Naomi Suzuki hosts a special memorial concert to reflect on the tragic events of 2011…

With the 5th Anniversary of the 2011 Japan Earthquake/Tsunami falling in March 2016, a number of events were organized to commemorate the occasion. Singer Naomi Suzuki took on the duties of presenting and performing for the Kakehashi Project – a special memorial concert which also featured the talents of Hibiki Ichikawa, Diana Yukawa and Joji Hirota.

With such a variety of talent, the evening managed to deliver a combination of both traditional Japanese music alongside more modern pop songs. Naomi Suzuki demonstrated her versatility of style, beginning proceedings with a cover of ‘Sukiyaki’ – the classic song originally made famous by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto.

Meanwhile, classically trained violinist Diana Yukawa delivered a more reflective element in her performance. Against backing tracks of mournful clarinet and piano, Diana presents haunting violin melodies. It’s deeply evocative music, particularly her second number which invokes a more icy atmosphere.

Joining the violinist on stage, Naomi Suzuki offers up a tribute to the late George Martin with a cover of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. The classic Beatles tunes is given more of a funk feeling here (and Naomi gives the song a gender switch by singing ‘Him’ instead of ‘Her’!).

Joji Hirota has built up an impressive career spanning 30 years which has seen the talented multi-instrumentalist perform at events such as WOMAD as well as working with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Among Joji’s musical arsenal is mastery of the shakuhachi – the traditional Japanese flute. For tonight’s concert he alternates between a stirring flute melody and a mesmeric vocal delivery.

Joining him on stage, Naomi also invites up the members of Hanayagi Ryu Satonoko-kai – a dance troupe that are based in Fukushima, which was one of the regions struck by the 2011 tragedy. This team of Nihonbuyo dancers lend a traditional element to the stage performances throughout the evening’s entertainment.

Naomi’s song of choice is her new song ‘Kaguya’, which is given a fresh take with Joji’s energetic shakuhachi performance and the smooth choreography of the members of Ryu Satonoko-kai.

The stage is then given over for a shamisen performance from Hibiki Ichikawa. Established as one of the most well known Japanese musicians in the UK, Hibiki is also the only professional player of tsugaru shamisen in the country. His skills for tonight’s concert are also assisted by the hypnotic dance movements of Ryu Satonoko-kai (sporting oil-paper umbrellas). Against a backing track of minimal percussion, there’s little doubt as to Hibiki’s reputation as a shamisen player.

The performances take a break for a series of video messages from some of the regions in Japan affected by the events of 2011. Naomi supports two charities that this concert is promoting, Children’s Smile Project and Rainbow Bridge. As a result, Naomi visited 45 different regions that had been impacted by the tragedy.
Following this short video intermission, Naomi returns to the stage for a smooth lounge number augmented by accordion and the return of the Fukushima dance troupe – now sporting umbrellas with the smiling faces of children on them. This is followed up by a performance of ‘Our Song’ – the tune that Naomi had composed with some of the survivors of the events of 2011. Meanwhile, the video backdrop shows scenes of the work still going on as Japan continues to recover from the tragic events of 5 years ago.

The closing segments of tonight’s concert sees Joji Hirota return to the stage in the company of the taiko drummers from Thames Daiko. The booming percussive beats of the taiko drums resonate around the ornate walls of the Islington Assembly Hall – and also finds a home in the hearts of the audience.

The concert does its best to focus on positivity and draws a discreet veil over the tragic circumstances of 2011. However, one poignant moment manages to stand out as possibly the most moving in which the youngest member of Ryu Satonoko-kai steps forward to speak about the power of music – and offers a message of thanks from the people of Japan.

The Kakehasi Project concert supports Children’s Smile Project http://egaobus.kodomonooka.com/, a project in which Naomi Suzuki participates, that organizes events to comfort and brighten up the lives of children in the devastated areas.