Thursday, January 29, 2009

Song of the Water God


Tuesday night, Barna Ghita was in town, playing a gig up at Ei-U-In. The room looked different with the shoji shut, fortified against the cold. I'd been a fan of the band for nearly a decade but was absolutely stunned that one of the members was Jimi Miyashita, who I've gotten to know lately, without ever realizing that I'd long been swept away by the sounds of his strings. It was funny to watch him play something other than the traditional Indian ragas that he's famous for. With the Western time signature, his entire body language changed. As he bobbed and weaved to drummer Mabos' inticate rhythms, busily plucking at the ridiculously complicated santoor, he'd frequently look up and grin from behind his big butterfly sunglasses. Next to him, Uchida Bob stood on his small patch of carpet, kicking his leg up now and again as he made folk magic on his well-traveled guitar, the faded wooden body covered in stickers like the beams of a temple. He was the man I really came to see. Along with Soul Flower's Nakagawa Takashi, Bob's singing voice is the one I most covet. The highlight of the night for me was when Jimi was meticulously tuning his santoor between songs, with Bob and Mabo playing a low and soft blues, then the three of them immediately segued into the next song when Jimi was ready. Unbelievable talent, these three.


For years their music was in major rotation in my truck, as I tooled the back roads of Tottori, listening to Bob's rich, deep voice as it told me tales of trees and water. Back in 2001, a few weeks after the U.S. began its systematic revenge on Afghanistan, Bob came to the 'Nog and gave a concert in which he talked as much as sang, raging against war, that most natural of unnatural things. That night he stayed at my house. We awoke to a sunny day, filling up on pancakes and coffee as he reminisced about Nanao Sakaki and Gary Snyder. It was an tremendous moment for me, since Gary was my primary motivation in coming to Japan, and here was one of his best friends sitting in my living room, playing with my son, Ken. Later 3-year old Ken amazed me when, hearing Barna Ghita's latest CD a day or so later, said, "It's Bob, Daddy!" Incredible what kids notice.


So this week, I finally had the chance to meet Bob again, though I didn't want to bring him down by telling him that his playmate Ken is over 6 years gone. He mentioned his own dead, Nanao, saying that he was sad at his passing, but that hey, every day's a birthday, every day's a funeral. Both Nanao and Ken were close as he sang out the waning lines of "雨の小りす," repeating "Yurei, Yurei." Spirits, spirits.



On the turntable: Bharna Ghita, "Water Island"

On the nighttable: Steven Heighton, "Flight Paths of the Emperor"

On the reel table: "Wild Strawberries" (Bergman, 1957)

8 comments:

Ojisanjake said...

I first met Bob at Big Mountain on the Navajo Rez back in 2000....

ted said...

...which isn't far from where I grew up. Small planet you got there Jake.

Ojisanjake said...

Most of the interesting Japanese I know, including my wife, I met when they visited Big Mountain...
Do you know Okano (tenkoo orchestra et al)?

ted said...

I don't know Okano, but my interest has been piqued.

Ojisanjake said...

http://www.tenkoo.com/okanohiroki/english/profile.html

ted said...

Cheers Jake. Turns out I've seen him, with Wind Travellin' Band at Kyoto's Honenin, Spet 07.

Jazzy said...

I've been looking everywhere imaginable to obtain a copy of Barna Ghita's cd "water island" do you know where i can find one?

ted said...

Jazzy, I'm not sure where I found mine. Try writing to the group via their website.