A Thrilling Night of Music with Four Japanese Musicians

A Thrilling Night of Music with Four Japanese Musicians
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia Concert Tour

Featuring Kazuyuki Shiotaka on biwa,
Amami shimauta folk song singer Shingo Maeyama,
Kazuki Kunihiro on guitar, and
Aki-ra Sunrise on percussion,
performing compositions by Kazuki Kunihiro.

Performance Schedule

Tour Schedule: November 17 - 27, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
State Music and Drama Theatre named after Makhtumkuli
Friday, November 20, 2009 Tashkent, Uzbekistan
State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, Grand Hall
Saturday, November 21, 2009 Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Ilkhom Theater
Monday, November 23, 2009 Baku, Azerbaijan
Baku Music Academy (seminar)
Tuesday, November 24, 2009 Baku, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan State Russian Drama Theatre
Friday, November 27, 2009 Tbilisi, Georgia
Rustaveli National Theatre, Grand Hall

Photo of the musicians 1The Japan Foundation implements the concert tour in four countries of the Central Asian and Caucasian region.

This concert combines the use of traditional Japanese and Western instruments. Although the origins and development of Japanese and Western music are different, both are essential to the music of Japan today. Many traditional Japanese instruments originated in western Asia and made their way through China to Japan, where they underwent further unique development. Similarly, Western instruments originated in the West but have taken firm root in Japan. In this sense, both types of instruments can be considered Japanese instruments, as well as instruments that are open to the world. This concert presents and preserves the individual characters of both types of music born from these instruments, combining them in ways that create new harmonics and dynamics. It is not simply a matter of placing two different things side by side; rather, it is a matter of respecting the special features of both and giving birth to a new creative world that neither side by itself can produce.

The four-person group realizing this vision is comprised of a classical biwa player, asinger specializing in Amami folk songs, a singer/guitarist, and a percussionist whoplays instruments from around the world.

The biwa is a kind of lute, with roots tracing back to the western Asian oud. As such, it has deep connections with many of the stringed instruments of the countries in which performances are being held on this tour. It made its way to Japan via China. There are different types of biwa, and the Satsuma biwa developed during the Warring States period of the 16th century to provide accompaniment for narrative tales that celebrate the martial spirit. To highlight the brave deeds of warriors in battles, the performance style emphasizes a strong yet elegant attack, with the plectrum beating against the body of the instrument. It is fascinating to see how an instrument that shares roots with many other lutes has developed such a unique performance style in Japan. Noted performer Kazuyuki Shiotaka presents a compelling performance on a specially designed large-size biwa.

Amami shimauta folk song, which is accompanied by the three-stringed sanshin, a lute covered with snakeskin, is an art form that developed on the southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima. The sanshin came to Amami from southern China via Okinawa sometime before the 14th century. Like the biwa, its roots before China are said to trace back to western Asia. Even today, Amami is one of the richest sources of folk songs in Japan, with each community (shima) carrying on its own proud tradition. The use of falsetto to evoke feelings of sadness has won the genre fans throughout Japan. Shingo Maeyama is a rising young star in the Amami shimauta folk song world who has recently excited a great deal of attention.

Aki-ra Sunrise not only plays a wide variety of percussion instruments from around the world, but has gained recognition as an individualistic musician who designs his own instruments. He has earned international acclaim in particular for his ecologically inspired "gentle handmade" percussion instruments that make use of water. In these performances, he imparts a liveliness using other instruments in combination, thus creating a fresh sonic space.

Photo of the musicians 2It's the job of composer Kazuki Kunihiro to maximize the effectiveness of the talents possessed by these three performers. A young, up-and-coming artist, Kunihiro possesses a rich musical facility and sense of structure that permits him to move freely among a variety of musical genres. As a performer, Kunihiro is also an accomplished guitarist and vocalist who possesses formidable technique and musicality.

All three stringed instruments used in this program are used to accompany the voice. The biwa accompanies a musical and dramatic narrative form; the sanshin embellishes beautiful words in the songs of a southern island; and the guitar underpins modern songs that give free flight to the imagination. The combination of three different types of voices and strings, sometimes in solo, sometimes in harmony, richly expresses Japanese musical sensibilities as well as the connections between Japan and the rest of the world.  With the additional interweaving of percussion, the performers will present a concert full of abundant images.

Performer Profiles

Kazuki Kunihiro

Photo of Kazuki Kunihiro Composer, vocalist, and guitarist. Comfortable writing in styles ranging from classical to folk and rock, Kunihiro performs his works as a member of his own bands (Data and Aujourd'hui il fait beau). Has has used his considerable talents in many fields, including theater, dance and performance works, as well as composition and performances for TV programs. Major works for theater include Performing Women:  Fragments from Greek Tragedy (a collaborative work with India, Iran, Uzbekistan and Japan, produced by the Japan Foundation). In the field of traditional Japanese instruments, he created last year a new piece for biwa, sho, guitar and contrabass performed on tour in Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania that revealed new aspects of Japanese music. Some of his singing can be heard at http://dataworld.jp/f_discography.htm.

Kazuyuki Shiotaka

Photo of Kazuyuki ShiotakaA Satsuma biwa player who has won acclaim for his sure technique and powerful stage presence, Shiotaka has a broad repertory ranging from classical pieces to modern works and his own compositions. In addition to appearing in live concerts, he has a deep knowledge of the cultural context of his instrument and actively presents performances and lectures in venues associated with biwa music, including Kumano, Koyasan, and Akama Jingu Shrine (Dan no Ura). His published CDs include Oriental Eyes, MAROBASHI, Sal Tree, Biwa of Shifting Sands, and Sal Tree II. Samples of his music can be heard at http://home.att.ne.jp/kiwi/Eclipse/.

Shingo Maeyama

Photo of Shingo MaeyamaBorn on the southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima, Maeyama happened to hear a shimuta folk song of his native land at age 19 and was entranced. He became a disciple of a famous traditional singer, and in 2005 won the New Talent Award at the Amami Folk Song Competition,  the most prestigious Amami shimauta competition in Japan, part of his meteoric rise to stardom. Since then, he has won various major competitions,  winning the Youth Division crown in the Amami Folk Song Competition just last year. As a young artist who holds the future of the Amami folk song tradition in his hands, he has won national recognition. A CD titled Songs for the Island of Falling Stars. A representative sample of traditional shimauta folk songs, Kurudando Bushi, can be heard and seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_DLih95Um0.

Aki-ra Sunrise

Photo of Aki-ra SunriseThis improvisational drummer began playing drums in high school. On a trip after graduation to Spain, he encountered the African djembe drum, which prompted him to create his own improvisation performance style using instruments from around the world. He also makes his own instruments that involve the use of water, and offers experiential workshops through which participants can "feel water, play with water, and feel their own bodies." In January of this year, he went to Cameroon. He was invited to France during the months of June and July, where he made instruments and mounted performances. His published CDs include Globe of Light~Movement; Joyful Water, Hang 2006/5/25; and Globe of Light: Quiessence. Excerpts from Globe of Light can be heard on his blog, http://www.myspace.com/kirakirasunrise.

[Contact Us]

Performing Arts Section, Arts and Culture Department, The Japan Foundation
Yuki Hata (Ms) E-mail
Tel: +81 (0)3-5369-6063 Fax: +81 (0)3-5369-6038

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