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Kenji Yamazato Band of Peru plays with Okinawan heart

By: Takeshi Shimabukuro (KC)

Date Posted: 2001-11-02

No matter how far away they live, people with roots and heritage in Okinawa always have warm feelings towards their home island. Kenji Yamazato is a pianist, bandleader and a third generation immigrant from Okinawa. In Peru, his big band is very popular appearing regularly in Peruvian TV and radio programs. Currently, Yamazato is visiting Okinawa with seven of the 18 members of his band. The band is here to perform at a concert that is part of the World Uchinanchu Festival events on Saturday. The band’s repertoire consists of Latin and Okinawan melodies with rhythms including salsa, mambo, rumba, flamenco, tango, meringue, and Andes music, plus some Israeli and Chinese folk songs and tunes.

Visiting band members include five third generation Okinawan emigrants and two Peruvian members. The band’s leader, Kenji Yamazato, is a piano player, Lucy Nagamine, a vocalist and Sanshin player, and Angel Sashiki also plays Sanshin. Larry Takaesu plays guitar, and Candiotti Santiago plays bass. Yamazato’s oldest son, Dennis joins the band as a special guest drummer. All members hail from Lima, the Peruvian capital city.

Bandleader Kenji Yamazato is 48 years old and he has been leading his band for 20 years. His grandfather immigrated to Peru from Yonabaru Town. Yamazato himself graduated from National Music School in Peru, and then proceeded to Berkley College of Music.

Yamazato says that he is very proud of Okinawa and his Okinawan heritage, and tries to express his nostalgic feelings for Okinawa into his songs. He says that when he makes his music he often thinks of his father, mother, uncle, aunt, grand parents and many other Okinawan relatives. Like Yamazato, the other members of the band also cherish their feelings of being taking care by their relatives in Okinawa. The band recently released a new CD titled “Okinawa Gokoro (Okinawan heart)” that includes the song Okinawa Corazon.

Lucy Nagamnine is the band’s 27-year-old vocalist whose grandparents are from Oroku, Naha City. She is fluent in Japanese after studying Sanshin for eight years in Okinawa. She returned back to Peru only six months ago. With her fluent Japanese, and good technique of Sanshin playing, her Okinawan songs that she sings in Japanese or Okinawan dialect, are the favorites of the audience here. She sings gracefully and gently with a touchy voice to that is especially moving to the Okinawan spirit. She was somtimes called Hibari Misora of Peru.

Yamazato stresses that he has been thinking a lot of Okinawa, and would like to compose original songs and perform them to his Okinawan relatives and friends. This is the second time for him to visit Okinawa. He also says that now one of his biggest dreams is about to come true. “I am quite tense thinking about our live concert on Saturday that I have dreamed of for so long”

Lucy Nagamine said that she is also very happy to be here. “This kind of opportunity is the first every for me to sing and play. I am very, very happy,” she said with her charming smile, as she continues, “Even though I was born in Peru, I have learned much about Okinawan culture. It is really good to come back to Okinawa.”

Her song, Okinawa Gokoro, is an up-tempo tune like many casual Okinawan folk dance songs, peppered with calling of “haiya iya sassa“ among its easy lyrics that extol; “Okinawa is the birth land of our parents and grandparents, and whenever and wherever we are, we have the Okinawan spirit.”

Kenji Yamazato Band will appear at the Music Fest on Saturday at Okinawa Convention Center. The gates open at 3 p.m., and the concert starts at 4 p.m. The admission is free. For more info, call 098-875-0101 (Okinawa Koukoku Co.)

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