Following the performances on 16 and 17 January, Japan House London is delighted to offer guests a special opportunity to experience Ainu music under the guidance of Marewrew and Oki.
During the workshop, guests are going to learn how to play mukkur, an Ainu instrument made mainly of nemagaridake bamboo which produces a similar sound to a mouth harp.
It consists of a thin plate measuring 10 to 15 cm in length and 1 cm in width with a tongue-like reed in the centre which vibrates when the wood is given sharp, repetitive pulls on the toggle string attached to both ends. Players vary the tone by opening and closing their mouth in line with their breathing and by pulling the string strongly or more gently.
These workshops are part of a season of events held in collaboration with Hokkaido Prefecture in conjunction with the opening of Upopoy, Japan’s new national museum featuring the history and culture of the Ainu, in Shiraoi, Hokkaido in May 2020.
Marewrew, meaning ‘butterfly’ in the Ainu language, is a group of female artists working on the diffusion and renewal of the upopo songs of the Ainu people of northern Japan. In 2010, after launching their first mini-album ‘MAREWREW’, they started full-scale activities and were brought to the attention of local and international audiences thanks to their performances at the international world music festival Womad (UK) and other European venues. Their work, which incorporates a modern arrangement of upopo’s charm, has been highly praised.
In 1992 Oki received his first tonkori- a stringed instrument developed by the Ainu of Sakhalin. Although the instrument was regularly displayed behind glass in museums, there were virtually no active tonkori players at this time. Oki devoted himself to studying the tonkori and soon began making his own. In 1996 he released his first album ‘Kamuy kor nupurpe.’ Shortly after he established Chikar Studio in order to encourage other Ainu artists and promote the music of Ainu artists to the world. Chikar Studio has presently released a total of 20 albums, including titles by the singer Andō Umeko and the all-female ensemble Marewrew, who sing Ainu dance songs called ‘Upopo’ with a modern sensibility. Oki Dub Ainu Band features the tonkori in a band setting with drums, bass, keyboard and dubwise. They perform often at festivals in Japan and overseas.