Shakuhachi meets Pena, Manipuri and Japanese traditional music collaboration!

James Khangenbam *

Motonaga Hiromu   blowing his Shakuhachi
Motonaga Hiromu blowing his Shakuhachi :: Pix - Keirak photo agency

Mangka Mayanglambam who appeared to be totally absorbed and distinctively excellent during her collaborative performance with Motonaga Hiromu at Pena meets Shakuhachi during November 2016 at the Giving Tree Sangaiprou said, "I sang a Japanese lullaby Komori Uta in the collaborative work. When Motonaga Hiromu was blowing his Shakuhachi during the seven days collaborative workshop at Laihui, I heard a note which I felt I have listened earlier, I realized later that the lullaby was among one of my father's collection and I had kept it as a ringtone for my phone at one point of time.

It took me five days to learn the Japanese lullaby completely, Motonaga Hiromu gave me the lyrics in Roman letter but my pronunciations differ and he corrected me every morning. We practice singing together, then I was inquisitive about the lyrics in order to feel the song, I searched the internet then I asked Motonaga Hiromu to teach me the meaning of the Japanese lullaby which he did. In the learning process, I was inspired and found lots of similarity with our Manipuri lullaby tune.

Motonaga Hiromu also shared the same thought as he told me that the tonal vibrations of the lullabies were very much similar (Manipuri lullaby - Tha Tha Thabungton). I never knew what will happen until Motonaga Hiromu came to Manipur; I was thrilled by the music of Shakuhachi. For me it is a new experience, I was also afraid if anything goes wrong in my performance but luckily I got huge appreciation after my performance.

I was not able to figure out as to how the collaboration will progress in blending the two traditional music together. Motonaga Hiromu makes me feel so cool and helped me a lot and my father gave me the hints.

That's how I performed today. I think today's performance was excellent, today's vibes was so good and we artists needs such vibes as it creates emotion. That's what real artists do. The ambience is nice in this place, the crowd was good, what more could I say

While Shakuhachi music performance by Motonaga Hiromu left a lingering resonance to the audience of Manipur. One can hardly imagine that a flute could produce multiple intricate sounds which have the potential to really set or change the mood of the people gathered or take them for a ride in the hovering clouds unnoticed.

Motonaga Hiromu fully clad in his traditional wear Kimono said, "Both Shakuhachi and Pena has its own traditional style of playing and we have to create something new to represent traditional Manipuri music and it took us seven days of continuous effort to bring out the piece we performed today".

Motonaga Hiromu during his visit to Manipur, India further said that, "I am moved by the people here, having their own culture. Geographically Manipur is quite similar to Japan, our border is sea and it is hills here. A contemporary dance choreographer Yoshiko Chuma was having a project with Oja Mangangsana of Laihui in Imphal during 2007 and she recommended me to visit the place. I had also performed with Oja Mangangsana in Tokyo, we have been thinking about a collaboration work in Imphal',

Motonaga Hiromu also conducted a three days workshop on Shakuhachi which is traditionally made of Bamboo and is an end blown flute for couple of enthusiastic musicians in Manipur. He spoke on the origin and theoretical aspects of the musical instrument besides teaching on how one plays the traditional musical notes.

Motonaga Hiromu with the Laihui ensemble
Motonaga Hiromu with the Laihui ensemble :: Pix - Oja Mangangsana

It is worth sharing some stories on Shakuhachi and revival of traditional music movement in Japan through the musician's point of view. Motonaga Hiromu while talking about the traditional musical instrument Shakuhachi and the current traditional music movements in Japan said that, "In the 1960 and 70's Shakuhachi was really famous in Japan and there were many outstanding Shakuhachi musicians.

But it somehow got forgotten by the modern society until it got a bit popular in recent times. When I played Shakuhachi in an orchestra, I got appreciated from lots of foreigners and I realized people really like the traditional music of Japan. On a different story, the schools in Japan were more focus on teaching western musical instruments until the Ministry of Culture in 2002, decided that the children in music school should also learn traditional instrument.

But Japanese instrument is really difficult for an ordinary Piano teacher, so they have to call people like us to teach. Thus a lot of opportunity came up, now we are going around Japan performing at the high school, secondary school, primary school or even kinder garden. We are also getting little attention from the younger people who usually listen to pop music but kind of started feeling the traditional music in the recent times

In a significant progress or what could be termed as Rise of Japanese Traditional Music Band in the eye of the musician, Motonaga Hiromu who himself is part of a popular traditional musical band talked a bit about some of the popular traditional musical bands in Japan.

He said that, "Yoshida brothers are the most famous and popular in Japan as traditional instruments players. Some of the traditional Japanese musical instrument played by the bands includes Shakuhachi, Sengyen and Koto. Koto is like plug string instrument and Taiko is a typo drum which is gaining popularity. They have lot of Taiko team in Europe and America so representing the four musical instruments we kind of make it all kind of original.

Actually we do not play the classical piece because young people are sometimes impatient, we are making musical piece which are three and half minutes long, we are satisfied that if we can tell them how the sounds of instruments are, so it does not have to be traditional melody or rhythm or something like that but they can easily feel the sounds. That's the way how we are playing our traditional music for the youths as of now; there are no lyrics but just instrument.

We form a traditional music band call Wasabi in 2008, it is getting popular. I hope so. Our band was the first kind of only by Japanese traditional instruments. There were many bands which have a mixture of traditional instruments and guitar, drums etc

Motonaga Hiromu with the Laihui ensemble
Motonaga Hiromu with Mangka Mayanglambam of Laihui :: Pix - Keirak photo agency

Oja Mangangsana's opinion on her daughter's intuition of singing a Japanese lullaby was a mixed feeling as he was not sure whether a Manipuri girl will be able to sing the traditional Japanese lullaby. But he was happy when Motonaga Hiromu accepted the proposal and blended his Shakuhachi tune with the lullaby making it sound more original.

Oja Mangansana said, " In my view, collaboration cannot be repeated and it should be a masterpiece to the artists involved. Motonaga Hiromu must be getting ideas, we also get inspired creatively, and that is the best outcome of the collaboration. Collaboration should be made between two able persons like between two masters, two original performers. Keeping the originality intact and collaborating with the artists from outside is very interesting. We also get inspired from the feedback the audience gave us after our performance. I am also thankful to all the able musicians of Laihui who performed in the collaboration".

Mention may also be made that the Manipur Tourism Department turned down their commitment of hosting the collaboration performance at the Sangai Festival, 2016. In few days time a new venue, stage concept, sound and light design was arranged for the maiden traditional music collaboration between Manipur (India) and Japan. But the changes did not hamper the performance of the artists as Oja Manganagsana and Motonaga Hiromu had collaborated earlier in Tokyo, Nigata and Osaka and they know each other's music very well.

The maiden collaboration of traditional music between the two countries India and Japan was organised by Art Heal Trust Manipur, Laihui and The Japan Foundation, New Delhi. Motonaga Hiromu came along with Kaoru Miyamoto, the Director General of the Japan Foundation, New Delhi who witnessed the workshop at Laihui and Misako Futsuki Cultural Director of the foundation joined the premiere show of Shakuhachi meets Pena.

* James Khangenbam wrote this article for
The writer could be reached at jameslaphoi(AT)gmail(DOT)com, James Khangenbam is an independent documentary film maker
This article was posted on April 30, 2017.

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