SAN FRANCISCO — Asian Improv aRts, GenRyu Arts and Nihonmachi Little Friends will present “Toyoakimoto: Tatsu Aoki and a 300-Year Legacy of Japanese Cultural Arts” on Sunday, July 29, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Nihonmachi Little Friends’ Tateuchi Auditorium, 1830 Sutter St. (between Webster and Buchanan) in San Francisco Japantown.

Tatsu Aoki and Melody Takata (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

This special event celebrates the release of a new CD featuring music by Tatsu Aoki (shamisen), Chizuru Kineya (shamisen), and Melody Takata (taiko). Also performing will be special guests Francis Wong (saxophone) and Yangqin Zhao (Chinese dulcimer).

The concert, free to the public, will be preceded by a reception with the artists.

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About the Artists

The July 29 performance and the CD focus on the music of Toyoakimoto, a geisha house in downtown Tokyo where Aoki was born and grew up. The origins of the house and its arts date back to the famed Edo period, perhaps the most formative era in Japanese cultural history beginning with the ascendancy of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Within this house, the ozashiki shamisen music that Aoki has reconstructed was mainly instrumental and used mostly as interlude music before the featured geisha ladies appeared, or to fill time in large parties and gatherings.

For Aoki, known both for his achievements as an experimentalist in music and film as well as in the traditional Japanese cultural arts, this legacy is at the center of everything he has done as an artist.

Joining him for the concert will be Chizuru Kineya, nagauta shamisen artist and an accredited grandmaster of the instrument from the legendary Kineya shamisen family in Tokyo. Kineya Sensei is a critical collaborator in Aoki’s process of recovering and re-presenting the historic Toyoakimoto music.

Francis Wong (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

On taiko will be San Francisco’s Melody Takata, a frequent Aoki collaborator in both his traditional and experimental projects and one of the city’s celebrated practitioners of Japanese cultural arts.

In Aoki’s words, “For me, the most influential art is the cultural legacy, the sound which surrounded me. I’ve known this sound, this music, and this feeling as far back as I can remember. From my early 20s when I was a rebel wondering whether to go along or go against, everything I have done as an artist revolved around the art and legacy embedded into my very body and soul.”

San Francisco-based Chinese artists Francis Wong (Asian Improv aRts co-founder) and Yangqin Zhao (artistic director of Melody of China) will join the ensemble for an excerpt of a new work composed by Wong and commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission. This new work, entitled “Reconciliation,” explores the interface of Chinese and Japanese cultural communities of San Francisco in the post-World War II era of Wong’s parents.

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