New York-based koto player Yumi Kurosawa performed at Moon Romantic, an intimate music venue in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, and JapanCulture•NYC was there to witness the magic.
Part of that magic was the club itself. The main feature of Moon Romantic – the Japanese name is Tsukimirukimiomou, which roughly means, “Looking at the moon, I think of you” – is its moon. The giant projection of the moon onto the wall behind the stage allows Moon Romantic’s guests to settle into a dreamy mood to enjoy the show.
The event was practically two shows in one. For the first half of the concert, Kurosawa played solo pieces on koto, traditional and contemporary, including her own compositions. I’ve never heard a bar so quiet; the crowd was hushed as it hung on Kurosawa’s every pluck of the koto’s strings.
After a brief intermission Deep Singh, a London-born, New York-based tabla player joined Kurosawa onstage. The tabla is a pair of Indian drums, one made of metal, the other of wood, both covered in goatskin. Together Kurosawa and Singh performed contemporary pieces accompanied by computer-generated beats.
The final guest of the evening was Shinya Yamada, a kimono-making rapper from Kyoto who goes by the handle MC guerrilla radio. He performed to numbers onstage, then Kurosawa and Singh closed out the show with two songs, including an ethereal rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
One wouldn’t generally picture the ancient koto, with its kabuki-and-geisha roots and waterfall imagery, to blend with an instrument from India, let alone rap. But the artists and their three distinct disciplines created a richly textured sound that transcended time, geography, and genre.
The gig was the third of the trio’s three concerts in Japan. They performed in Kurosawa’s hometown of Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture in Northeastern Japan, and Kyoto before playing Tokyo on March 15.
And it was a nice coincidence that I happened to be in Tokyo on the same night to see it. Or perhaps the moon was in the correct phase.