resounding voice of Filipina singer Grace Nono filled the small concert
hall as the music of the Asian fantasy Orchestra swelled behind her.
Nono's voice rose in a howl like like a wolf.
Interspersed with the western-style orchestration were the mysterious
Indian twang of the sitar and the lyrical sound of the Chinese fiddle,
Nono, wearing a long dress with a Filipino pattern on it, moved gracefully
aside, the song was carried on by two male singers who added to it
a flavor of Japanese flavor of Japanese folk music with samisen accompaniment.
is a main vocalist for this year's performance by the multi-national
band, Asian Fantasy Orchestra (AFO). The group will perform in Tokyo
in April after their Asian tour this month.
I'm trying to do is to balance out the popularity of "Western
music," Nono said at a press conference to kick off this month's
tour. "It's really about time for us to dig out our cultural
heritage and present it in a way that is relevant to us."
was established in 1991 by The Japan Foundation, which is affiliated
with the Ministry of Foreign affairs. Its aim is to promote "cultural
exchange with other countries through art."
classical violinists to Indian tabla players, from classical Chinese
music to traditional Japanese folk songs, the orchestra combines music
and musicians from a diverse background of nations and nationalities
to create a unique amalgam of Asian sounds.
Homura, the orchestra's founder and producer, said the purpose of
the group has as much to do with the performers as it does with the
audiences -- it gives musicians "the opportunity to meet other
musicians from throughout Asia and to get a feel for each other's
music as a real entity through working together."
orchestra is led by the leading Japanese percussionist Kiyohiko Senba,
with the avant-garde saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu and keyboardist Daisaku
Kume as back-up leaders.
of the tunes are composed by Kume, but the music of the AFO is a true
mixture of various styles and textures -- imagine singers from the
Philippines, Niigata Prefecture and Okinawa all singing solos in an
arrangement of classical music; imagine a Japanese minyo folk song
arranged with an up-tempo beat and a jazz saxophone solo thrown in.
all cases, the original flavor of the singer or the song is kept intact
yet they are blended wonderfully so that the different origins are
of the group are usually accomplished musicians in their own countries
who come together, said Hommura.
player Umezu said orchestra members usually communicate with each
other in English, but whatever can't be explained in words is understood
through gestures or by "feeling" each other's music. In
fact, he said playing with other musicians from other parts of Asia
has had a "tremendous" effect on his music.
just love creating sound with them," Umezu said. "From rhythm
to melody to everything else, the variety of music they have brought
to me has influenced me a great deal and has become part of me."
at the tour's kick-off press conference, the constant bantering between
group members suggested a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect.
of us come from powerful traditions," said Indian sarangi player
Dhruba Ghosh. "All the musicians are of a high caliber. With
them, it's possible to take a risk and do something adventurous. It's
great fun to experiment without the fear of criticism."
Japanese singer Kaori Kozai -- who will be a guest musician during
the current tour -- the experience has opened her eyes to the diversity
of musical expression of other cultures.
was like their music has seeped into my body through the holes of
my skin," she said. "The rhythm, the melody, all came to
me after working with them for several days."
year's Asian tour is intended to correspond with celebrations of the
50th anniversary of the independence of India, the centennial of the
independence of the Republic of the Philiippines, and the 25th anniversary
of the Vietnam-Japan diplomatic relations. The orchestra will make
a concert tour to these three countries prior to its Tokyo concert
purpose of the trips is to promote cultural exchange with these Asian
countries, says Tetsuhiro Daiku, who is a singer and sanshin player
with the group.
like to see more communication with the local people." he said.
"For example, it would be great to have free jam sessions with
the local musicians through which we'd find people with musical compatibility
who we'd invite to perform with us at the concerts. Unless we deal
with the (local) people on the the same ground, I wonder if true cultural
exchange is possible."
Asahi Evening News, Japan
5 March 1998