Saturday, December 20, 2014

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NY1 celebrates Asian American heritage with a look at Asian Americans' impact on the arts throughout the five boroughs.

Japanese Band Innovates Traditional Music

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NY1 continues its celebration of Asian-American artists with a look at Japanese band WaFoo, a musical group looking to bring a unique blend of traditional music, Latin, classical and jazz to Staten Island and beyond. NY1’s Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

Japanese band WaFoo wants listeners to be able to close their eyes for a minute and imagine they’re in a Japanese garden listening to the distinct and calming sounds of the banjo and flute.

“If you can picture a landscape, for Japan or the lives of the people in Japan, that's what we want,” says band member Kazuo Nakamura.

The band was formed back in 2004, united by a goal of playing traditional Japanese music with a little jazz flair.

Members play all kinds of instruments, like the bass guitar, bamboo, saxophone, flute and two different types of Japanese banjos.

The group has created its own style by mixing those conventional Japanese sounds with jazz, Latin and classical vibes.

“It's very different, and I don't know how to describe, and more blend to the nature and the instrument is also very primitive,” says Yuuki Koike.

WaFoo primarily performs on Staten Island at community and cultural events, like the recent Art by the Ferry festival.

Their fan base is wide, and many other Japanese Americans living on the Island appreciate their sound.

“They call it three string banjo, called shamisen, not that many young people can play,” said resident Hiroko Odani. “They need specific practice. So that in itself is very impressive.”

The band members all confess that as they grew up in Japan, they listened to American rock music rather than traditional Japanese music.

That all changed as they got older and settled in the United States.

“I'm so far away from Japan, and now I'm much more appreciative,” said band member Ippei Ichimaru.

The name WaFoo literally translates to "Japanese style," and this group says they're hoping to redefine just what that means.

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