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The Matsuri Project

The Matsuri Project

‘Matsuri’ translates as ‘festival’ in Japanese. At the heart of many Japanese festivals, there is a small core group of ‘matsuri’ musicians who play the familiar folk songs and bon odori dance repertoire. We wanted to create a similar live experience for our homegrown festival audiences and participants and are delighted to have been supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to bring this group together for our festival in May 2023. Led by Fiona Umetsu on taiko drum, and composer Sarah Murphy on shinobue flute, this project brings together Ibuki Taiko drummers Ruth McCartney, Diana McLaughlin, Ciaran McCay, Micheal McCay, Forton Umetsu and Ami Umetsu to collaborate with Ronan McKee on marimba, Lucia McGinnis on harp and Emma Louise Bond and Sophie Doran on vocals.

Lead taiko artist, Fiona Umetsu, commented: Matsuri is at the heart of everything we do at Ibuki Taiko. We hold the spirit of festival, of community, of kindness, of fun and joy at the forefront of our work. Coming together as Ibuki Taiko with a wider group of such talented musicians to learn and play these three pieces is so exciting!’

The Matsuri Group will perform a select repertoire of pieces special to Foyle Obon on the evening of May 20th2023. 

Taiko Love Composed by Sarah Murphy for Foyle Obon

This piece was commissioned by Foyle Obon and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2017. Local flautist and composer Sarah Murphy created a piece inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of community taiko and dance.

Sarah wove together Irish and Japanese Obon dance rhythms and included a fragment of the traditional Irish melody “The Gates of Derry” in order to place this Japanese Obon dance music in an “Ancient Oakgrove” “On the banks of the River Foyle”. Both of these phrases can be heard on voices that also tell of “Cherry Blossom”, an iconic image associated with Japan, and the “beam beam of drum” which describes the energy and bouncing life of a Taiko group that beats from the heart, as described in a workshop for Ibuki Taiko given by visiting Taiko Master Eiichi Saito.

The addition of Irish harp, played alongside Taiko drums, Shinobue, Voice and Marimba, also helps to root this celebration of Japanese Obon music and dance in Ireland. Other sections of the piece are inspired by the twinkling lights of Japanese lanterns floating at night, and the chanting of “Taiko Love!” which embraces the Spirit, Light and Matsuri of Foyle Obon Festival.   

Ei Ja Nai Ka (Isn’t it Good?) Ei Ja Nai Ka (Isn’t it Good?) Rhythm, kakegoe, and dance composed by PJ Hirabayashi 1994, lyrics and melody composed by Yoko Fujimoto 2001.

Ei Ja Nai Ka is a bon odori piece created by PJ Hirabayashi, creator of TaikoPeace and a founding member of San Jose Taiko. The inspiration for Ei JaNai Ka? (EJNK) came from the high energy of Japanese festivals and folk dances, such as Kyushu’s Kokura Gion Matsuri and Awa Odori of Shikoku. EJNK is dedicated to the issei, the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S., and celebrates Japanese American history through movements that reflect the issei’s jobs in agriculture, mining, and railroad construction. In recent years, EJNK has expanded beyond San Jose Taiko and is included in a growing number of North American Obon or Japanese American summer festivals.

Four members of San Jose Taiko, Franco Imperial, Wisa Uemura, Geoff Noone and Yurika Chiba came to Derry in 2019 and performed at the Foyle Obon festival. It was the beginning of a friendship between our two taiko families. They taught us the Ei Ja Nai Ka dance during their stay and we danced and performed it the festival. It was a memorable and beautiful experience.  

Fiona Umetsu, and through her, this Matsuri Group, has been given permission to dance, play and sing ‘Ei Ja Nai Ka’ by PJ Hirabayashi, Yoko Fujimoto and San Jose Taiko for our festival on May 20 2023. We see it as an honour and a joy to bring this beautiful and much beloved ‘anthem of North American taiko celebrating the heart and spirit of taiko drumming’ here to Ireland.

Inochi Kagayake, Warera ga Matsuri Composed by Shogo Yoshii for Foyle Obon. Shogo Yoshii, a world renowned taiko and shinobue flute player and composer from Yokohama, Japan, was due to attend the 2020 Foyle Obon festival with this specially commissioned piece and play it together with our local musicians. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this was not to be. We were gutted!

Fiona Umetsu, Sarah Murphy, Ronan McKee and the Ibuki Taiko drummers took on the challenge of rehearsing and recording the piece so that it would not be lost. It was quite a challenge but thanks to the lovely Feargus Murphy, we recorded our version of the piece in January 2021. We have never performed the piece live.

During the recording, we had the very sad loss of Junko Okura, a taiko player who was at the heart of Ibuki Taiko. Junko was at every rehearsal and practice when we began to break down and learn this piece. She pushed the project forward at times when we thought it would have to be abandoned due to the pandemic pressures and challenges around rehearsing safely. Junko had taken the part of chanchiki and rehearsed right up until December 2021 with the team. Unfortunately, her health took a turn for the worse and she was unable to continue. Shogo Yoshii had always said that we would know the name for this new piece when we played it. To recognise Junko’s contribution to the creation of our version of this beautiful music, Fiona asked Junko if she would give it a name.

She chose – Inochi Kagayake, Warera ga Matsuri – which translates as ‘Shining, glittering, sparkling life …we are all Matsuri’ which, we have to admit, did initially make us scratch our heads just a little…what could Junko have meant?

But as we played the piece, as we came together as a taiko family after the loss of Junko, after the separation of lockdowns and pandemics, we realised that Junko had captured the very essence of this big, beautiful taiko family in that name.  Life and light do indeed come shining out of all of us when we play taiko, when we gather in community…we are the festival. We are the festival. Warera ga matsuri. Life is indeed glittering and sparkling out of us all when we play. It is the ‘taiko beam’ that Eiichi Saito from Kodo taught us about. It is the Ki that we share when we play and join in community. It is love and light and energy. TaikoLove.