Friday, September 6, 2013

~ Buffalo Race in Bali ~

It’s 8:30 am. Bleary-eyed and heavy-headed, I reluctantly drag myself out of the car. We have driven at least three hours, all of which I slept through, from Seminyak to Jembrana, the least populated and visited region in the west of Bali. 

The driver picked me up in the wee hours of the morning. Not an early riser plus a night-out on the town, this is definitely not my kind of Sunday. However, I am intrigued, even a tad excited about the cultural event I am about to see. The traditional buffalo races, Mekepung in Indonesian, are held at the end of rice harvest during dry season from August to October.  

Armed with my beloved Canon, I drift through what appears to be a small brook, now barren and dry, as the monsoon is long over, and climb onto the road, which is now transformed, into a racecourse. Spectators occupy both sides of the oval shaped racing track that stretches at least 3 to 4  kilometers. Where I am standing now is still a few hundred meters away from the starting point.

It appears that the race has already begun. It doesn't take long. I see the first pair of buffalos pulling a small two-wheeled cart galloping towards me. The jockey is seated in a squatting position on the cart whipping the backsides of the beasts mercilessly to gain speed. I watch in awe as it zooms past, fast and furious. Seconds later, another cart arrives in a manner of a speeding truck leaving behind a giantic cloud of dust. Then another and another. Although they are not racing like the chariots in “Ben-Hur” movie, the energy, pace and grit of each and every contestant send the spectators into frenzy. Many root and cheer for their friends calling out their names or showering them with piercing whistles. 

Now fully awake by the unfolding spectacle, I march towards the tower where a sport announcer with a microphone is narrating the event in full disclosure. From here I could see the other side of the track, a few yards away and the finish line. Mostly locals attend the event with an exception of a few foreigners like me, who have come all the way to gain cultural knowledge and to discover the rural Bali, away from the sophistication of Seminyak and madness of Kuta. The vendors are selling various products, foods, drinks and knickknacks ranging from peanuts, watermelons, toys, whips to colored chicks. Yes, chicks are in fact dyed in several bright hues; hot pink, sunshine yellow, nuclear green and neon purple attracting the attention of young children.

While walking across the field towards the finish line, one of my sandals breaks. I try to fix it to no avail. In the end, I put it in the pocket of my shorts and keep walking with one shoe. A villager who has been observing this offers to help. He grabs the shoe from me, pushes the thong that fell out back into the hole using a stick picked up from the ground and voilĂ  the problem is solved. “Terima Kasiah, banyank”, I thank him. 

In return, he asks me a favor; to take a photo of him and his friend, which I happily oblige of course. Seeing their photo on the LCD screen of my camera simply delights them. I wish I could print it out right away and give it to them. I say goodbye to them afterwards and continue walking till I reach the area where contestants are, in line, prepping their buffalos before the race. The proud jockeys are looking dapper in their brightly coloured fineries. Members of their entourage are feeding water to the animals to keep them from dehydration. Some are putting on ornaments such as colourful flowers, silk banners on the carts and big wooden bells around the necks of buffalos.

I learn later from my Balinese driver that competitors are judged not only based on speed, but on strength and style as well. The wining buffalos are used for stud and can be sold at handsome prices, sometimes even twice the market price. Animal lovers and activists would cringe at the treatment of the buffalos though. Not only do these animals receive cruel lashing with whips with nails in them, from the jockeys, which leaves them with bleeding backsides after the contest, the special chili paste is applied to each animal’s anus for the extra push as well. All of this is done to please the gods of harvest. And I hope they are pleased!

As the sun above me becomes unbearably hot and considering at least a few more hours on the road to return to Seminyak, I hurry down towards my van. The race continues although it seems it’s time for a wrap very soon. Suddenly, I hear loud gasps and yelps from the crowd. I turn around to see a pair of buffalos running at a maddening speed but without the jockey on the cart. Poor chap must have fallen out of it on the way.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Loved Me Back To Life" ~ Celine Dion (Single Review)

Is the world ready for an auto-tuned Celine Dion? 

Undoubtedly, it’s not because she needs a helping hand in the vocal department (We are talking about the vocal powerhouse Canadian diva here, not Selena Gomez!), simply because seemingly every hit song on the Billboard charts these days features auto-tuned vocals. Just like the way every freakin’ photo people post on Facebook must get Instagrammed first, auto tuning has become a necessity, a hip and cool thing to do in music today. Therefore, it’s both predictable and fathomable that even an artist of Celine Dion’s stature would also consider that route in order to stay current and relevant.

Written by one of today’s most sought after songwriters, Sia Furla (“Titanium”, “Wild Ones”), “Loved Me Back To Life” finds Celine singing in a minor key about a generic topic, “love” but in a somewhat confusing way.

“But you stood by my side,
Night after night, night after night,
You loved me back to life, life
From the darkness the wait is over
You loved me back to life, life
From the darkness, we’re lovers again tonight
Back to life, back to life, back to life, back to life, yeah”

It makes one wonders, “Could she be singing about her husband of gazillion years? They have pretty much lived a scandal-free charmed life. So… what does she mean by “darkness”? Or could she be addressing her return to the international music scene at the urging of her adoring fans? But then again she never really went anywhere. She has had a successful run performing sold out shows in Vegas and she put out a French language album, which went to #1 in several French-speaking countries.

What’s surprising with “Loved Me Back To Life” is that there is no epic vocal moment, so unusual for Celine. Her delivery here is somewhat feeble, in other words (and if we are seeking a positive spin), “restrained”. It’s an easy-listening song with a minimal production by, let’s say, not very well known producers. The opening radio-friendly hook, “I-I-I-I, I-I-I-I” promises a dance pop ambience that sadly never gets materialised. Her signature nasal tone will certainly warm the hearts of her hard-core fans but there are also plenty of wait-what-did-she-just-sing? moments as usual., right?

All in all, as the first single of her long-awaited eleventh English language album, this mid-tempo track doesn’t do much to attract new audience in the mainstream dance-pop chart. It also won’t please her core fan base in the adult contemporary chart. Simon Cowell in his very distinctive British accent would say “FORGETTABLE!”