Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mobile Phone Payment System in Japan

I was reading an article today on The Economist about how the banking industry is headed for a shake-up, as more and more people access the internet from their phones. The passage below caught my attention (emphasis added):
The revolution will be most visible on the high street. Branches will become less important and there will be far fewer of them. Those that remain will look quite different. Instead of walking into one to deposit cheques or get statements, most people will do this on the fly from their mobile phones. Instead of opening wallets in shops and being confronted with a choice of whether to pay by cash or plastic card, they will wave a phone at the checkout. On it will be a virtual wallet provided by a firm such as Google, PayPal, Square or some company that hasn’t been thought of yet.
SIR, I present to you the mobile phone payment system in Japan. The 'future' has been here for quite some time. As you'll see in the YouTube video below (which itself is a couple of years old now), you can use your phone to pay for stuff exactly as described above, and just about anywhere: convenience stores, restaurants, vending machines, taxi cabs, buses and subways, you name it.

These phones run on a system made by Sony called FeliCa, short for Felicity Card, which links up different service providers to your phone's account. These phones are called osaifu-keitai or wallet mobile, first introduced by NTT Docomo but now supported by most mobile phone operators in the country. And they're quite ubiquitous, especially in Tokyo.

So your phone basically acts like a charge card, and money gets deducted every time you wave it at a checkout counter. If you're running low and need to recharge, you can either do it through a linked bank account or via credit card, all directly from your phone. The system works remarkably well and compared to the rest of the world is way ahead of its time.

The challenge for Sony will be to figure out how to export this technology elsewhere. For a company that has lost money four straight years, who knows, this might be their ticket back to the show. Although, it seems in the US Google's already leading the way with Google Wallet, which at the moment is only available through Sprint but I'm sure other providers aren't far behind.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mera Eh Charkha Naulakha Kuray

The above is from the opening episode of Coke Studio Season 5. Atif Aslam and Qayaas reworking a classic Nusrat qawwali, “Mera Eh Charkha Naulakha Kuray.”

It’s very tastefully done and in a manner that came as a pleasant surprise. The song reminds me quite a bit of Muk Gaye Ne by Junoon, especially in the way it starts, and that’s probably not a bad template to follow. The mood’s kept sufficiently dark throughout, the music allowing both Atif and Qayaas's lead vocalist Umair Jaswal plenty of space to be heard and work their magic. Not unlike a qawwali it builds up slowly, mixing verses from Fareed (is that a hint of Pathanay Khan I hear in Atif's voice by the way?) and Bulleh Shah, and reaching a crescendo towards the end.

I should admit here that I was initially quite horrified when I learned about this song via the behind the scenes preview videos they released last week. For a couple of reasons:

One, I find Atif annoying in general. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but I just do. The idea of him covering an artist that I love so dearly just didn’t sit well with me.

Second, I didn’t understand why Rohail Hyatt (the show’s producer) would want to mess with a qawwali, and a Nusrat qawwali no less. My apprehension here was around the general idea of fusion with qawwali. It doesn't always work. Qawwali music arrangements tend to be quite minimalist in nature. You have one or two harmoniums, a guy on percussions (tabla/dhol), and a few others clapping their hands. That for the most part is it. The main focus is on the vocals, and by extension the poetry or kalaam.

But then when you bring in fusion with western instrumentalization, such as what was done last season with Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad's Kangna, it dilutes the experience in my opinion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed that track and was more than overjoyed that they gave them a whopping 16 minutes to run with. But it would’ve been even better had the house band been asked to sit one out for a change. Get rid of the bass and the drums and let me hear the harmonium instead of the electric piano.

However, I think this sort of goes to what one thinks the premise of the show is. In Rohail’s own words, 'it’s an experience of discovery' and one in which he strives to provide viewers a bridge to a history and tradition of music that has hitherto largely been ignored. A good way of doing this is by easing people into it, using modern instruments and young and upcoming artists – Qayaas in this case - which simultaneously gives them a chance to shine and gain exposure. It’s a good formula and has worked extremely well before and does so again.

Simply put, any bridge that leads you to Nusrat is a good one in my book. Hopefully this song takes people over to the original qawwali as well. Just in case you're too lazy to search for it yourself, though, here it is in all it's glory. It's long; just the introduction - from the time the music starts through to Nusrat leading the alaap and on to the title verse - lasts longer than the entirety of the Coke Studio version. Though I guarantee once you start listening the 35+ minutes will fly by.

This performance is part of a full three-hour concert, which through the wonders of YouTube is also available online.

(And if you're looking for more stuff like this, subscribe right away to user AVNISHIT's channel. This guy is to Nusrat what robelinda2 is to cricket. Hours upon hours of rare, live recordings. Serious fun.)