THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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5 posts categorized "East Asia"

04 May 2021

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the Earth': revisiting a Buddhist temple in Fukushima

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This week (29 April – 5 May) in Japan welcomes the arrival of a cluster of national holidays known as Golden Week. Today (4 May) is celebrated as Greenery Day or Midori-no-hi (みどりの日). This is a day that encourages the people of Japan to embrace the environment and take a moment to reconnect with the natural world.

Dokeiji Temple entrance
'May Peace Prevail On Earth' - An inscription written in both Japanese and English on a sekitō (石塔), a stone pagoda that welcomes visitors at the entrance of Dokeiji Temple, a Buddhist temple located in Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth', says Tokuun Tanaka – head priest of Dokeiji Temple, an 800-year old Sōtō Zen temple situated in the Odaka district of Minamisōma, roughly 20km from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the north eastern coast of Japan. After the Tōhoku earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, the tsunami and nuclear disaster which followed devastated this region.

A 30km mandatory evacuation zone left many residents with no choice but to leave immediately. Their homes, their communities and their environment were all damaged irreparably. The evacuation order was lifted in 2016 but there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the long-term effects of the radiation damage there, much of which is still present in the towns and villages surrounding Fukushima, as well as in the marine and forest environments. The forests occupy 75% of the fallout zone and are still considered too dangerous to begin the process of decontamination. What is certain is that it could take many years, if not generations, before the regenerative healing powers of nature begin to take effect.

Tokuun Tanaka - Buddha's Word [BL REF C1872/48/1]

With this humble song, titled Itsukushimi (慈しみ) - a word that can be interpreted as compassion, love and mercy - Tokuun brings together Buddhist scripture from the Sutta Nipata, an ancient text considered to be over 2500 years old, with the modern stylings of folk spirituals on his acoustic guitar. 'The singer-songwriter is Buddha' he tells me in a friendly, jovial tone whilst seated on the tatami floor of Dokeiji temple’s Butsu-dō (main hall). It is a song that Tokuun sings alone at night, surrounded by a gentle chorus of night crickets on this particular late summer evening of 5 September 2019.

I had the opportunity to visit Tokuun and make this recording whilst doing field work supported by the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library Sound Archive. The resulting recordings can now be browsed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue as the Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872)

Slowly, the members of this temple community are returning, some after many years of having been displaced, but sadly there are also those who will never return. Every month, Tokuun welcomes visitors to Dokeiji Temple, inviting them to sing together with him this song of compassion, love and healing.

In Tokuun’s own words: 'Our way of life is being challenged. From growth to maturity, let us be part of the change. Let us take the right path without concern for profit or loss. It is time for the whole of humanity to evolve based on solidarity and harmony beyond self and society.'

Written by Mat Eric Hart

The Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872) explores contemporary practices and rituals of spiritual Japanese individuals and communities, and further aims to examine, from a sonic and artistic perspective, the relationship that exists between nature and spirituality within Japanese culture. The collection includes field recordings of both traditional, contemporary and classical Japanese and Ainu music, Buddhist chants, Shinto rituals, Shugendo and Yamabushi ceremonies. These recordings were made between August and November 2019 at various locations across Japan and her islands.

25 January 2021

Recording of the week: Amping up Uyghur music with the electric guitar

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This week's selection comes from Finlay McIntosh, World & Traditional Rights intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1988, the investigative journalist Paul Lashmar attended a concert in Kashgar, where he was treated to a performance of traditional Uyghur music. Luckily for us, he recorded the whole event and donated the recordings to the British Library.

The concert includes narrative songs accompanied by the dutar long-necked lute, solo performances on the rawap lute and qalun dulcimer, and large suites performed by a full ensemble of musicians, singers and dancers dressed in colourful costumes.

Uyghur dancers performing to an audience of tourists
Uyghur dancers performing to an audience of tourists. Photo courtesy of Paul Lashmar.

The recordings display the rich musical traditions that have matured over centuries of trade along the Silk Road. Along these trade routes, oasis towns like Kashgar became confluence points, where people coming from far-away places would pass through, bringing new musical instruments, styles and practices with them. This created a fertile ground for the creation of a vibrant musical culture that fused everything from Chinese to Central Asian, Persian and Middle Eastern influences.

A dancer and singer accompanied by musicians
A dancer and singer accompanied by musicians playing the qalun and ghijäk. Photo courtesy of Paul Lashmar.

However, when listening to this performance of traditional music, what really caught my attention was a less-than-traditional instrument—the electric guitar.

Of course, this modern instrument did not come to Kashgar through the ancient Silk Road. The guitar (or rather its sound) arrived through international media like cassettes, which were imported from neighbouring Central Asian countries or further afield. This inspired local musicians to acquire one of these exciting new instruments and start using it to make their own music.

Uyghur singer playing the guitar
Uyghur Singer Playing the Guitar. Photo Courtesy of Paul Lashmar.

Unfortunately, we do not have much information about the performer of these songs but he was probably a wedding singer, hired by the art troupe to entertain the audience of tourists with some popular music.

I have selected an excerpt from each of the three songs he performs. As they were recorded in 1988, I believe they document an early example of the presence of the electric guitar in Uyghur music.

In this first excerpt, we hear that although the performer’s instrument is Western, his music sounds undeniably Eastern. One of the musical elements that contribute to this is the rhythm—specifically the bouncy, limping aqsaq rhythm essential to Uyghur music—which is created by the driving interplay between the electric guitar and drum-kit.

Uyghur concert - excerpt 1 (BL REF C436/1)

This second clip begins with a punchy rock ‘n’ roll-sounding riff. Afterwards, the subtle guitar accompaniment contrasts with the musician’s highly ornamented nasal singing, which employs all of the melisma, minute tone shifts and swooping melodic lines you would expect from Uyghur singing.

Uyghur concert - excerpt 2 (BL REF C436/1)

At the beginning of this final excerpt, we hear another, twangy riff, played on the electro-acoustic guitar as pictured in Lashmar’s photos.

I like this specific clip because we can really hear how the guitar has been adapted to local music. The guitar might sound out of tune to a Western ear but it has probably been tuned to allow the performer to play microtones that lie beyond Western scales.

Uyghur concert - excerpt 3 (BL REF C436/1)

Whereas many ethnographic recordings are made by researchers seeking to document the world’s musical traditions in their purest and highest forms, these recordings are different. They don’t boast the best audio quality and you can even hear people talking throughout the performance. The use of guitar in the region is hardly an age-old tradition and it’s perhaps arguable whether the musician has necessarily mastered it yet.

But I think it is this rawness that makes the recordings so fantastic. They capture an exciting time when new musical elements were first entering the region and local musicians were picking them up, experimenting with them and mixing them with their own traditions. Here, we are not hearing the ‘pristine’ canonized versions of traditional music but the very moment where traditions are developing and morphing into something else.

Throughout the 1990s, the electric guitar would gain notoriety in the hands of musicians like Ekhmetjan, often credited as the first Uyghur superstar. The instrument’s popularity only increased as more and more global music genres entered the Uyghur market. As ethnomusicologist Rachel Harris shows in her article “Reggae on the Silk Road: The Globalization of Uyghur Pop,” guitar-driven styles like rock, heavy metal and reggae all trickled into the region. And in 1996, there was even a flamenco trend inspired by The Gypsy Kings. Musicians soaked up all of these influences and continued to refashion them into their music.

The electric guitar may not be a traditional Uyghur musical instrument but the Uyghurs certainly made it their own.

I am grateful to Paul Lashmar for the generous donation of these recordings and photographs. If you want to find out more about the recordings in the Paul Lashmar Collection, their catalogue entries can be found in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

References:

Harris, Rachel. 2005. “Reggae on the Silk Road: The Globalization of Uyghur Pop.” The China Quarterly 183: 627-643. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305741005000391.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

Follow @BLWorldTrad, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

04 May 2020

Recording of the week: Recording the birds of Japan

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This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

In 1952 Japanese ornithologist Tsuruhiko Kabaya acquired his first tape recorder. This, as they say, was a game changer. For over a decade Kabaya had been diligently documenting the movements and behaviour of wild birds across Japan. He recorded thousands of observations during this time, but always on paper, never on tape.

Having a tape recorder at his disposal opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Though not as portable as a notepad and pen, this piece of equipment was much easier to wield, and certainly more efficient than the disc cutting machine Kabaya had previously been experimenting with.

The following recording was made by Kabaya in the early 1950s and features the repetitive, liquid call of the Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia japonicus). This is surely one of the earliest, if not the first, recordings of the species ever made in Japan.

Oriental Scops Owl calls recorded by Tsuruhiko Kabaya

Scops Owl Cherry Blossoms and Moon by Ohara Koson
‘Scops Owl, Cherry Blossoms, and Moon’. Ink and colour woodblock print by Ohara Koson (1926)

The recording was included in the 3 volume set ‘Japanese Bird Songs’ which was published by the Japan Victor Company in 1954. Compiled by Kabaya and his colleague Kasuke Hoshino, these sound books were the first identification guides dedicated to Japanese birds and represent a significant moment in the history of Asian field recording.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

02 December 2019

Recording of the week: Kagura - dancing for the Gods

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This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

The origin of dance in Japan can be traced back to the age of the gods and the Japanese kagura can be considered a prototype of all Japanese rituals. 

Kagura combines dance with music and theatrical elements; it is both a ritual and an artistic expression for the kami (Japanese Gods) within the mythical narrative. [1]

Dance was a central element in many Japanese rituals and ceremonies, both within the courts and rural areas; especially in the latter, dance was the predominant element of folk religious festivals.

The heavenly kagura originated in northeastern Japan, in Iwate prefecture, and represents the origin of most genres of dance. Kagura is a collective term which refers to different schools of performing arts; it embodies a shamanic tradition in which the gods come dancing to infuse divine energy on people. The group figure of 12 performers also embodies a symbolic significance:

Thus, the kagura group of 12, with all these layers of meanings so typical of Shugendo systems, symbolically constitutes the whole universe and the whole of existence: Time, Space, Heaven, Earth and Humanitiy, based on Shintō, Taoist and Buddhist thought[2]

Photograph of Shinto mask performancePhotograph of Shinto mask performance (courtesy of Etnografiska Museet via Europeana)

The performers travel around the countryside bringing their blessing of prosperity and protection to the local people. Dance is therefore seen as a way to communicate and perpetuate religious tradition; in particular, the emphasis is on the aesthetic aspect of the dance.

Kagura (BL shelfmark 1LP0157766)

Kagura, a flower-hat dance, lion dances and masked dances [3] played a central role in the theatrical arts during the Muromachi period (1333-1615), a time characterized by emperor rivalries. Despite its turbulence, the Muromachi period was a time of great musical potential; a material and psychological build up for a flood of activities that was soon to burst upon the artistic world in a torrent of color and sound[4]

The first kagura ceremony can be traced back to the year 1002 and falls into the category of shamanistic practice[5].  We can divide Kagura into two subcategories: mi-kagura, the court music formal part of Shinto functions, and sato-kagura, which was mainly folk music.

The dance style of kagura consists of performances of approximately 15 mins, and a bamboo pipe (kagura-bue) is one of the common instruments used during such performances; kagura can also be intended as a proper musical genre. [6]

The study of the kagura focus on both the artistic side and religious aspect of this practice. As religion may differ from one culture to another, also a definition of dance as performative art only can lead to a simplistic approach.

It should be remembered that the Japanese view all their traditional performative, theatrical, dance and ritual forms as springing from the same source: the original kagura performance in Heaven[7]

 

Bibliography

1. Averbuch, Irit. (1995). The gods come dancing : A study of the Japanese ritual dance of yamabushi kagura. (Cornell East Asia series ; no. 79). Ithaca, N. Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University. BL shelfmark 11110.cc.39/79

2. Ibid, p. 58

3. Malm, W. (1990). Japanese music and musical instruments. Charles E. Tuttle, 249. BL shelfmark HUS 789.2956

4. Ibid, p. 33

5. Ibid, p. 42

6. Karpati, J. (2008). Typology of Musical Structures in the Japanese Shintō Ritual Kagura. Asian Music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music., 39(2), 152-166. BL shelfmark 1742.701000

7. Averbuch, Irit. (1995), p. 27

Special thanks to Lyrichord for granting us permission to feature this recording.

12 April 2018

Classical music in Nairobi

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By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

20180318_163526Levi Wataka and the Nairobi Orchestra

I recently gave a public lecture at the British Library titled Classic Treasures from the Sound Archive and the following day left for Kenya to repeat it in Nairobi.  I had been invited to become involved in a number of musical activities by Richard and Julia Moss.  As members and organisers of the Nairobi Orchestra, they have been responsible, almost single-handedly, in promoting classical music in Kenya for more than fifty years.  Their efforts were rewarded in 2010 when they both received an MBE ‘for services to classical music in Kenya’ and Richard published a book of recollections - Quavers near the Equator.  Now, many young Kenyans have the opportunity to study music at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music or with private teachers, and can audition for a place in the Nairobi Orchestra.  The Orchestra is non-professional, comprised of amateur musicians who all have day jobs but give their time on Wednesdays and Saturdays for rehearsals.

On my first evening I was invited to attend the Women’s Day Concert where an all-female orchestra were joined by soloists for some vocal extracts including an aria from Shirley Thompson’s operatic trilogy Spirit Songs.  The evening was presented by Wandiri Karimi, Director of the Kenya Conservatoire of Music who, from the stage, was kind enough to thank me for attending.

20180308_193810Celebrating Women in Music concert at Nairobi Theatre

At the first rehearsal I attended of the Nairobi Orchestra I coached them on the background to the main work they were preparing for the second half of their concerts the following week - the Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky.  A complex work demanding orchestral playing of a high standard, I was pleased that the response was very positive.

IMG_0326Coaching the Nairobi Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Another invitation was to be a jury member of the Young Music Competition at Kenton College, an annual event directed by Francis Oludhe now in its twenty-second year.  There were some very promising young players of all instruments and the Nairobi School Band gave a rousing performance of a march by Sousa at the end.

20180311_173619Jury: Dan Abissi, Njane Mugambi, Jonathan Summers, Grace Muriithi, Ken Mwiti, Alexandra Stapells, Eugene Muthui

One of the most rewarding experiences I had during my time in Nairobi was a piano accompaniment workshop I gave to seventeen students at All Saints Cathedral.  They wanted to learn more about the art of accompaniment and I was fortunate to have tenor soloist Anthony Mwangi to accompany and demonstrate for the students.  He is an impressive and talented tenor who sang a Brahms song in German and a setting of a John Masefield poem by John Ireland.

20180312_181226Piano accompaniment workshop at All Saints Church

Unfortunately, the rainy season came early and we had three inches of rain in one day resulting in the cancellation of a class I was to give in conducting and composition due to the roads being flooded!

IMG-20180315-WA0000Flooding in Nairobi

I was also fortunate to attend a performance in English of Rossini’s Barber of Seville with piano accompaniment.  Figaro was played by Caleb Wachira, Music Director at the Strathmore School, and most of the cast were very accomplished providing a humorous and enjoyable afternoon.

The Nairobi Orchestra gave their concerts at the Kenya National Theatre on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.  The first half of the concert was conducted by James Laight, Director of Music at Peponi School.  Pianist Cordelia Williams came from England to perform Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov while the orchestra commenced with the orchestral arrangement of Debussy’s Petite Suite

20180317_193243Cordelia Williams (piano) with the Nairobi Orchestra and James Laight conducting

170318 RachmaninovEDIT

The second half was conducted by Levi Wataka, who received his BMus from Kenyatta University and who is Assistant Director of Music and teacher of sport at Peponi House Preparatory School.  Levi’s passion is conducting and he visits England each year to attend a summer school to further his knowledge and experience.  We had some fascinating discussions together on the work he conducted at the concert – Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 mentioned above.  Both performances were sold out and attracted an appreciative and attentive audience.

In addition to all my musical pursuits, in my capacity as curator I was offered some 78rpm discs by Peter Paterson, a neighbour whose grandparents had emigrated from Germany.  I selected what the Library did not have and brought them back with me including a disc of Massenet from a set of two of which the Library only had the first disc. 

Columbia D 11008

Mr Moss donated some rare late 1940s Kenyan recordings on the Jambo label.  The Library only has ten of these discs which I acquired way back in 2005 from the collection of Ernie Bayly. 

Jambo

For Wildlife curator, Cheryl Tipp I recorded some of the birds including the ibis, robin chat, red chested cuckoo and cisticola although I was unable to secure a recording of the tree hyrax, a sort of giant guinea pig, which often screamed during the night.

All photographs copyright Jonathan Summers

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