Sunday, July 8, 2012

Naotaro Moriyama Concert in Naha

(Not the best version of this song but, at least this one had an English translation of the lyrics)

Another sultry summer’s eve in Naha Okinawa found us at one of the local auditoriums to take in a concert. This time around it was Mr. Naotaro Moriyama who visited Okinawa for Tanabata, the star festival. Mr. Moriyama isn’t from Okinawa but you could say that he has some Okinawa in his blood. His mother Ryoko Moriyama is quite the singer songwriter herself. She’s written and performed several songs that are so Okinawan that they ought to make her an honorary citizen of the prefecture. Two songs in particular, “Nada So-so” and “Satōkibi-batake” are practically the Okinawan national anthem.

The first song, Nada so-so or tears falling endlessly, she wrote the lyrics for, performed it and it has been covered by several well-known Okinawan artists. The Band “Begin” wrote the music for the song while Ms. Moriyama wrote the lyrics. Singer Natskawa Rimi has also had a big hit with that tune and it was even made into a movie for the silver screen. The second song Satokibi-batake or the sugar cane field she made a national hit tells the tragic tale of a family whose father was killed during the battle of Okinawa. At over 10 minutes in length, it is the Japanese/Okinawan equivalent to Don McLean’s anthem of an era, American Pie. 

 (Mom performs her version of Satokibi Batake. The Za-wa-wa portion isn't a word but, rather it mimicing the sound of the wind as it blows through a sugar cane field)

One thing to remember about attending a concert in Okinawa or more importantly in Japan is to be on time. If they say that the gates will open at 5pm, they will open at exactly 5pm. Furthermore, if the concert is supposed to start at 5:30, it will start on time. There isn’t any of that B.S. from the band making you wait for two-and-a-half hours while they do mass quantities of alcohol and/or drugs backstage.

Also I should add that in Okinawa in particular, they have a thing called “Okinawan time.” Okinawan time is just another way to say "fashionably late." Everything in Okinawa runs on Okinawa time. That 2:30 bus you’re waiting for. Don’t fret it will get there eventually. Who knows, one day it may even get there at 2:30. It’s just that it may be AM instead of PM when it happens. Hey, stuff happens. You know how Cops stop for doughnuts in the states, here, everyone including the bus drivers stop for soba! In this matter, they seemed to have made some sort of compromise as the show started promptly at 5:36 PM and in keeping with local traditions, there were people still being escorted to their seats well into the show.

(unfortunately we couldn't take cameras into the auditorium and the staff was pretty busy stopping folks from taking pictures or video with their cell phones. That and I don't care to put up with the hassles of dealing with the Japanese authorities. These videos and more are all available on YouTube)
Mr. Moriyama and his band (whose names I unfortunately cannot remember) were all polished musicians who each played several instruments as well as flawlessly singing back up and awesome harmony. One song in particular, they performed a-capella and the harmony resembled something one might hear from the likes of the Oakridge Boys performing at the Grand Ole Opry. The concert started out playing some of his best known ballads. This was after all his tenth anniversary tour so he has had more than just a few songs to play.

They kept the show moving at a brisk pace throughout. The band would seamlessly go through two or three hits allowing only a brief moment for applause after each hit before starting up with another. But it wasn’t all just music. Mr. Moriyama is quite the conversationalist. One might even argue that he is a poster child for adult ADHD! Sometimes he spoke so fast that even my Japanese wife couldn’t understand what he was talking about but throughout, he kept his audience entertained and engaged with them in a happy-go-lucky conversation that kept them wanting more.

There was a brief intermission a little over an hour into the show and during this brief respite, they showed video clips of some of his greatest hits through the years including a song or two that he performed with his famous mother. When he returned, the whole mood switched from the quiet reserve of a folk music concert to the all out mayhem of pop music mixed together with a dash of driving rock and roll! He started it all off a tribute to Michael Jackson, the gloved one, and although he doesn't move quite the way Michael could, cut him some slack, nobody could! He did give it his best shot and used the opportunity to poke just a little fun at himself to the audience's delight. He engaged the audience and for the better part of the second half of the show, everyone was up on their feet. Not only did we get entertained, we got our exercise for the day in too!

Unlike a lot of second generation talent that gets dragged up on the stage by their famous parents because they can’t find work on their own and have run out of excuses for merely existing, Moriyama actually possesses talent. In my humble opinion, his vocal capabilities and quality far and away exceeds his talented mothers! In short, he has a tremendous voice that though a bit nasal, at times almost to the point of irritating, it’s tempered with a deep resonance that makes each note he sings sound as pure as the water found in ten-thousand year old glacial ice.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and like his mother; he doesn’t just sing but actually writes most of his own music. In just over ten years in the business, he’s had a string of hits that would make the career of many a musician. In short, this guy is the real deal! If you’re in Japan and someone says “hey, let’s take in a Naotaro Moriyama concert,” my advice would be don't be a smart ass and say something like "gesundheit!" Just go. Even if you don’t understand a single word of Japanese, you are going to find the musical experience well worth it!