Two days after the Tsunami scare, Oahu dwellers experienced the Honolulu City Festival: a bittersweet celebration, as a lot of the Hawaiian cultural heritage comes from Japan and the Hawaiian islands were spared, while Japan faces the catastrophic aftermath of the earthquake. The fireworks, which were slated to close the City Festival, were cancelled as a sign of respect and condolences to the Japanese survivors.

In Honolulu, a Tsunami of cultural forces celebrated life and artistic expression. On Waikiki beach, a high energy dance group, Takarabune, brought their primal screams of youth and joy straight from Japan.

A crowd of tourists gathered around the group as they prepared for their performance. In red kimonos – and make-up and hair right out of Lady Gaga videos – this innovative and audacious company urged the audience to get closer as their drummers warmed-up and the dancers cheerfully greeted the onlookers.

Takarabune’s music reminded me of the percussion of the Intrepida Trupe, the performers of De La Guarda, combined with animated screaming from the dancers at the top of their lungs, like lava spewing out of a volcano and releasing the world’s tension. The vocals did not stop there, there was singing in Japanese and greetings to the audience in English: “We love you” and “We are crazy dance from Japan”, followed by them engaging the audience in singing along to a melody. Unlike traditional dancers, who don’t break the fourth wall, these performers stared directly into the eyes of as many viewers as they could connect with, all the while moving very quickly and precisely around their improvised beach stage. The young dancers’ energy is more contagious than what I felt with The Blue Man Group or any interactive performance I have witnessed in New York, London, Rio or Paris. The following was taken from their website:

Takarabune is a creative dance company of Awa Odori, one of the most well-known Japanese traditional dances with a 400 years of history. They push the limits of this venerable traditional art: their signature dance style is so aggressive and vigorous that it has been characterized as ‘dance beyond Awa Odori’. Their performance at a number of Awa Odori events held in Tokyo has generated growing interest among a variety of media, and the group has gained a reputation as the hottest Awa Odori group (ren) in Japan.

Takarabune was founded by Akira Yonezawa from Tokushima, the birthplace of Awa Odori. The members are mostly in their teens and twenties, the majority of whom have more than 10 years of experience. Its skilled dance and music and the dynamic performance captivate the audience.

Awa Odori performances have dancers and musical accompanists. In Takarabune, all members are dual-role experts trained both in dancing and musical accompaniment, unlike typical Awa Odori groups where members are divided into dancers and musical accompanists. This allows Takarabune to build a uniquely dynamic program on the stage. Witnessing one performance will only give you a glimpse of what Takarabune has to offer. Takarabune has so much more!

In October 2009, Takarabune was the first in the Awa Odori community to run a one-man live show at a club. The show, as well as two subsequent shows in 2010, were enthusiastically received with all the tickets sold out on all days. Their next show has been scheduled on May 7th and 8th, 2011.”


Pop-infused contemporary art is rooted deep in tradition. On the surface, irreverent artists seem to negate the classic form. If you listen a little closer – watch their feet as they move – Takarabune gives away just how much of their choreography is taken from martial arts and ancient Japanese culture.

Two weeks earlier and thousands of miles northeast, another music performance awoke me from a state of stupor caused by mainstream radio stations and washed out Grammy stage performances. Buddy Guy himself took to the stage of Buddy Guy Legends in the Windy City to join some of his finest fellow blues brothers. My husband and I had been searching for the Green Mill, supposedly a favorite hang out of Al Capone’s, and almost by accident stumbled upon the dark and discrete Chicago corner between Printers’ Row and Grant Park.

After an amazing set by the internationally acclaimed Jimmy Johnson (and looking at the gallery of memorabilia from rock n’ roll icons who performed with Buddy on the walls), the audience was treated to some really sexy guitar riffs and melodies in the incredible voice of the man himself.

Buddy Guy talked about the hip hop stars of today’s big record labels and how their lyrics were inspired by the old days of Chicago blues. Even the down-and-dirty rappers’ catchy choruses are inspired by late night conversations and jamming sessions of serious jazz and blues musicians. The beats may have changed but the lyrics are not some new invention. Noone re-invents the wheel. Artistically speaking, this is not to say that truly original work is impossible. Rather, this is to say how delightful it is to find new artists willing to admit that their work reflects their forerunners, and also to see lifetime legends whose body of work has come full circle.

The Memphis Blues Tour, Cyndi Lauper’s new artistic creation, is conquering fans throughout the tour’s many stops. A legendary pop icon better known for her dance hits, Cyndi is putting her amazing voice at the service of classic, irrefutably good music. And she is collaborating with some incredible musicians along the way. I saw the Memphis Blues Concert at Town Hall in New York last year and was very impressed. Cyndi took it a step further with her concerts in Brazil last month. She infused her biggest hits with Brazilian beats, courtesy of Brazilian percussionist Lan Lan (my cousin). The Memphis Blues band packs concert halls in this age of overtly produced Justin Bieber copycats and singers crawling out of Matthew-Barney-inspired sculptures. Young Cyndi Lauper fans in Brazil who inherited their parents’ records are learning about the blues. Art is gaining something valuable and refreshing with the cross-pollination of different cultural backgrounds.

Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: March 26, 2011, 10:58 pm | No Comments »