Nikkei Music Reclamation Concert
Niall Taro Ferguson, cellist
Sara Sithi-Amnuai, multi-instrumentalist
Sunday, June 26 at 3pm
JACCC Aratani Theatre
244 S. San Pedro St
Free | $10 Suggested donation
Three emerging Japanese American musicians premiere new music that reimagines and resounds with the politics and echoes of our historic Japantowns. Mentored by legendary musicians and activists, Niall, Sara, and Shin continue a musical legacy of resistance and joy.
Organized by Tomi Kunisaki and Taiji Miyagawa.
Veteran producer and composer Derek Nakamoto is looking at an illustrious 30 year career of producing and arranging for some of the most influential music artists and composing original music recorded by some of the world's most prestigious ensembles. His extensive musical background has allowed him to work on a variety of eclectic projects. From string arrangements for Grammy winning artists and production credits to full orchestra scores, Derek forges textures and harmonies from different cultures and eras into a unique piece that is sure to move the audience.
In 1981, Derek moved to Los Angeles and spent the next few years recording and performing with Sony recording artist Hiroshima. His deep passion for orchestral scores led to film composer Michel Columbier (Purple Rain) mentoring Derek for orchestral music and cinematic instrumentation.As an arranger, Derek has worked for musical legends such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Michael Bolton, Kenny Loggins, New Order, etc. He produced Teddy Pendergrass's comeback album Truly Blessed for EMI Records (the song "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" was nominated for a Grammy).
Derek's love for orchestral work combined with musical influences and sounds from around the world has led to a close collaboration with Jazz pianist Keiko Matsui. Derek has arranged and produced 23 of her albums. His cinematic soundscapes on albums like Doll, Sapphire, and Dreamwalk solidified Keiko as a force in the Contemporary Jazz genre and led to multiple Top Ten Hits on the Billboard charts.
Derek believes in carefully casting every ensemble he uses on each recording. He maintains close relationships with some of the most talented instrumentalists, engineers, and recording venues in the L.A. area.
Composer, producer and bandleader Mark Izu has fused the traditional music of Asia with African- American improvisation. Izu plays acoustic bass as well as several traditional Asian instruments such as the sheng (Chinese multi-reed instrument) and sho (Japanese multi-reed instrument).
As the Artistic Director of the Asian American Jazz Festival for 15 years, Izu has gained national and international attention for developing a new musical genre, Asian American Jazz, and has performed with artists such as James Newton, Steve Lacy, Zakir Hussain, Kent Nagano, George Lewis, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Brown and Jon Jang. Recently Izu has been inducted into the Grove Dictionary of Music as a composer and founder of Asian American Jazz.
Izu has composed scores for film, live music concerts and theater. In 2009 Izu won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Music for his score in Bolinao 52. His film scores include Steven Okazaki’s Academy® award-winning Days of Waiting; Emmy-winning documentary, Return to the Valley; and a new score for the DVD release of Sessue Hayakawa’s 1909 masterpiece, The Dragon Painter (Milestones DVD - 2007). His theater scores have been performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and Sundance Festival and he was awarded a Drama-logue Award for Best Original Music & two Indie Awards for best CD.
Izu’s other awards include Meet the Composer, Gerbode Composer Commission, Asian Business League Artist Award, Rockefeller MAP, National Endowment for the Arts, and San Francisco Arts Commission. Izu was a founding faculty member of Stanford’s Institute of Diversity for the Arts in 2002. In 2007 he received the US/Japan Creative Arts Fellowship to Japan sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunkacho.
Nobuko is an artist who uses music, theater and dance for her own work as well as for projects she creates with communities. Originally a dancer on Broadway and in films such as Flower Drum Song and West Side Story, her involvement in social change movements of the ‘60s galvanized her as an activist and inspired a re-conceptualization of her role as an artist. This led to her co-creation of the seminal Asian American album A Grain of Sand with Chris Iijima and Charlie Chin, and her founding of Great Leap in 1978.
Her later performances, musicals and albums have continued to probe themes of identity, as well as the intersections of cultures & faiths, and our connection with Earth. More recent projects include her touring lecture/performance "What Can A Song Do?" and producing, songwriting and performing in Great Leap’s series of environmental music videos, “Eco-Vids.” Nobuko has been recognized with the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, and California Arts Council Director’s Award for her contribution to the arts in California.
Niall Tarō Ferguson
A Los Angeles native, Niall Tarō Ferguson is a cellist, composer, and orchestrator. He is currently an active freelance musician, contributing in equal capacity to the worlds of concert and commercial music.
Niall has participated in music festivals such as the Rencontres Musicales Internationales at the International Menuhin Music Academy, Musique à Flaine, and the Borromeo Music Festival in Altdorf, Switzerland. He has studied with cellists Antonio Lysy, Lynn Harrell, Niall Brown, Ben Hong, and Timothy Loo. In Los Angeles, Niall has performed on many of the city’s premiere contemporary music series, such as Monday Evening Concerts (M.E.C.), Jacaranda Music, and the Hear Now Festival. As a session cellist, he records regularly for several films and television programs. Niall performs frequently on NBC’s The Voice, and in 2019 he performed with Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus at the 61st annual Grammy Awards.
Niall has studied music composition with Mark Carlson, Ian Krouse, and Bruce Broughton. In 2018 he was commissioned by the California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Bay Section to compose a piece for their Honors String Orchestra. This piece, Flight, received its premiere at Cal State San José in January 2019, and has since been performed several times throughout California. In July 2019 Niall’s piece, Scamper, for String Orchestra and Percussion was performed at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, after having been premiered in Manhattan Beach, California. Niall’s latest piece, Inyo County Echoes, will be performed at Santa Monica’s Barnum Hall, the Royal Concertgebouw, and the Berliner Philharmonie in April 2021.
Niall has orchestrated on several films including American Factory (2020 Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature winner), Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019), Ni No Kuni (2019), and Kruimeltje (2020), among many others. In 2019, he assisted in orchestrating an orchestral suite of Joe Hisaishi’s music from the Studio Ghibli film Kiki’s Delivery Service for a concert tour that would take place that year. Niall’s string arrangements have also been featured on a number of commercial recordings, most notably on Lukas Graham’s 3 (The Purple Album) which was released in October 2018 by Copenhagen Records, Then We Take the World, and Warner Bros. Records, and debuted at number one in Denmark.
As of 2019, Niall is a Program Associate with the Asia / America New Music Institute (AANMI), a collective that pursues cultural exchange through modern music. In April 2019 he participated in his first AANMI tour, accompanying founder Chad Cannon and contributing to lectures given at institutions throughout Asia such as the Hong Kong Baptist University, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and The American School in Japan, among others.
Niall received his bachelor’s degree in 2017 from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, where he studied cello performance with Antonio Lysy, and music composition with Ian Krouse and Bruce Broughton.
Niall is of Japanese descent on his mother’s side, and of Scottish and Irish descent on his father’s. He goes by both his Gaelic and Japanese names, Niall or Tarō respectively.
Sara Sithi-Amnuai is a multi-instrumentalist (on trumpet, flugelhorn, and sheng), composer, and arranger born in Sydney, Australia and based in Los Angeles, California.
Sithi-Amnuai’s recent work focuses on the intersection between identity, improvisation, and live performance interaction between the performer's body and their instrument through gesture and sound.
Her latest work is Nami, a custom built glove interface designed for live musical performance utilizing gesture recognition tools and community research. Most recently, she has published and presented work on gestural controllers, mechatronics, augmented instruments, and Nami at the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. She is also a recipient of the 2019 ASCAP Foundation Johnny Mandel Prize and Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award, and the 2018 BMI Future Jazz Master Scholarship.
Sithi-Amnuai graduated from UCLA with a BA in Ethnomusicology and Music Industry minor and a MFA in Performer-Composer at the California Institute of the Arts. She has also worked with artists such as James Newton, Vijay Iyer, Kenny Burrell, Steve Lehman, the LA Philharmonic New Ensemble and is a part of the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra.
Born and raised in a conservative coastal town of Toyama, Japan, SK has been on a search of the sound that resonates with him; from Hibari Misora to Queen, King Crimson to Frank Zappa, Miles Davis to Bobby McFerrin. The journey led him to Los Angeles for musical encounters with the likes of Lee Takasugi and Visiting Violette, Chili Charles of Mike Oldfield fame, and Los Desnudos who he co-founded and gained Independent Music Awards (Jam category) nomination with. As a composer/producer he has also contributed music for various entities and causes including SanDisk, Japan Airline, NHK Enterprises, House Foods and Japan Self-Defense Airforce. He released 1st self-titled solo effort in 2010, blending styles ranging from technopop, prog, jazz fusion and metal, gaining another nom for Independent Music Awards. Following the release of the 1st album, he led a Livetronica/Technopop outfit Flying Platforms to perform his sonic experiment mixed with interpretive/improvised choreography by MidTones Madeleines, and hosted bi-monthly experimental jam session at historic Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown Los Angeles for almost a decade.
After taking time to explore Southeast Asia to reflect on his place in the greater context of the world, producer and longtime collaborator Glenn Suravech (Mosaic Sound Recordings) initiated two full-analog recording sessions at Steakhouse Studio in North Hollywood, resulting in the 6-track EP "Six Songs from Insomnia." The EP is a collection of introspective writing in search of solutions to the issues in this century by digging into the last. Recorded on 24 track reel-to-reel with musicians playing acoustic instruments and analog synthesizers then digitally manipulated in the post-Hip Hop era sensibility, the sonic construct reflects the artist's longing for peace in the chaos we live in by mixing the elements of 50s Jazz, 60s and 70s Soul and Prog, 80s Pop and 90s alternative.
Once the pandemic forced his weekly residency in Downtown Los Angeles to close only after a month, he shifted back into a production mode and remixed/remastered his synthwave instrumental compilation "Solid State Survivors" which includes a vocal single "What's It Gonna Be? (Acoustic Kick Bass)" and Moog-only re-working of "Kaneda" from the soundtrack of 1988 Anime-epic AKIRA. As the self-quarantine prolonged, he sought to collaborate with a Tokyo-based MC/beatmaker and an old friend ASAP Takahashi for a Japanese-languaged Chillhop track "43無職 (43 and Unemployed)" then with an ex-bandmate and synthesizerist Wingo Shackleford resulting with an ambient analog synth + nylon string guitar duet "Isolation Tapes."
SK continues to focus his output online, currently introducing vintage J-pop gems from Great Japanese Songbook (as if such a cannon should exist) mostly on social video platforms.