Okinawan Kodama, A Celebration of the Heart, Soul and Spirit
沖縄の鼓魂 Okinawan Kodama: A Celebration of the Heart, Soul and Spirit
On Friday, August 4, Metro Vancouver audiences will be treated to a feast of Okinawan drumming and dancing as the eisa group Requios and friends take over the stage of the Vancouver Playhouse. The Bulletin spoke to concert organizer Masami Hanashiro about what to expect at the show.
You are bringing what looks like a really exciting show to the Vancouver Playhouse on August 4. You’re calling it Okinawan Kodama – what does Kodama mean?
Kodama is a Japanese word that means “echo,” but Tadatoshi Teruya, the founder of Requios, came up with two kanji to spell it. One means “drum,” and the other means “spirit.” So really, it’s a play on words, and for me it reflects, or echos, the soul of eisa, which is the folk dance and drumming of Okinawa.
What does eisa mean to you?
To me eisa is story-telling through accompanying songs and drum beats. In Okinawa, each region has their original eisa and folksongs, and everywhere you go, you experience this unique energy and expression as they celebrate their roots.
Tell me about the origins of eisa.
Eisa began in the mid-17th Century, originating as nenbutsu (chanting), performed on the last day of the Bon festival (the Buddhist All Souls’ Day) as a way to honour the spirits of one’s ancestors. Since those beginnings, there have been many changes. After the Second World War, numerous eisa festivals were organized as a way to energize the younger generations and build community spirit. It is still very much a community-based art form that reflects the spirit of the Okinawan people.
Requios is one of Okinawa’s best-known eisa groups and will be performing at the show. That’s not a very Japanese-sounding name – what are its origins?
In the 16th Century, Portuguese ships were sailing all over the world, trading with many nations. They used the Okinawan islands, which were called Ryukyu then, as a resting place during their travels, and they praised the Okinawans as peace-loving, friendly people, giving them the name Requios. So when Teruya-san formed the ensemble in 1998, he took the name Requios for the group because he liked the meaning. They are based in Nakijin, in Kunigami prefecture and their goal is to expand eisa drumming to incorporate other art forms such as the fan dance and shi shi mai, the lion dance. They are very theatrical and have expanded the language of eisa beyond its folk origins. They also believe is carrying the Okinawa folk arts to other cultures and have visited over a dozen countries over the past twenty years.
What can we expect at this concert?
Lots of exciting eisa taiko from Requios, but also some beautiful dancing from a group called Haru, who perform a style of classical dance called Ryukyu buyo. They are known for collaborating with many other artists and so are a perfect fit for this concert. There will also be two sanshin performers. The sanshin is the Okinawan version of the shamisen, or Japanese banjo, and it is a very important part of eisa performnces.
Anything you’d like to add?
This is a rare chance to experience this dynamic art forms. Because it is such a large-scale show, it is difficult to tour, so we are very lucky that they will be performing for us at this special show. You won’t be disappointed!
Okinawan Kodama: A Celebration of the Heart, Soul and Spirit
featuring Requios and Haru
Friday, August 4, 7:30 PM
600 Hamilton Street, Vancouver