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Ancient Japan meets modern Trinidad in musical fusion

Friday, January 18, 2013
Isaku Kageyama, left, and Kaoru Watanabe, right, perform Together Alone accompanied by local musicians Brian Kushmaul, unseen, Sheena Richardson and Keisha Codrington. PHOTO: KEARRA GOPEE

Ancient and modern musical styles merged to create unique sounds at Queen’s Hall on Tuesday night when international musicians Kaoru Watanabe and Isaku Kageyama were featured in concert. 


Joining the masters of bamboo and Western flutes and taiko drummer respectively, were pannist Keisha Codrington and drummers Briane Kushmaul and Sheena Richardson. 


During the two-hour interactive performance, Watanabe and Kageyama played traditional Japanese music, original compositions and even calypso. Watanabe explained that traditional Japanese music takes many cues from nature, imitating the sounds of wind, rain, thunder, snow and other natural sounds. 


Other sounds were meant to push the imagination of both the audience and the musicians. As Watanabe explained, Kageyama demonstrated the sound of shutters in a window and crashing waves. 


The drums Watanabe and Kageyama played were relatively small, as taiko drums can weigh as much as 900 pounds being crafted from some of the oldest trees in Japan. Some of Watanabe’s flutes, like the shinobwe for example, were made from bamboo as old as 100 years. 


While both musicians demonstrated skill and knowledge of the Japanese musical traditions, Watanabe and Kageyama also demonstrated their abilities to fuse traditional music with more modern sounds. Watanabe is well-known for his jazz fusion pieces and this was evident in his performances of his original pieces Together Alone, First Light and The Eye.


Although Watanabe explained that traditional Japanese music is very rhythmic and usually out of time, when an arrangement of Lord Kitchener’s Old Lady Walk A Mile was played as the final number the pan, African drums, drum-set, taiko and flute easily blended into a smooth and groovy sound. The taiko drums were of course the most powerful, however, Kitchener’s melody could be clearly heard. 


Both Kageyama and Watanabe are based in the US. Watanabe is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and is a former director of the taiko group Kodo. Watanabe currently teaches master classes at Princeton and Wesleyan Universities. Kageyama is world renowned taiko instructor and composer having worked at institutions such as Berklee College of Music, Stanford University, the Brazil Taiko Association and the Yokohama International School. 


The concert was organised in conjunction with the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Embassy locally. 


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