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Exodus set to sweep Japan

By Terry Joseph
May 16, 2003

Performing in 15 major cities in 26 days, that is the hectic schedule for an historic upcoming tour of Japan by reigning World Steelband Music Festival and National Panorama champions, Exodus Steel Orchestra.

"We have done grand gigs before but this is a really huge undertaking," conceded Exodus manager Ainsworth Mohammed. Pan historians agree that no steel orchestra has ever embarked on a tour of this magnitude, with 15 consecutive confirmed full-length concerts and at a variety of venues.

Travel inside Japan will involve movement of players and instruments over thousands of kilometres, from Osaka in the south to Sapporo in the Hokkaido prefecture (in the Sea of Okhotsk); offering access to pan music to a broad cross-section of the country's 127 million inhabitants.

The band leaves Trinidad on July 18 and returns on August 12, two days of that period set aside for travel to and from Tokyo, the city in which Exodus will perform its final two concerts immediately before leaving Japan to return home.

The tour calendar shows the 16-member Exodus contingent playing two-hour concerts in prestigious music halls of Sendai, Hakodote, Asahikawa, Sapporo, Muroran, Takaoka, Kouchi, Nagoya, Fukuyama, Osaka, Nobeoka, Kamakura, Kobe, Kawasaki and Narashino.

And for the Tunapuna-based orchestra, which also has the Caribbean Panorama title under its belt, there is no rest between today and departure time, as the band will perform at the Barbados Pan Festival (May 30 to June 1) and is meanwhile developing a whole new repertoire of vintage music for the annual Back in Time Kaiso Dance, which takes place at the Queen's Park Oval on June 18.

Working under the aegis of the celebrated Min-On Concert Association, through an ongoing link with Japanese music producer Yoh Watanabe (JVC World Sounds), Exodus will benefit from expert show organisation, which involves tremendous logistical challenges; some venues being up to 500 kilometres away from the one played on the night previous.

None of that is new to Min(shu)-On(gaku), whose name literally means "the people's music," which has organised cultural exchanges with more than 90 countries since it was launched in 1963, its core mission one built on the hope that the power of the musical arts can transcend cultural differences and unite people through shared emotion; creating an ever-expanding circle of friendship.

During its first five years, Min-On effected cultural exchanges with Israel, the (then) Soviet Union, the United States, France, Belgium and Hong Kong.

The organisation has hosted the Soviet National Academy Novosibirsk Ballet, the Munich Opera and its most ambitious project, Milan's Teatro alla Scala, planning for which began in 1965, some 16 years before the performance date.

"We fully understand the seriousness of this project," Mohammed said. "This is not one of those hastily put together junkets where problems are likely to arise. The sense of organisation is overwhelming at every turn. Down to the actual time at which we arrive at the various venues and details like when intermission will be taken-be it in Fukuyama or Kawasaki-is information that has already been supplied to us.

"Even before we take off from Trinidad, as part of the pre-production work, the band will be doing a new CD, which Yoh is producing, so that the very music we are playing on tour will be available to members of the audience during each show," Mohammed said. Each concert is precisely two hours of music, which includes a number of Japanese folk songs, among them "Itudemoyumewo" and "Kimikoitumademo", two pieces said to be historically popular in the land of the rising sun.

The full Exodus repertoire being prepared by house-arranger Pelham Goddard, includes several requests from the Japanese producers. On tap are Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely", Barry White's "Love's Theme", Kitchener's "Sugar Bum-Bum", "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (from The Wizard of Oz), David Rudder's "Ganges and the Nile", Duke Jordan's "Jordu", a Sparrow medley, Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature".

The band has also been asked to include a workshop-type presentation based on "Do-re-Mi" (from Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music), its simplicity selected to allow audience members a chance at actually touching pansticks and trying to play a few notes during a demonstrative description of the history and integrity of pan.

Fine detail of the programme includes stand-by pieces for encore presentations, like the Japanese "Gimnopedie" and "Yashinomi" and the timeless standard, Glen Miller's "In the Mood". Microphone positions have already been worked out and blueprints e-mailed to Mohammed for every concert; in order to reduce set-up time onstage.

"Apart from preparing the music, what we also have to concentrate on is the psychological challenge of matching the legendary Japanese efficiency with our own readiness to respond," Mohammed said. "Happily, our band members have done hectic and gruelling circuit-work before, so the pressure in that regard is reduced.

"Our mission is to leave an impression of Trinidad and Tobago in general and pan music in particular that will serve as a marketing piece on both counts and hopefully pave the way for other acts from our country to enjoy this level of organisation and hospitality," Mohammed said.

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