Saturday, April 16, 2011
Sundance Kabuki Theater
San Francisco, CA
From the spontaneous parade of musicians into the theater to the rhythmic barrage of Japanese, Korean and Chinese drums thundering throughout the hall, the Lunar Drum Ensemble set the stage for what was to be an amazing outpouring of emotions, compassion and sheer joy. Never have I heard musicians from the three Asian cultures unite in what I can only describe as “harmonic power drumming”.
But it wasn’t just about the music. It was about a community coming together in support of the victims of the devastating tsunami in Northern Japan last month. And the San Francisco community stepped up to that calling, staging the first Japan Restart Benefit Concert to raise money and awareness for the relief efforts. As an adjunct to this year’s Cherry Blossom festival, the concert was conceived only 3 weeks prior, and through the love and support of committed souls, was transformed into a magical musical statement of perseverance and celebration.
Hailing from across the Pacific, the kimono-clad singer Achi lifted the audience with joy and spontaneity as she rocked and grooved to the funky beats of her hit band, Tokyo-based Soulit.
Up next, Miguel Govea and los Compas commanded the stage with a tight-knit musical serenade of Tex-Mex, salsa and Latin Jazz flavors. His wife and two daughters hit the grove with swinging accordion riffs and melodic harmonies. As a part of “la global familia“, their rousing renditions brought an added dimension to “hands across the Pacific” solidarity.
And finally, the legendary Elvin Bishop and friends held court in the “house of blues”, aka the Sundance Kabuki Theater. Addressing the audience in “Nihongo” (Japanese), Elvin connected with the community and the cause. With an outstanding band of talent, this powerhouse ensemble “kicked it up” severally notches as each artist belted out their own version of that all American cultural art. Elvin’s friend and cohort Takezo, from Kyoto, Japan belted out a gutsy, powerful number that was reminiscent of the great blues artists of yesteryear.
But what really brought it all together was the finale, Kyu Sakamoto’s 1960’s hit “Sukiyaki“. Elvin, Takezo and crew rendered a soulful, moving tribute and in the process reinvented the song as the new anthem for the Japan Relief effort.
The song of of love and sorrow and hope for a better tomorrow touched both hearts and souls – a reminder of the recent tragedies, and the need to persevere and rise above.
The rebuilding of Japan will take years and years. But if this concert is any indication of what’s to come, Japan will once again rise to prosperity.