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George Town

Festival – Penang, Malaysia

29 July - 28 August 2016

The annual George Town Festival brings together artists, mainly local and regional, from diverse fields like theatre, dance, circus, puppetry, etc. to entertain and inform. Inaugurated in 2010 to commemorate the town being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the aim of the festival is to promote the arts within the region and make culture accessible to all. Hence, ticket prices are kept affordable and the majority of the events are free. More than half the shows are by local and regional performers.

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Hungry Ghost Festival – Singapore

3-31 August 2016

Some Chinese believe that during the seventh month of the lunar year, the souls of the dead roam the earth and get up to all kinds of mischief if they are not appeased. In many areas people leave food, “hell” money and paper cut-outs of worldly possessions out in the open for the dead souls to indulge themselves.

 

 

Brifely

Tourists! – You are wanted
Lao authorities have prioritized tourism infrastructure, management and publicity in a bid to attract more than 6 million visitors and generate revenue of US$953 million a year by 2020. The emphasis will be on promoting communitybased ecotourism.



Religion roped into fighting climate change
14 religious groups in Vietnam have enlisted the help of their faithful to play a part in increasing awareness of climate change and environmental protection. The country is among the five that will be most affected by global warming.



Blue skies over ASEAN
Indonesia has signed up to the ASEAN Single Aviation Market that will unite the region’s ten members. This will not only make the flow of people and cargo easier but will also boost economic growth in Southeast Asia.



Indonesian exports aiming to get high on caffeine in 2016
Indonesia is targeting an export figure of $1.4 billion in coffee exports by the end of 2016. A key strategy will be to boost foreign sales through promotional activities at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Expo 2016, where 17 Indonesian specialty brands will be on display.



Myanmar should sow seeds of agricultural prosperity
A study by the OECD Development Centre and multiple stakeholders has identified agriculture and agribusiness as investment areas where the country could reap the biggest benefits and return to its role as the rice bowl of Southeast Asia.



Thailand tightens screws on expats
Conflicting press reports, state that the Immigration Bureau, citing national security, is asking foreigners resident in the kingdom, for personal details of bank accounts, social media sites they visit, and places of leisure that they frequent.



Champassak to strip down imported sinhs
Complaints that inferior imports are affecting the businesses of local manufacturers and ruining the reputation of traditional Lao skirts, has forced the authorities to announce curbs on sinhs from across the border.

The Artillery of Sound

- Philippines -

There is a war in Lake Sebu, Philippines. The artillery chosen is music. On one side of the fence is Divine Chanter, Rosie Sula also known as Lamingon. She is sprawled on the wooden floor of The School of Living Tradition as young students gather at her feet, waiting for her to receive inspiration from the god, D’wata.

The T’bolis, the tribe that Rosie belongs to, is known to have the highest tonal range among all tribes in Southeast Asia. But the voice is a mere vessel. It is the stories of each chant, the stories of rivers and age-old traditions that her captive audience comes for.

In Lake Sebu, they call artists dreamers for they believe that it is only through the spirits that they are able to create.

Sebu Lake
Sebu Lake

Rosie’s chants are never memorized. She has no records of her past performances which last from moonlight to midmorning.

She lets out a long shriek before starting a tantric incantation. “Our culture was given by the gods and passed on by our ancestors. Preserve it. Take good care of it,” she chants.

Her surreal alien song though, is interrupted by the line-in echo of a microphone across the street.

On the other side of the fence in this war of sound is Mark Meyen, a motorcycle driver practicing for his audition for The Voice. He puts the videoke on maximum volume as he belts out a rendition of Faithfully by the Journey, his full baritone cutting through the noise of passing cars.

Mark is from the same tribe as Rosie. He was born a T’boli and, in many ways, still adheres to the customs of his tribe. He has five wives and eight children.

Stronger than his lineage though is Mark’s dream of becoming famous. He has joined almost every local singing contest in Lake Sebu and serenades his foreign customers during long rides on his motorcycle. He hopes that someone will take notice of his talent, so he can finally send his children to school.

Chanting is an archaic practice best left to the elders, he thinks. He would rather sing cover songs by Richard Marx instead.

(Kubling is a traditional instrument used by T’bolis. A row of small, horizontally -laid gongs that function melodically - On the Right picture.)

“That sound is my enemy,” Rosie points out of Mark’s loud override as the tradition of their people is on the verge of cultural extinction because of the influx of skinny jeans, English movies, and Converse sneakers.

In retaliation, Rosie teaches as many young people as she can every Saturday, testing them on the origins of instruments like the kubling. She dresses her granddaughters in traditional garb even when doing trivial errands.

In this most auditory battle between tradition and modernity, each party refuses to back down. Separated by a mere highway, their arsenal of sound and sentiment seem to be heard from the Mount Busa all the way to the Lake Sebu where the silence of the water absorbs the vibrations.

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Words & Photos By Johana Michele Lim
Illustrations by The OO

Jonny Olsen

Mawkhaen Jonny Olsen is a Californian who fell in love with Isan music almost 14 years ago, while working in a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles. On a later visit to Laos, he was introduced to the khaen and his love affair with the instrument began. In 2005 he won a khaen-playing contest in Khon Kaen. In 2008 he released his first album Jonny Yak Pen Khon Lao. A molam singer too, Jonny is constantly experimenting with fusion. He regrets that while people in the West are taking more interest in the khaen, in Laos the situation is completely different, especially among younger people.

Do you think it has the potential to interest audiences outside Laos?
What kind of a reaction do you get when you play it? Yes I believe it has the potential to go internationally mainstream. I have played it with many types of music; pop, rock, hip hop, blues, reggae, jazz, dance, Italian, Japanese and Indian folk music and classical. I play the khaen every year during Christmas and family and friends sing along with it. It sounds amazing. You can listen to different kinds of music on the khaen on my YouTube channel.

What do you see yourself doing with it in the future? In the very near future I’m getting married in California on the beach. I see myself spending the rest of my life with the one I love. I see us travelling across the world together, meeting people and helping them anyway we can. I see myself collaborating and performing with many different artists from multiple genres internationally. I see myself teaching the khaen like I am doing currently on Skype. I see myself returning to Laos with my wife to travel and perform the khaen. Perhaps we could live there if the circumstances fit our lifestyle. I see myself writing a book of Lao folk stories of the khaen. Basically, I see myself always doing many things with the khaen. 

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By David Fairhurst

Interview Mawkhaen Jhonny Olsen

 Khaen

  • At least 300 years old.
  • Made from specific type of bamboo called mia hia
  • Four types with 6, 14, 16, 18 tubes
  • Tubes secured together with a black wax called kisoot, obtained from the insect maeng kisoot.
  • Then bound together by a strong grass called yah nang.

 

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