Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dec 2006: Taro in Oz

NEWSFLASH: Please also visit Taro & Yuriko's tour blog (Japanese only, but loads more photos - Google-translated version here)

This December I invited
Taro Terahara and his wife Yuriko to Australia for their first ever visit here, which turned out to be their 9-and-a-half-year anniversary-second-honeymoon and a great time for all. Taro is a wonderful bansuri (Indian classical bamboo flute) player and with the support of many I managed to line up an 11 concert tour followed by some great spots at the incredible Woodford Folk Festival.

Week One: Toowoomba, Ipswich, Gold Coast, Byron Bay
After greeting Taro & Yuriko at the airport with Hilary, my cute 1976 Ford Transit van (pictured below), we took a day's rest at my good friend Tenzin Choegyal's house in The Gap (western Brisbane), enjoyed his amazing cooking, rehearsed a bit for our coming shows and prepared for the tour. Taro's first blog on Mixi (Japanese social networking site a bit like MySpace) was entitled "Rehtaa furomu anazaa waarudo" ("Letter from Another World"). He was amazed by all the differences - the plants, the open spaces ("roads, houses, sky are all wide"), the stars. The adventure begins!
First stop was at my student Sandra's house in Ipswich (next city west of Brisbane) where we were to receive a blessing from the Gyaltrul Rinpoche, a reincarnated Tibetan lama who was to accompany us for most of our tour. We didn't realise the ceremony would take quite so long... But it was interesting. On the puja's conclusion we hastily packed and drove off to Toowoomba (country town even further west) for our first concert. After 30 minutes driving through the countryside, Yuriko commented "Hiroi desu ne" ("It's wide, isn't it?"). Our Toowoomba concert was held at Yoga Queensland, started in 1976 and the first yoga centre in Queensland! Lovely atmosphere, shame about the small audience - 5 people! Lovely people though.
The following morning was back at Sandra's yoga studio, Yoga Studio Nada in Ipswich. As at Toowoomba, the concert was opened with a short prayer from the Rinpoche and then a vocal performance by Ipswich-resident Bengali singer Sulagna Basu. Sanat Jayasundera, a Sri Lankan audience member, commented that Taro had "a very special energy at the deep cellular level" which we are missing in Australia, and that he should stay here at least 2 or 3 years to share that here. I was so happy to hear that expressed, as that is the very reason I brought Taro over - because he has something very special which is generally missing in flat wide old Australia.
That evening's concert was 80km down the road in Robina on the Gold Coast, at the Taj Oberoi Lakeside Restaurant function room. This was our first concert with Tenzin and the collaboration between Taro & Tenzin was a great success, one which was to grow over the coming month. (It looks like I will have them working together much more in the coming years too.) Following the concert Tenzin, Yuriko, Taro and I sat by the lake under the summer full moon, drank and chatted til 3 in the morning. In the Tibetan-Japanese cultural dialogue that followed, we learnt that in Japanese culture the last drops from a bottle are considered fortunate, while in Tibetan culture it is considered poison. Thenceforth those last drops became "lucky poison!"
The following day we had our first ocean swim, down at Miami Beach (yes, that's a very Gold Coast name too), and headed off to the final concert of the first leg, near Byron Bay at Ewingsdale Hall, a lovely country hall surrounded by dairy-cow meadows. Once again we shared the stage with Tenzin and once again the audience was, if not large, at least overwhelmingly touched by our music and especially by Taro's beautiful bansuri. Thanks to Soul and Shakona for on-the-ground support in Byron.
We were lucky enough to be able to camp on a beautiful property near Mullumbimby, in a quiet valley without electricity (but with a teepee, a caravan and a bus for the permanent residents), and enjoy some fireside jamming and star-gazing, as well as the usual Byron Bay sightseeing like visiting the lighthouse at Australia's easternmost point and having a lovely swim. We were having a wonderful time and I was so pleased to be able to share it with Taro & Yuriko. I'll never forget seeing them sitting in the waves together and feeling so happy that they looked so content.

Week Two: Esk, Maleny, Maroochydore, Brisbane
Our next concert was in Esk, a couple of hundred kilometres away, a small country town back on the north-west of Brisbane. (We visited the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the way - saw the kangaroos, koalas, etc and realised that most Australian animals hide during the day.) The Esk concert was arranged by Rinpoche's host Sylvia along with Desiree of the Brisbane Valley Multicultural Association. Sylvia brought Rinpoche to Esk to provide that regional area with a Dharma teacher, and without Sylvia we would never have realised there was such a community in such a traditional Australian country town as Esk. It was a lovely concert, held in a 130 year old church. As we had no guest artist, Taro and I were able to present 2 sets including some tabla solo and some of Taro's Indian classical vocal. After the concert, Taro was up until 4.30am watching the stars in the incredibly clear Esk night sky.
Next day, Maleny, an artistic town in the hills west of the Sunshine Coast, a couple of hours north of Brisbane. (By the way, we hadn't been in Brisbane since arrival. We skipped around Brisbane from Gold Coast in the south to Esk in the west, then Maleny and Sunshine Coast in the north, before returning to Brisbane - in all, Hilary the van took us 1100km in 10 days.) Once again we were able to present 2 sets of classical bansuri music including some tabla solo. Thanks to the organiser Daniel Wilson (Art of Mother Earth) this was the biggest concert outside Brisbane.
We had a lovely swim at Gardiner Falls the next day - a wide deep pool with diving points 2-6 metres high. We tried teaching Rinpoche how to swim: I think it was his second time swimming in his life. A few more lessons needed... Then another drive down to the beach at Maroochydore for our concert at Yoga in Daily Life, rejoined by Tenzin for a very peaceful concert. Thanks to Yamuna and Sandra.
One last chance to swim at the beach and then, at last, the return to Brisbane, where we settled at 45 Rosecliffe St, my home among the trees next to the wide Brisbane River with many friends - at this festive season time of guests we had 9 people for a week or so. We had our final concert with Tenzin at Core Yoga Studios, the most successful concert of the tour which is not too surprising at it's my home base with my biggest audience. Lovely. Thanks to Sheri for doing the sound in many of these concerts, too.
However, the recital the following night was certainly one of the most special performance experiences of the tour. We were hosted by Umesh Chandra (editor of the Brisbane Indian Times) for a home concert with many of Brisbane's Indian music community in attendance. There was a marvellous atmosphere, with knowledgeable listeners sitting in the front row and giving lots of praise and encouragement at all the right moments in true Indian mehfil style. It is of course lovely to share Indian classical music with lay listeners, but the atmosphere becomes electric when the listeners understand the music and realise they're listening to someone really special. Many thanks to Umesh and Usha Chandra for their hospitality (including the sumptuous feast after the concert) and to Ajit Mangar for pulling it all together.

Week Three: Home & Temple Concerts, Merry Christmas!
We had a week without so many commitments which nevertheless became full even when just sitting at home on Rosecliffe St. There were bansuri lessons, jam sessions, a recording session, parties, Christmas shopping and the last couple of days of the Third Test between Australia and England. Yes, I also shared the joy of cricket with Taro, who had been told by his music guru that baseball is like rock-and-roll but cricket is like Indian classical music, taking a long time but full of subtleties and variations.
On the Thursday we gathered all our West End friends for a home concert in collaboration with kora player Lansana Camara creating a very sweet vibe. One of my big hopes for this trip would be that my Australian friends would understand better why I go to Japan so often - because there are excellent Indian classical players like Taro over there who push me to my limit. Thanks to Vanessa and Rachel for their hospitality.
Then on Friday we were invited to play at the Sri Saileshwara (Sai Baba) Temple in north Brisbane. There was a genuine devotional mood in that very powerful space which made our musical experience very special indeed. This was our final concert before Woodford Festival. Thanks to Dan, Sailesh and family.
Merry Christmas! Rosecliffe St hosted another legendary party on Dec 23 with lots of friends, loads of bountiful food including a late night okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake), drumming around the fire next to the river, and an early morning bansuri-tabla-guitar session in the lounge room. Then on Christmas Eve there was a smaller gathering (only about 15) for dinner and exchange of presents. Taro & Yuriko gave me a jimbe - stylish casual traditional Japanese shirt and shorts. I gave Yuriko a kilo of nice honey and Taro a kilo of Vegemite. He loves it, honest! Then at last on Christmas Day we joined Tenzin, wife Bronwyn, son Tashi and friends for the traditional endless Aussie banquet of cold ham, giant prawns, salads and Tibetan momos... then mince pies, plum pudding and trifle for dessert, all washed down with lots of champagne and wine. Aah, the joys of a summer Christmas among friends! Quite a treat for our Japanese friends used to Christmas in winter.

Week Four: Woodford Folk Festival!!!
The morning after the Christmas debauchery we packed up again and headed off to Woodford - about 90 minutes north of Brisbane. If you don't know the festival, I encourage you to take a look at the website. In a nutshell: held annually over 6 days Dec 27-Jan 1 with over 20 stages featuring over 300 acts and features including circus, street theatre, film, comedy, speakers on environmental and social issues, workshops in visual arts, music and dance, plus a diverse range of music, spread out over several countryside acres including markets, restaurants and more than a few tent cities. There's a convivial community atmosphere where eclecticism reigns. The sign at the Exit points to Reality. It's legendary.
Taro, Yuriko and I had 5 scheduled shows - 4 in the traditional ethnic music stage, Folklorica, and 1 on the Hilltop for the New Year's Dawn. We had tremendous responses for every show and I think Taro was one of the hits of the Festival. Bobby Singh (whom many regard as the top classical tabla player in Australia) said "in ten years of coming to this festival, Taro is the first artist who has played Indian classical music as it should be played".
As well as the scheduled shows, Taro & I also played a few "chalkboard" gigs in the Chai Tent: First, as Tibet2Timbuk2, my group with Tenzin, featuring Taro, guitarist Matt Hill and kora player Martin Tucker. Second, a morning session with Martin on kora. Third another Tibet2Timbuk2 gig, this time with regular lineup Marcello Milani (guitar), Taro, Tenzin & myself, plus guest vocal appearances by vocal experimenter Tony Kicken and Sudanese singer Ajak Kwai. Fourth and fifth, a New Year's Day morning bhajan session followed by a tabla duet with Bobby Singh. Sixth, EthnoSuperLounge (meaning me and my mates - just about always a new combo), this time featuring Martin Tucker on kora and the inimitable Mal Webb, musical genius vocalist guitarist anythingist, plus Taro and myself. That was a great first-time jam!

The highlight of the Festival for us could only be the New Year's Dawn concert. We played from 4.30 until about 5, with the sun appearing in the final minutes of our piece. It was an amazing sunrise with dramatic clouds, misty valleys and the Glasshouse Mountains, witnessed on the Hilltop by several thousands Festival-goers. Unfortunately we couldn't actually see the sunrise until after we'd finished as there was a wind-break on eastern side of the stage.
The Folkloric organisers loved Taro's music, his humility and devotion to the raga so much that they invited us back next year! So we are now planning a November-December 2007 tour. On this 2006 tour we met so many new supporters and friends that I'm feeling very confident about Taro coming out here each summer for at least the next few years. As well as his fantastic Indian classical music, the combination with Tenzin is something really special too. So who knows...? Maybe we can get Tenzin over to Japan too?

Early on the morning after the festival we drove a couple of hours to Brisbane Airport and joined a queue of Japanese tourists 300m long (no joke) for their flight back to Tokyo. After check-in, Yuriko told me "We met so many beautiful people in Brisbane, I miss them already. I feel like I'm back in Japan already." What an incredible month! So many wonderful experiences and such lovely people to share them with! It was a special treat to revisit Australia through their eyes. Together we also created many opportunities for the future. It is very rare for us to have such a talented yet humble artist as Taro in Australia, so I look forward to he and Yuriko coming again often. Arigatou gozaimashita!
Thanks also to all the supporters of this tour and to those we met who expressed support for future tours. I especially want to mention : Sandra Kovac & Damir Trokic in Ipswich, Tenzin Choegyal, Bronnie & Tashi at The Gap, Liz & Barry in Maleny, Alicia, Akira, Melissa, Jayne & Sean @ Rosecliffe St, Sheri, Pushpinder Oberoi, Soul & Shakona in Byron, Sylvia & Desiree in Esk, Daniel Wilson, Yamuna Jansch, Ajit Mangar, Umesh Chandra, Vanessa Smith, Sri Saileshwara Temple and Sim & Pat Symons of the Folklorica at Woodford.
Happy New Year to all! May it be more blessed than 2006 for everybody!!!

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