelessly researching the rich folkloric music of Chile, taking nourishment from it, and going on to create her own uncannily free, sophisticated yet utterly passionate songs. Her artworks were exhibited at the Louvre, and she single handedly legitimized her native culture in the eyes of the world. All this, in a country where women were first given the vote in 1952.
This is no news for Chileans. But perhaps it is news for you. Have I whetted your curiosity?
Violeta Went to Heaven, a film by Andres Wood, and starring Francisca Gavilán as Violeta Parra will be opened at New York's Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema March 29. It may go on to play at a cinema near you -- or maybe by now you can rent it!
I am so glad that I was able to interview the director, because his film is an open-ended work of art in many ways. Wood has not attempted a documentary, nor for that matter, the kind of narrative style that might keep us in our comfort zone. He gives us Violeta's world, a world in which happiness is bliss and every sorrow is a mortal wound. It is a vivid cinematic improvisation, much as Violeta's life was an improvisation. Francisca Gavilán delivers a performance that is deep in its understanding of character, and faithful to Parra's soul and musicality. I must also commend the arrangement for "Arriba Quemando el Sol," which lifts the song out of its simpler (but powerful) harmonic folk base and onto another, higher plane that speaks to the kind of pivotal life change that the film's story requires of it.
Kino Lorber has kindly given me the music clips I requested which speak for themselves, (be sure to watch them!) and Andres Wood was eloquent in answering my questions. Here is my report.
If you love music, great acting and challenging cinematography, see this film.
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.
Japan's NHK World NEWSLINE program reported on the two disasters to hit Asia this past week. The first report aired April 24, and covered the latest garment factory collapse in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. The second report LinkAsia covered this week aired April 23, and focused on the response to the earthquake in China's Sichuan province.
The upper part of the commercial building suddenly collapsed during the busy morning period. The structure housed a clothing factory, bank and a shopping center. Many people are feared trapped inside. Workers at the factory were starting their shifts and some shops were already open. More than 100 people are reportedly hurt. Soldiers and citizens are helping with the rescue operation. Local media say a crack was detected in the wall of the building on Tuesday, but people were still allowed to go inside.
The response to the Sichuan earthquake is an important test for China's new president Xi Jinping. Five years ago, the former government was widely criticized for its poor response to an earthquake, which also occurred in Sichuan Province. That quake killed nearly 70,000 people. For more on the Chinese government's response to this latest earthquake, here's NHK.
The quake is the first large natural disaster since President Xi took office last month. He swears that his government will do everything possible to help survivors. Officials are also making sure the public knows about the government's efforts.
Premier Li Keqiang traveled by helicopter to the stricken areas on the day of the quake. He instructed rescuers to do all they could to save lives. His visit was reminiscent of the one by his predecessor Wen Jiabao. The former premier visited Sichuan years ago just hours after another huge quake hit the region. He tried to show the government's readiness to support survivors.
Authorities are highlighting other aspects of the government's response to the latest earthquake. Chinese media have been reporting in detail on the rescue effort. State run tv has broadcast repeated footage of the military's operations along with images of people receiving relief goods. Officials seem to want to show the public that the government's response is going well. An expert in risk management with a government affiliated think tank says China's leaders are paying more attention than ever to disaster response.
The disaster is not the only matter at home that China must address, the country's also struggling with a widening wealth gap and the recent outbreak of a new strain of bird flu. Compared to when the 2008 quake struck, people in China can now share information more quickly. Over 500 million Chinese are said to have internet access. Public discontent can spread in an instant.
A posting on China's version of Twitter is critical of the government's earthquake response. It says officials have failed to make use of lessons from the disaster 5 years ago. Wang says authorities need to quickly share information with the public. He says that's crucial for social stability.
China's leaders were harshly criticized for the slow response to the last earthquake in 2008. People were also angered by regional disparities in reconstruction efforts. Members of President Xi's government are keen to avoid making the same mistakes.
I first became acquainted with Sonya Mazumdar as a voice at one end of a US-India Skype session about Link's licensing of "Laya Project" a dazzling musical journey around the areas devastated by the massive 2004 Tsunami. The newly formed Indian production company and record label EarthSync India had just released the film as its first endeavor. The haunting travelogue garnered honors over the intervening years, and when EarthSync launched its spinoff website IndiEarth Sonya contacted me again to see if I would allow their site to stream some of my relevant videoblogs. But of course I would!
Then, many months later (yet still rather suddenly) came an invitation from Sonya to attend the first IndiEarth XChange in Chennai. Rarely one to refuse an invitation to a new place, I found myself taking the long trip to Southeast India, to report on another maiden voyage from the young, pioneering Earthsync/IndiEarth. This time it was a meeting of international and local media, with film screenings and musical performances, along with panel discussions and networking to be held at the Park Chennai Hotel. It was an ambitious project (intended to be a prototype) requiring its own networking and funding, plus massive coordination. The aim was to lay the foundation for a network of dedicated professionals supporting independent music and cinema in India.
It was a hectic three days, and the large turnout participated in vigorous panels about the obstacles and opportunities for music and film in Southeast Asia and Oceania, as well as the remarkably varied musical fare. What made it exciting for me, was the un-Western media presence. Aside from Indian, there was a significant Australian media contingent. In particular, the magnificently feisty Kate Welsman an Australian Public Radio deejay was quick to point out that there was a noticeable shift in markets of all kinds from West to East, and music was a part of that market. It made sense. At the same time it was also made clear by both the musicians and film-makers, that the audience demographics for Southeast Asia needed to be cultivated, and weaned away from a straight diet of Bollywood, which still holds the business reins in a rigidly controlled grip.
For my part, I ran around taking as much video as I could, and focusing of course, on music. But I simply could not catch it all. So what you are seeing in my video is just a wee fraction of the music that was performed in the lobby, bar, main stage and other impromptu venues.
In all, I was very excited by the spirit of IndiEarth Exchange. The people who were gathered together were bright, creative, energetic and pro-active. I felt challenged and stimulated, as well as entertained. I believe something will come from this. It may not come immediately, but it will come.
For more information about EarthSync India, visit earthsync.com.
For the complete performance of song by Parvathy and Lakshman Das Baul, click here.
For complete song by Karthick Iyer, click here.
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.