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Nobuko Miyamoto, Nancy Sekizawa, Carla Vega, Asiyah Ayubbi, and June Kaewsith perform with the <i>FandangObon</i> project at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, 2015.
Nobuko Miyamoto, Nancy Sekizawa, Carla Vega, Asiyah Ayubbi, and June Kaewsith perform with the FandangObon project at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, 2015.
Photo by Mike Murase, courtesy of Great Leap

FandangObon is a collaborative performing arts project led by California-born Japanese and Mexican American artists that explores connections between the participatory music and dance traditions of fandango son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico, and the Japanese Buddhist ritual of obon.

Obon originates from a Buddhist sutra about a monk who dances for joy after he comes to better understand the Buddha’s teachings, and in doing so releases his mother from the realm of hungry ghosts. In the United States, obon typically includes a memorial service and an outdoor festival culminating in the bon odori dance. Everyone participates, from seasoned folk dancers to random passersby, elderly couples to their hipster teenage grandkids.

Son jarocho has evolved over the last two and a half centuries from the intersection of Spanish, indigenous, and African musical cultures in southern Veracruz. It is usually performed by a caller with an ensemble of regional guitar-like instruments and harps. Transnational artistic collaborations have energized the genre in California communities, where a younger generation of musicians is learning, teaching, and reinterpreting it.

FandangObon was initiated by Great Leap, a nonprofit arts organization that uses performance and creative practice to deepen relations among people of diverse cultures and faiths. The project’s development has involved close collaboration with members of the group Quetzal, and the first event was held in Los Angeles in 2013. It has continued to grow each subsequent year with an expanding network of collaborating artists and communities.


George Abe, fue, shakuhachi, taiko player

George Abe was a founding member of Senshin Buddhist Temple’s Kinnara Taiko, one of the first taiko groups formed in the United States. His music has been featured in film and theater productions, and he teaches and performs frequently in Southern California, including through the Music Center’s school program and at Metropolitan State Hospital.

Tylana Enomoto, violinist

Tylana Enomoto also performs with Orquesta Charangoa, Quetzal, the Concentr8s, and Domingo Siete. She has collaborated with artists Kamasi Washington, Quantic, Bonobo, Elliott Levin, Vardan Ovesepian, Aloe Blacc, and Ana Tijoux.

Quetzal Flores, jarana, requinto, guitar player

Quetzal Flores is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, bandleader, and producer. His experiences growing up in grassroots movements as the son of labor union organizers inform all his creative endeavors. Since 2002, he has played an important role in the transnational dialogue between Chican@ musicians and artists from California and musicians and dancers from Veracruz, Mexico.

Elaine Fukumoto, dancer, dance instructor

Elaine Fukumoto co-founded SHIN3, a group that performs taiko storytelling, music, and dance to foster appreciation for Japanese culture. Trained in Japanese folk dance, she is also a dance leader, providing coordination and instruction for Southern California bon odori. She has worked with Nobuko Miyamoto to choreograph several new pieces.

Martha González, singer, percussionist

Martha González is a Chican@ artivista (artist/activist), singer, songwriter, percussionist, and feminist music scholar. She grew up in a musical family, performing Mexican music with her siblings and later with artists from around the world, including Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, and Tom Waits. She is the lead singer of Quetzal and an assistant professor in the Intercollegiate Department of Chican@ Latin@ Studies at the Claremont Colleges.

Ramón Gutiérrez, instrument maker

Based in Veracruz, Mexico, Ramón Gutiérrez is a luthier and master of the requinto jarocho. He played with his brother in the influential son jarocho group Mono Blanco and is the co-founder of Son de Madera, a group which has contributed significantly to the development and vitality of son jarocho in the U.S. and Mexico, and has been produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Sean Miura, shamisen player

A fourth-generation Japanese American Canadian, Sean Miura grew up in Seattle; Vancouver, B.C.; Maryland; New Jersey; and Los Angeles. He is the co-curator for a free public art series, Tuesday Night Café, in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, and a member of the dance crew Ninjas for Social Justice.

Nobuko Miyamoto, Great Leap director, singer, dancer

Nobuko Miyamoto has performed in feature films and on Broadway, and her 1973 album A Grain of Sand, written and performed in collaboration with Chris Iijima and Charlie Chin, is considered the first album of Asian American music and now part of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings collection.

Juan Pérez, bassist

Juan Pérez has been playing bass since he was seven years old, and is now one of the most knowledgeable son jarocho bass players in the United States. In addition to being a member of Quetzal and Cambalache, Pérez has played with Son de Madera, Los Lobos, and Ozomatli.

Nancy Sekizawa, vocalist

Also known as Atomic Nancy, Sekizawa ran the Atomic Café, a popular hangout for punks in the 1970s and 1980s in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. She was one of the original members of the band Hiroshima; she has sung with the choir of Los Angeles’s First AME Church for seventeen years; and she has been a member of the Senshin Buddhist Temple’s Kinnara Taiko and gagaku groups.

Mark Rooney, taiko player

A local addition to the group, Mark Rooney is a composer and performing artist who teaches taiko (Japanese-style ensemble drumming) and directs two performing groups. Before relocating to the D.C. area, he was a member of Odaiko New England, played in groups in Japan, and worked for KODO Arts Sphere America.

Occupying a significant swath of the western edge of the United States, facing the Pacific, and emerging from a historically significant exchange with Latin America, California is a crossroads. It continues to be shaped by the conflict, creativity, and energy of people creating a home in a region whose cultural and social ground is as ever shifting as its geology.

Among the fifty states, California is the most populous and one of the most diverse, comprised of people who have emigrated from all parts of the globe. It is home to the largest Native American population, one of the largest populations of people who identify as mixed race, as well as people whose families migrated to the state generations ago. Today, at a time when public discussion around immigration is clamorous, one in four immigrants in the U.S. lives in California. No single racial or ethnic group forms a majority in the state, and foreign-born residents represent more than a quarter of California's total population.

At the 2016 Folklife Festival, Sounds of California presented a series of evening concerts as well as daytime performances and activities, offering a glimpse into how musical culture mirrors the movements reshaping the state and the nation today. We featured artists who contribute to the soundscapes of California, who demonstrate the social power of music and cultural heritage.

While rooted in the terrain of their communities, these artists work across borders - in many senses. They sustain traditions to bridge distant homelands to their present homes. They remix traditions to forge new variations and collaborations. They deploy traditions to engage and invite others to action. These resilient artists cultivate community by both tending to and extending beyond what is near and familiar, honor tradition while looking forward, and contribute to creating a diverse, resonant landscape.

The program's Curatorial Team included: Olivia Cadaval, James Deutsch, Quetzal Flores, Lily Kharrazi, Sojin Kim, Amy Kitchener, Adriel Luis, Samuel Orozco, Russell Rodríguez, and Ranald Woodaman.

The program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center. Presenting partners included the Aga Khan Music Initiative, Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, and My Armenia, a collaborative project between the people of Armenia, USAID, and the Smithsonian Institution. The program received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Other supporters included the Sakana Foundation and Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia for the Humanities.

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