Monday, October 9: Tonight, Anna and I drive to Muscat to attend the Japanese Music Project ~ Arabian Tour at the Ministry of Education auditorium in Wattayah. We leave Nizwa at 5:00 to arrive at Wattayah by 7:30. Believe it or not, we barely make it by 7:30 (2 1/2 hours later!) because of horrible traffic between Qurum and Ruwi. We think there must have been a car accident, because on that stretch of road, we move as if we’re stars of some slow motion film. At one point, Anna turns on Muscat’s classical music station and the dramatic music sets the mood as we crawl slowly up the hill to the summit! So climactic! We have a good laugh at this juxtaposition of the dramatic musical score with the excruciating slowness of our progression.
We arrive and take a seat in the lovely Ministry of Education auditorium, where neither of us have ever been before. The Japanese ambassador introduces the project and then we sit back to enjoy the show.
First, each of three musicians, Yas-Kaz the percussionist, Toshiko Kuto the koto player, and Akikazu Nakamura the shakuhachi player, each entertain us with a piece. Then all three of them play together a jazzy tune.
In the next half, we hear, in turn, Yuji Tsunemi the oud player, Koto, the bamboo flautist, and Yoshio Ueno the otsuzumi (big hand drum) player. They each play a piece individually, then they all three come together to play an unusual song.
Anna and I are quite amused, as are many others in the audience, by Yoshio Ueno, who plays the big hand drum. He makes very dramatic gestures, putting his hands into his oversized pockets, then taking them out grandly, placing the drum very dramatically on his lap, and then making expansive hand gestures as he slaps his drum. He also uses his voice to make sounds as if he is trying to prod a donkey up a steep hill. These are very strange sounds we hear from this man! When he combines his performance, first with the other two musicians, and then at the end with all five musicians, it creates a concert of very odd sounds.
According to David Soloman of the Oman Tribune (Bridging Cultures with Music), and the program for the tour (Japanese Music Project ~ Arabian Tour ~), Yas-Kaz, percussionist and composer, is the director of the music troupe.
Toshiko Kuto plays the koto, a stringed instrument that is about 1,300 years old. The koto is played by plucking strings with special picks that are worn on the fingers.
Koto plays the bamboo flute and is dressed in a special costume, ‘the Wabaya’, which is a fusion of the Japanese Kimono and the Arabian Abaya. “A friend of mine, who has travelled all over the world and is familiar with the culture of this region, has specially designed this dress for me for our Arabian tour concert”.
Yuji Tsunemi (oud player) was born in 1960 in Tokyo, Japan. He is one of the very few players of the musical instrument, oud, in Japan. He has been deeply fascinated and touched by Arabian music since he was a boy. He started learning Arabian music while attending the Ethnic Music Centre Japan (directed by Tadahiro Wakabayashi) and began to play the oud under Hamza El Din, a Sudanese oud player. He has participated in various music festivals and concerts in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE and Kuwait. This is his first visit to Oman.
Akikazu Nakamura (composer, shakuhachi) plays the ‘Shakuhachi’, the larger version of the bamboo flute. Nakamura is one of the first shakuhachi players to make use of the circular breathing technique which enables him to breathe in as he plays the instrument, thus ensuring a continuous sound.
Yoshio Ueno plays the otsuzumi – Big hand drum. “It is a traditional Japanese instrument that is over 600 years old.
For the culminating piece, all six musicians come together to perform. It’s quite interesting, especially with the guttural sounds and sharp hard slaps on the big hand drum by Yoshio Ueno. We enjoy the concert immensely.
Afterwards, we go for a delicious dinner at the charming Chinese Palace FastFood at Sabco Center in Qurum.
As soon as we walk in, I pull out my camera to take some pictures, and as I’m taking the following picture of Anna, my bag knocks a glass off the table, shattering it all over the floor. Ouch.
The food is delicious, the company fun. Our whole Asian night is a great “travel” experience right here in Oman!