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ABU TV Song Festival 2013: Hanoi – Watch with me!

After last year’s inaugural festivals in Seoul, the ABU (Asian-Pacific Broadcasting Union) continued its new tradition of holding a televised international music gala as part of the ABU’s annual general assembly. This time the assembly was held in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, giving the national broadcaster VTV the chance to host the non-competitive ABU TV Song Festival from Hanoi Opera House.

abu tv song festivalThe show will be broadcast in all of the competing countries over the next few weeks and months, but since VTV showed it live, the songs have appeared on Youtube. Actually the whole show has turned up, I will link it at the bottom, but it might easily be blocked by the time you see this! Just search on Youtube, filter by “long” clips and you might get lucky!

Oh, if you were looking for the ABU Radio Song Festival 2013, you’re not going to get far, as it’s only being run in even-numbered years! Continue reading

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Coming Soon – ABU TV Song Festival 2013: Hanoi

Has it nearly been a year already? 2012 saw the inaugural ABU TV Song Festival, held in Seoul, South Korea. It brought together many members of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union to display their best and brightest musicians, as well as the incredible diverse cultures of Asia. Originally imagined as an Asian counterpart to Eurovision, the festival itself materialised as a non-competitive musical gala. This didn’t detract from the intrigue, and I ended up quite enjoying it (read my review).

abu tv song festivalThere was a competitive sibling though, the ABU Radio Song Festival, which similarly pitted a variety of Asian countries against each other, with each submitting songs that would be judged by an expert panel that awarded a number of prizes. But it appears this is a biannual event, and as such we’ll have to wait until 2014 to hear it again. Continue reading

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Film: “The Wolverine” (2013)

I feel like at least half of the films I’ve watched this year have been superhero-based, maybe it’s just the latest flurry of Iron Man and Superman that’s given me that impression, but the X-Men saga finally takes another step forward in preparation of next year’s “Days of Future Past” that looks to tie together the post-“Last Stand” storyline with the cast of 2011’s “First Class”. Well SORT OF. Not a lot of preparation was really needed – indeed a lot of this groundwork is dealt with in a 2-minute mid-credits scene.

But the goal was to rehabilitate Wolverine after the brutal end to “Last Stand”, and it seems that it accomplished that. Not only his character needed rehabilitation; after 2009’s “Origins” film, the franchise was looking a little shaky and I admit I wondered if the whole idea had been scrapped in favour of the inevitable reboot. Fortunately it looks like I was wrong on that count. People seem fond of saying “Origins” was effectively written out of history with this latest instalment but I don’t think that’s the case at all. Sure “The Wolverine” didn’t really make any reference to it, but what more was there to say? It was Wolverine’s backstory, and in essence the loose ends were mostly tied up as part of “X2”. Continue reading

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ABU TV Song Festival: Seoul 2012 – Watch with me!

Finally I’ve had a chance to see Asia’s inaugural ABU TV Song Festival in South Korea’s capital Seoul, which was filmed a few days after the first ABT TV Song Festival. Australia won that, but who would win the TV festival?

It turns out, nobody. There is no competitive element to the show, making the Eurovision parallels even less appropriate than the Radio Festival (which I wrote all about earlier on this blog, if you are interested). Never mind though, it still looks pretty flash, so I’m writing this as I watch it on Youtube (you can too: click here while the link lasts).

No familiar theme tune to play us in, we just go straight to the opening act, displaying traditional South Korean arts. It’s quite nice really, there’s a love story, lots of drums, much flag-waving. And a completely seamless segueway into a rave-soundtracked laser show, of course! The announcer asks if I’m ready for a good time… best offer I’ve had all week!

A cheesy & lengthy introduction to all 11 participants follows, and I worry if it’s going to be a bit ballad-heavy. There’s a scary bit of shouting on the soundtrack that looks like the Afghan entry is bellowing, but he’s just smiling and bowing thankfully. The Korean-speaking host fires off a barrage of Korean, while the fantastically-named Jamaica dela Cruz replies to his questions in English. A bit of a baffling exchange, and a synapse-melting explanation of the show (in Korean, good luck with that). But let’s get on with the songs!

Nice to see the entries get those little regional postcards, just like Eurovision. Ooh, they’ve got a water fountain that fireballs erupt from? Turns out Singapore is kicking off the show.

Singapore: Taufik Batisah – Usah Lepaskan

A Singaporean Idol winner, Taufik apparently likes ballads, so that’s what we are getting. Dry ice smoke floods the stage, and a pair of dancers twirl around on the fringes. I really liked Singapore’s ballad in the Radio Festival, but this doesn’t quite have the same magic. He’s got a lovely soft voice that’s capable of plenty of vocal aerobics. Just the song is a bit too safe for me, the climax isn’t much of a pay-off.

  Australia: Havana Brown – We run the night

Ahh, on more solid turf now, with a postcard taken directly from their tourist board advert. Good lord, what’s going on? I can imagine the more reserved countries getting totally scandalised by this, with Havana shouting her way onto the stage, doing a quick DJ set (!?) and introducing her trashy stripper dancers. You wouldn’t get a Pitbull guest vocal in Eurovision would you?

It’s a really energetic performance, by the look of the audience this is totally against the tone of the show. Despite this, they were playing it a little safe by sending a triple-platinum Australian hit, and a million-selling US hit! Really catchy and fun though, I’ll be seeking this one out later.

 Sri Lanka: Arjuna Rookantha & Shanika Madhumali – Me Jeewithe

Who knew there were so many animals in Sri Lanka, judging from that beautiful postcard. A nice little midtemp intro, wonder what this is going to grow into. Her vocals are beautiful and high. His are lovely too, but what in God’s name is he wearing/doing. It doesn’t really feel like an air guitar moment, especially with that church backdrop.

She looks a bit pissed off, rigid with anger and motionless for the whole performance, while he seems to be from some Sri Lankan hair-rock troupe. They sound great together, but they look a strange pair. I was going to say they are like an Asian version of someone, but literally I have NOTHING.

 Malaysia: Hafiz – Awan Nano

Malaysia has weird owls, look at that. Nice postcard again! Hafiz is styled as a hipster Willow Smith tonight, not a hot look. Sounds like we are in for another terribly earnest ballad, though confusingly translated as “Nano-clouds”. WTF?

While I think I liked the Singaporean guy’s tone more, Hafiz has more power on this song, and the tune’s a bit more interesting. He’s a lovely singer, but I’m not in a rush to hear this again. And what the hell are nano-clouds?

 Vietnam: Lê Việt Anh – Mây

A slightly less bombastic postcard from Vietnam, but another ballad follows. It’s about clouds too?! Is there that much to sing about them? Vietnamese is an unusual-sounding language, it doesn’t sound as naturally musical to my ears, but he does well.

He’s got a deeper voice than I expected, it’s very nice really. But again the song doesn’t do a lot for me. Perfectly pleasant but the tune is just all over the place. I can’t say I’ve yet heard a song about clouds that’s got me too excited on the topic.

 Japan: Perfume – Spring of life

Now THIS is what I was excited about. I’ve only just heard about Perfume, I saw the fantastic video for this song “Spring of life” on the flight back from Japan. A friend showed me the “Chocolate disco” video too, I love their style and awesome dancing skills, and they didn’t disappoint this time. I think this is the first mimed vocal though, but I enjoyed it more than anything so far.

Their dancing is so tight, looks well-practiced. OH GOD I WANT TO GO BACK. Love the song, love them, this is my favourite by a mile! I promise the broken robot section in the middle makes more sense if you watch the music video!

 Hong Kong: Alfred Hui – Ma Yi

How do you follow that? Poor Alfred has to, with a song about an ant?! I feel that something is lost in translation here. Gorgeous city skyline backdrop. Sounds like he’s a bit artist in HK based on the English bits of the ticker-tape at the bottom.

These Asian ballads seem to blur into one for me, sadly. Maybe that’s why they write them about clouds and ants! He’s a good singer, perhaps a bit too breathy for my tastes, and he certainly likes to EMOTE. I don’t think I could feel that strongly about ants, personally. Maybe this one broke his heart, so he fried it with a magnifying glass.

INTERLUDE

What’s with these Korean-English conversations? Very confusing. I don’t mind it being two languages, but mixing them up is a strange choice. Hang on, what’s going on? With only 4 songs left we are getting an interval act/toilet break!

It’s “Fly me to the moon”, played on traditional Korean instruments! Of course!! It’s pretty nice actually, if a little bizarre. What the hell is that girl playing? It looks like a cross between a skyscraper and a smoking pipe. The overall result is a little baffling, but it sounds very nice. I decided I love this 😀

 Indonesia – Maria Calista – Karena Ku Sanggup

Maria Calista, what a cool name. Indonesia looks great too, and what a strange face on that kid trying to dance! Looks like another graceful ballad, get comfy!

Oh I love the styling, is that a scorpion-tail hairdo? She’s brought a full band too. Is she going to sing at all? OK she’s tried to spice up a fairly standard ballad with a crazy costume, but in fairness, her voice is gorgeous. Powerful but emotional. Like Celine Dion if she knew Indonesian.

Wow, she’s got a huge mouth! One of the more memorable performances, particularly when she launches a surprise English-language attack, evoking Beyonce and Mariah in a climactic final section.

 China: Cao Fujia – Quian gua

A surprisingly modest postcard for China, they’ve got more to show than that! I get the idea that Cao is a big deal, or at least the Koreans think so. Another gorgeous backdrop. She’s beautiful too, despite the frumpy outfit.

In a strange way, this ballad reminds me most of Eurovision than any entry so far, sounds like one of those pretty Balkan ballads. Her voice is amazingly pure, and her minimalist dance routine is strangely captivating. Not sure why she plays peek-a-boo with a scarf at the end, but otherwise a really lovely performance.

 Afghanistan: Hameed Sakhizada – My eye

Oh this doesn’t bode well, only named “Folk music” on Wikipedia, and confusingly called “My eye” on-screen. Are the audience clapping along to this? The rhythm is weird, it doesn’t feel much like a clapping moment!

His voice is nice, but this sort of thing really does nothing for me. To my ears, very shapeless (and endless), it’s just a soundtrack rather than something I could listen to a performance of. The audience seem to love him though, so that’s really great. His voice is effortlessly tuneful, but I guess this is just one of those things I don’t get.

 South Korea: TVXQ – Catch me

The host nation finishes off the show now, and I’m led to believe TVXQ are a big deal in South Korea and Japan. Judging by the squeals of delight from the audience though, they are going going out with a bang. Gorgeous postcard too!

More Asian electro-pop, I love it! Really full-on intro, a crazy dance routine, why is it in the dark? The backing track is amazing, love the sound. What a strange dance routine though, not like I’m used to at all! Oh I love that bit where they’re all lined up!

Very melodramatic vocals, it’s all over the place, and understandably mimed. Can you imagine singing to this while doing this routine? The English-language chorus is great too. Certainly interested to hear these again, very interesting hi-energy performance. I wonder if this is sort of thing might ever drive a worldwide K-Pop craze, post-Gangnam Style.

So that’s it! I guess there’s a chance for countries to send what they like if there’s no competitive element, but it was still a fun show with a different energy to Eurovision.

I mean, you wouldn’t get the participants all on stage singing “Heal the world” at the end would you. Felt bad about the extended shot of the Afghan guy who clearly had no idea of the song! An endearing bunch really, particularly Maria Calista trying to outsing everyone! Here’s to next year!

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Travel: Hello, deer friend – A day in Nara

I haven’t really touched much on my travels in this blog, and since I’ve done a fair bit of it in the last 5 years or so, it seems like a good idea to write a bit. You may be aware that I spent the last week of June in Japan, on a lightning tour of some notable towns accessible from Tokyo where I was based, namely Kyoto, Nara, Nikko and erm… Nagoya (there was a reason for that one).

Nara deer

But let’s try Nara first. After a friend’s recommendation I took a two-day trip here, seeing Kyoto on Sunday and staying in a cheap (and as it turns out, hard to find) hotel there, before hitting Nara on the Monday. From Tokyo, Nara is best accessible via Kyoto, so this made sense. Using my JR Rail pass, the Shinkansen to Kyoto took about 2 1/2 hours, but Kyoto to Nara on a the JR “Nara line” took a lot less time, about 45 minutes I think.

From there, I learnt my lessons from Kyoto and immediately got on a bus outside JR Nara station. There is a lot of overlap in bus routes, but one route in particular loops around all the touristy bits. I got off outside the prefectural offices to visit the Kofukuji temple across the road. Immediately I was confronted with a rather indifferent-looking deer. As a Brit, I can’t remember the last time (if ever) that I’ve just seen a deer that’s not in a zoo, but this turned out to be the first of several hundred deer (or shika) wandering around Nara. They aren’t stupid, you’ll see a lot around the big tourist spots, as little old ladies have stalls dotted around that sell little deer biscuits. Only about 150 Yen, they are little wafers you can feed to deer, they are really tame.

Todai-ji

Kofukuji was a nice starter for the day, including an impressive 5-storey pagoda. But I’d seen a lot of shrines during the week, and I knew there were bigger sights to be seen. So after a leisurely walk around the temple complex, I wandered in the direction of the A-List temple in Nara, Todai-ji.

It’s an impressive building, in fact the main building inside is the largest wooden building in the world! This contains one of the biggest Buddha statues in Japan, making it THE main attraction in Nara (deer aside). After this, I wandered around a few of the several nearby shrines, it’s a nice place to walk around, and easy to navigate (take notes, Kyoto).

I did even managed to feed some deer, who stalked me as soon as they saw me approach a deer-cookie seller. They weren’t aggressive at all, in fact they were incredibly docile, but they certainly left no doubt that they were going to get those cookies. One nibbled my t-shirt impatiently, and even bit my ass, much to the amusement of a group of Japanese schoolgirls.

To round off my day, I visited the Kasuga Taisha, a popular Shinto shrine in the East of Nara’s main tourist area. It’s a bit of a walk if you’re already tired, but it was a nice walk and despite the steep path, was a peaceful and beautiful spot. All in all, Nara was a charming town, easy to navigate, leafy and picturesque, and a much more satisfying experience than Kyoto in my opinion. Kyoto must be a tempting stop for any tourist, but I would strongly recommend a day-trip to Nara too.

Path to Kasuga Taisha

 

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