Harry Aoki is a musical legend. He has a strong vision about music, and how it crosses boundaries and builds bridges to help enrich both culture and society, as well as personal lives.
Aoki stands beside his musical friend Themba Tana and holds his special
gift from the evening, a yellow cedar paddle carved by Chief Cedric
Billy, mast carver of the Squamish Nation. Harry has a long time
respect for First Nations heritage. – photo Todd Wong
Last Sunday's Harry Aoki Tribute concert July 20th, at the Firehall Arts Centre
not only highlighted Harry's musical legacy through a wonderful
multicultural music event, but it also established the Aoki Legacy Fund
for St. John's College, UBC. Here's the program write-up for The Aoki Legacy Fund:
The musical program featured many musicians and friends, with some such as mezzo-soprano Liya Ahmad flying in from Edmonton, and pipa player Xiao Yu flying in from Florida to perform. Long time Aoki supporter Cath Bray flew in from Nova Scotia. There was also a very special surprise appearance from Harry's brother Ted Aoki, who arrived from Edmonton.
Harry Aoki was featured at this year's Vancouver International Jazz Festival, participating in the JazzStreet presentations at the Vancouver Public Library on June 10th. Another highlight for Harry this year was performing “Star Dust” on his harmonica with the Dal Richards big band at the Britannia High School Reunion in May 2008.
Harry Aoki performed at the first public open house event at Historic Joy Kogawa House in September 2006. Harry had been a big supporter of the “Save Kogawa House campaign,” . – photo Deb Martin
I have known Harry since 2002, and he gladly performed at some of our awareness-raising or fund-raising events for Joy Kogawa House, as well as attended our literary events. It was a real honour to participate in the Harry Aoki Tribute concert with so many wonderful musicians such as CBC radio journalist Margaret Gallagher, oboeist Janine Oye, drummers Thema Tana and Albert St. Albert, pianist Alison Nishihara, cellis Kira Van Deusen, and shakuhachi player Al Ramos.
Harry has been producing an event held at the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre, called First Friday Forum. He brings together musicians and stories and songs from ethnically diverse cultures, and demonstrates the links between them.
The first half of the tribute concert started off with emulating the format of these forums, by inviting all the performers on stage to perform a musical soundscape. Themba Tana and Albert St. Albert played percussion to start a musical journey around the world, that represented music and stories from the world's 5 major continents. Margaret Gallagher followed by singing the celtic song “Danny Boy”, followed by an Indonesian song titled “Putri Gunung” accompanied by Sutrisno Hartano who played an Indonesian gamelan instrument.
“Moo Li Hua” is a traditional chinese song known as “Jasmine Flower”, was played by clarinetist Janine Oye and accordionist Todd Wong. I had a lot of fun practicing this traditional song with Janine, as we played it first by alternating 8 bars of music, then by playing a musical game of tag, as Janine followed my playing, two bars behind me to create “a round.”
Highlights of the event included:
A reading of “My Enemy” by Duncan Shields in English, and Chigusa Sherry Barnes in Japanese, while Janine Oye and FFF Friends accompanied them performing a Harry Aoki composition “Yoko's Theme.”
“Bachianas Brasilieras” sung by mezzo-soprano Aliya Ahmad with Kira Van Deusen on cello and Alison Nishihara on piano.
“Harry loves Romanian and gypsy music,” I told the audience. I once asked him if he could attend a concert with me, and he told me “No… I have to go on a cruise, with Gypsy musicians.” For Harry I played the traditional song “Dark Eyes.”
Co-MC Jan Walls recited the words to the Hoagy Carmichael song “Star Dust,” as Harry went to pick up his harmonica and returned to centre stage. Ken Keneda accompanied Harry on piano, as Harry performed a very touching harmonica solo of “Star Dust” – one of Harry's favorite songs. You can hear a You Tube performance of Harry playing “Star Dust” at the 2007 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, accompanied by Jaye Krebs on piano.
It is hard not to have met Harry, and been touched both musically and personally by him. I think of Harry as a courageous man, who at age 21 left Vancouver in 1942 on his own, to avoid being forcibly sent to the Japanese-Canadian internment camps during WW2. He couldn't take his violin with him, but he took his harmonica. Harry knows that he can reach people through music, and his life has become a tribute to end racism through musicians playing together, and people learning about intercultural cross-boundary similarities of the world's musical cultures.
Janine Oye, Harry Aoki, Chigusa Sherry Barnes, Bev Nann and Todd Wong, share a moment with Harry after the concert as all the performers and the event organizers went for dinner at the Congee Noodle House.