"TRANS-CRIOLLA"--The other side of the world: how music connects Japan and South America

Yoshiko Maeda
Performing Arts Section, Arts and Culture Dept.
The Japan Foundation

On the other side of the world from Japan, some twenty-four hours by plane and a twelve to thirteen-hour time difference away, lies South America; here, in 2010 and 2011, several countries celebrated the 200th anniversary of their nation's founding. To mark the bicentennials in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, the TRANS-CRIOLLA tour featuring Mio Matsuda, Tomohiro Yahiro and Hugo Fattoruso's trio was planned for August 2010. The Japan Foundation organizes such tours overseas for the purpose of introducing outstanding Japanese performing arts to promote international cultural exchange and thus the understanding of Japan.

In the midst of the hardships that these three nations have endured, music has been a crucial factor that helped the people pull though their ordeals. Because of its vital role, we wanted to pay tribute to the music of the region by celebrating the occasion with artists from each country. That idea came to life in the six performances of the tour when the mingled sounds of Japanese and Latin music brought the entire audience together as one. The beautiful, effortless voice of Matsuda, an up-and-coming young singer who has been singing Latin songs throughout her career; the strong, steady, and colorful percussion of Yahiro, who has been deeply involved with South American music; along with the exciting, rhythmic and heartwarming sounds of Hugo's piano, accordion, and tambor (drum), came together in fantastic sessions with local musicians in each country, making this a truly remarkable tour. Now let me tell you a bit about each of the concerts.

Kick-off performance in Buenos Aires, Argentina Photo by Marcelo Chiodi

The first performance was held in Buenos Aires in Argentina. Unfortunately, a scheduled appearance by the great Eduardo Falu was cancelled, but the crowd was enchanted when the performers sang his famous Las Golondrinas (The Swallow). The warm sounds of the flute, quena (wood flute), and charango (guitar) played by Marcelo Chiodi mirrored the performer's personality, and the powerful resonance of Momoko Aida's tango violin added breadth to the music. I'm sure both Argentines and ethnic Japanese living in Argentina were moved by Japanese songs like Hiyori-geta (Wooden sandals), Nennyako-korochako (A lullaby of Akita) and Minna-yume-no-naka (It was all a dream).

Our next performance was at the University of Cordoba, an hour's flight from Buenos Aires, a site known as the alma mater of many political activists including Che Guevara. We were joined for the show by guitarist Horacio Burgos, whose severe expression was belied by the delicate sounds of his guitar that touched the hearts of everyone in the audience. His performance of Ultimo Café (A Last Cup of Coffee) and a duet with Matsuda of La Pomena (A Girl of Pomena) were especially impressive, and the thunderous outbreak of applause from the audience still rings in my ears.

The foyer in San Jose, Chile is packed with people filling in questionnaires and chatting after the performance
© The Japan Foundation

Next we headed for Uruguay, home to Hugo and the tour crew. Uruguay has an exciting music and dance called Candombe, the "soul music" of the people who were brought to South America as slaves, and who kept the Candombe tradition alive even when it was banned by the government. Joining us for the performance was one of the country's leading Candombe groups, Rey Tambor, made up of Diego Paredes, Fernando Nunez, and Noe Nunez. Their tambor-playing echoed deep in our hearts with a resonance we'd never felt before. Added to the attractions were the fresh sound of Nicolas Ibarburu's guitar as he played his charming composition Templando Momentos (Warming up the Moments), and performances by top Candombe dancers Fernando "Lobo" Nunez (an extremely important figure in the history of Candombe and also a first-class drum craftsman) and Adriana Guralute.

Sold-out sign hanging at the entrance in Montevideo, Uruguay © The Japan Foundation

After our performance in San Jose, about an hour and a half by car from Uruguay's capital, Montevideo, a young Uruguayan woman came up to us and said, "I live near Isla de Flores Street where the Candombe Parade is held every year, but this is the first time I have realized how wonderful Candombe is, and I really love the sound now. I want to thank you for the wonderful performance! I wish you could have played in other places too, especially on Isla de Flores Street." During the concert in Montevideo, audience members were heard saying 'Muy bien (excellent)," as they applauded wildly with each number, proof that the united sounds of the Japanese and Uruguayan music had struck a chord with the people.

Performance in Santiago, Chile. A Japanese lullaby, Uruguay's Candombe and Chile's Nueva Cancion are heard on the same stage. © Pablo Carvacho

Our final destination was Chile where the major earthquake of February 2010 had left its mark both on the city and on the hearts of the people. In the city of Valparaiso where we held our performance, many cultural facilities had been damaged, and when we visited in August, only two halls were in a condition to serve as concert venues. We held our show at one of these precious sites, the Sala Ruben Dario Hall, named after a Nicaraguan poet who is called the "Father of Modernization". The space, located on the University of Valparaiso campus, has a unique cave-like atmosphere, and on the night of the show it was packed with local music lovers and students who listened intently as Yahiro's percussion, Hugo's piano and tambor, and the singing of the two lovely ladies filled the air.

The final show in Santiago was a big success!
© Pablo Carvacho

Chile is well known for its wonderful culture of poetry and song. It is the home of the world famous poet Pablo Neruda, and the Nueva Cancion (New Song), a contemporary version of traditional Latin American folk music, was certainly a source of strength to the Chileans as they fought an oppressive regime.
The two performances in Chile took up the Nueva Cancion theme, with the help of guest appearances by Francesca Ancarola, a very popular and talented singer who represents Chile's current music scene. Francesca sang Nennyako-korochako in Japanese, and Matsuda and Francesca did a duet in Spanish and Japanese of a famous piece by Victor Jara, a leading figure in the Nueva Cancion movement. Whenever Victor Jara's songs are sung, the audience always joins in, making for a truly moving spectacle. Our last show was in Santiago. Our venue there had a seating capacity of 1,000, and the organizers were very supportive of the aims of the concert and helped us in every way to prepare an appropriately grand finale for the tour.

Photo by a staff member at the Japanese Embassy in Chile

The one Japanese word that everyone involved in the show is sure to remember is "Saiko dayo! (It's great!)" I say this because a song called "Saiko," from the island country of Capo Verde in Africa, was sung for the encore at every performance, and I heard many people humming the tune as they left the concert hall. After every show, we asked the audience to fill out a questionnaire and found that, for 50 to 80 percent of the audience, this was their first time to attend a "Japan related" performance. In that moment, I saw how music can shorten the distance between nations on opposite sides of the globe like Japan and the countries of South America. We would like to extend our gratitude to the performers who joined us for the show, the professional staff who supported the events, the Japanese Embassy and local groups who enthusiastically helped with preparations, and to all the people who took time to come and listen and make the tour a success.

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