KUCHING: This year edition of RWMF is proud to host Oki Kano representing the Ainu (Japan) for the first time ever.
Growing up in Japan, Oki graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music. He moved to New York in 1987 where he worked as a special effects artist on film productions and returned to Japan in 1992.
The multi-talented musician Oki never knew he was part of a “vanishing” race as many in the tribe chose to keep their heritage a secret. He was already an adult by the time he came to know of his origins. The discovery prompted him to learn Ainu and teach himself how to play the traditional “tonkori” and today performs and produces unique Ainu music influenced with a modern twist.
The Ainu lived for centuries on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido as well as the nearby areas including Russia’s Sakhalin and Kuril Islands. Like many indigenous people around the world, the Ainu have lost touch with their traditional lifestyle after decades of forced assimilation leaving the younger generation in the dark about their heritage.
The “tonkori” has played a vital role in the lives of the Ainu and was used by shamans to communicate with the spirit forces that control the wind, rain, hail and fire, or to disorientate enemies during battle. When Oki first discovered the “tonkori”, he said it was he was being led by his ancestors’ spirit and his feelings that one day Ainu culture would be part of his expression has now come to pass.
He has been on a mission to encourage other Ainu artists to promote their music to the world and is careful to strike a balance between introducing changes and keeping the tradition.
He likens playing the “tonkori” as a weapon “fighting for survival” and that Ainu music must be passed on to the next generation even though it has been filtered through him.
At RWMF, audiences will hear traditional “tonkori” music as well as Oki’s individual compositions highly blending ancient and modern influences.
The Rainforest World Music Festival takes place from July 12-14 at the Sarawak Cultural Village and is organized by the Sarawak Tourism Board, endorsed by Tourism Malaysia and is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Youth & Sports Sarawak.