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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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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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ABU Radio Song Festival: Seoul 2012 – Preview & Finalists

Well we got there in the end. After a long-gestating plan to get “Asiavision” off the ground, we arrive at the inaugural (and snappily titled) ABU Radio Song Festival, hosted in Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea (or South Korea if you prefer).

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) approached its Asian counterpart (ABU) with the idea of an Asian-Pacific sister to Eurovision. It never got off the ground, and the rights were sold to a private production company. After several false starts, the show never happened. But the ABU couldn’t let the format go, and as part of their annual week-long General Assembly.

Two contests are taking place over the next few days. On the 11th October it’s time for the ABU Radio Song Festival – as you can imagine it is broadcast by radio across the continent. The ABU TV Song Festival follows on 14th October, in a recorded event for television.

It’s not really using the Eurovision blueprint at all, outside the participation of several countries in the region sending songs to try and win the festival. But that’s where it ends: no public voting, no points – winners get 1st, 2nd & 3rd places and that’s your lot, countries can send more than one entry, no 3-minute rule … basically it’s a very different beast. The winner doesn’t even get to host the next one, it’s expected that the contest would continue to follow the ABU General Assembly.

Musically, it’s definitely not Eurovision. Pop music makes way for much more traditional sounds, and the results vary wildly. 26 songs were entered, with 14 making up the finalists, pre-selected by a jury.

These finalists come from: Australia, Bhutan, Brunei, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Vietnam. Host South Korea and Malaysia managed to get two songs into the final. Several additional entries by these countries, as well as India, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan and Sudan(!) didn’t make the cut. Fiji were in the final too but pulled out at the last minute.

Well, enough backstory. What were the songs like? As I said, they vary wildly in quality. You can listen along to them all, including non-qualifiers such as the horrific “Tone of Joyful Music of Lorestan”, and surprisingly sweet but terribly named “I stalk your profile” at http://aburadiosongfestival.asia/

THE BAD

South Korea’s Bily Acoustie is a particularly dull form of Jack Johnson’s brand of laid-back acoustic guitar. Sammy Ray Jones of Vanuatu fares even worse with a particularly dreary reggae number. I HATE REGGAE. Is he singing about rennet?

Vietnam’s Chu Manh Cuoung and Sri Lanka’s Surendra Perera go down the very traditional route, no doubt paying to their respective countries’ rich musical heritage. To my jaded Western ears, it’s a bit of an ordeal, particularly Vietnam’s painfully drawn-out effort. So authentic, you can almost hear the gap-year students closing their eyes and nodding their heads appreciatively. Sorry, not for me!

THE SO-SO

Indonesia’s Rando Sembiring and Malaysia’s Sabhi Sadhi both come with lovely accomplished piano-led ballads, very formal and sweet but they are just lacking that OOMPH they need to make me sit up and listen. Rando does build to some discernible climax but it just needs that little bit more.

Pakistan’s Bilal Ahmed takes a very typical sound for me (for my ignorance, I will mention a Bollywood sound, I know that’s nothing to do with Pakistan, I just don’t have any other reference points). It just dribbles on for far too long. The music is very light and pleasant, it just goes on too long.

Brunei’s Marie Aires also takes the typical ballad route, and has some really lovely moments, particularly the chorus. The verses are a little shrill in places, but the general impression is very pretty, the tune just sounds a bit directionless sometimes.

THE DECENT

Who knew Bhutan were so modern? Dechen Wangmo pits a traditionally vocalled and understated vocal in Dzongkha (which I admit I’d never heard of), but switches to English for the chorus. There are a lot of unusual melodic moments, a rather unhinged sounding xylophoney instrument plonking away in the background. It’s a lot better than it sounds on paper.

Malaysia’s K-Town Clan are exactly how they sound on paper, which is basically a mash up of LMFAO and Pitbull doing Flo-Rida’s “Low”. It’s a bit of a mix of loads of big obnoxious club hits of the last few years, but it totally works for me. Real trash but lots of fun.

Fiji may have withdrawn their sole finalist, but I must say I’ve been enjoying Sevanaia Yacalevu‘s cheesily upbeat tropical pop. If you remember Vengaboys’ seminal summer hit “We’re going to Ibiza”, and stir in a bit of Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl”, you’ll get most of the way there. Really naff, vocals are cheery and namedropping Fiji at key moments, but very lovable.

Iran entered 4 songs this time, including a particularly painful 9-minute number. But Mohsen Manouchehri‘s “Iran” makes you sit up and take notice. In Eurovision style it blows you away with ethnic-slanted blockbuster pop music. OK it’s all in Persian so I can’t understand it, but this is one I’d have rather seen in the TV festival, it just begs for pyrotechnics, crazy costumes, and dance routines. EPIC IRANIAN POP.

THE TOP 3

  3. Jae Eng – Promise me (Singapore)
Doing what neighbours Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei were trying to do, Singapore pull off a real contemporary ballad. Just enough beat-driven production in the back, a gorgeously falsetto singer. Being in English certainly aid my enjoyment, and a great instrumental breakdown in the middle, they know what they are doing. Really top quality.

  2. Afrodino – Pepperoni (South Korea)
How can you not be intrigued by that title? No idea what most of it is about, apart from the frequent references to pepperoni pizza. It just fills me with this unexplainable upbeat feeling. That “Pepperoni, pepperoni pizzaaaa” hook really gets me every time. A smooth easy tune, even a little pepperoni rap near the end. Endearing and sweet.

  1. Danielle Blakey – Fearless (Australia)
Of course Australia have an advantage when it comes to winning over Western viewers (which of course has zero value since we wouldn’t be voting), but this is an accomplished and gorgeous country-tinged pop song. In fact it sounds more American than anything, has that special magic that the right kind of pop-country crossover has. Her voice is lovely, the rhythm is infectious and that chorus is uplifting as anything. Perhaps it’s as much to do with being a comfortable sound for me, but still that shouldn’t detract from the song.

But will the judges pick the same top 3? Doubtful, but we don’t have long to wait and see!

Sunday’s ABU TV Song Festival sounds very interesting though, especially as K-Pop behemoths Girls Generation are apparently representing the host nation, and electro-J-pop heroines Perfume represent Japan.

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