As we take stock of the natural disaster in Japan, the humanitarian efforts in the wake of such tragedies are often given visibility and support by celebrity musicians from around the world. Music is the global language, and it is fitting that regional, ethnic, and religious differences are set aside at such times to come together in harmony.
Two weeks after the earthquake/tsunami double disaster in Japan, teen idol Justin Bieber and well-known artists U2, Bon Jovi, and Rihanna contributed songs to a Universal Music album to raise funds for Japanese victims and the Japanese Red Cross.
Days after the disaster, sarod player and disciple of the legendary maestro Ali Akbar Khan, Steve Oda, presented a concert along with tabla player Tim Witter, in Oakland, CA with the proceeds to aid relief efforts in Japan. Oda’s Japanese lineage compelled him to help out, and he is planning another one soon.
Members of the band Linkin Park, were stirred into forming “Music For Relief” after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The idea was simple: they would make a donation, and then ask their musician peers and their fans to reciprocate, and this would have a multiplier effect on relief efforts. This grass-roots movement has continued to give to charities working on disaster relief, collecting nearly $4 million in donations to regions including Haiti and Pakistan. Hours after the Japanese tsunami hit, there was a call on their website to all their followers. On March 16th, Music for Relief announced that it is proud to support Save the Children’s emergency response in Japan, through their overall program for Japan, “Download to Donate: Tsunami Relief.”
Johnny & Associates, a Japanese music management company/agency, canceled all domestic concerts by their artists in March so they could relocate their transport and power unit trucks to disaster-stricken areas. In a creative move, popular rapper “Verbal” is set to release his new single “We Are One” for free. The rapper has encouraged fans to lay their own messages of unity or pleas for help, over his rhythm, and distribute the track as they see fit.
Record labels and online agencies such as nihonkizuna.bandcamp.com and www.the1stfive.com have already put together compilation CDs comprising previously unreleased and rare tracks, the proceeds of which will go towards disaster relief in Japan.
The 2004 tsunami, which killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries, galvanized several in the Indian music community. too, to give generously of their time and talent. In January 2005, Ustad Zakir Hussain, under the banner of his promotion company Zakir Hussain Promotion Pvt. Ltd., put together “Yogdaan,” a concert with several other musicians in Mumbai. Vocalist Pandit Jasraj, percussionist Taufiq Qureshi, sitar legend Ustad Rais Khan, Gaansaraswati Kishori Amonkar, santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, and singer Shankar Mahadeven performed at the event.
Bharat Kalachar, a premier arts organization in Chennai, donated clothes, provisions, woolen materials, and mats to the Indian Tsunami victims. Violin duo Ganesh-Kumaresh, who performed at Bharat Kalachar in December 2004, donated their honorarium towards the relief fund.
In the United States, Chitravina Ravikiran performed in a jugalbandi concert in Houston in January 2005, to raise funds for tsunami victims. Also in January, acclaimed veena player Nirmala Rajasekar performed in an event supported by UN Association of Minnesota, Twin Cities Public Television, and others. The audience donated more than $10,000 that day.
India Currents’ October 2010 issue covered another 2004 tsunami driven effort out of Chennai, the Laya Project, by Earthsync. The Project documented regional folk music from remote villages that lay in the 2004 Asian tsunami’s path. The recordings embody haunting music of life and loss by unknown musicians in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and India. The performances were filmed and recorded on location, arranged and mixed to create a composition that, while preserving the music of the people, crosses over internationally.
A team from the ashram started by Mata Amritanandamayi (popularly known as Amma) helped members of a tsunami relief camp vent their sorrow through song. The Art of Living foundation has organized many events of music and dance; it believes that music is “Sangita Yoga, a profound, potent means of combating aggression and violence, promoting inner harmony and world peace.”
Indeed, the science of music therapy is an important component to regaining emotional, physical, and mental stability among patients who have undergone trauma of any kind. In the weeks after Senator Gifford was shot early this year, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta traced for viewers a path to recovery from a gunshot wound, which included a series of therapies including music therapy. In India, the Music Therapy Trust has been founded to train applicants in music therapy, with the goal of providing music therapy for people of all ages who have psychological, behavioural, learning or physical difficulties.
Our collective sorrow best finds expression in the efforts and generosity of musicians like those mentioned here, who can sometimes put together concerts in less than a week after disaster has struck, giving freely of their time and talent. Readers need only to keep their eyes peeled to their favorite music websites to learn of these flash concerts. It is a healing way of dealing with the terrifying vagaries of nature, and a channel to help those in need.
Music for Relief: http://musicforrelief.org
Music Therapy Trust: http:// www.themusictherapytrust.com
Priya Das is an avid follower of world music.