The day of the interview was the same day as the Ishigaki city sponsored
a singing contest for the song "tubarama". Matt had originally
planned to perform in the "zenyasai" tubarama festival
held on the night before the Tubarama Taikai. Unfortunately this
festival was postponed due to a typhoon in Ishigaki,but Matt spoke
cheerfully in Japanese about his experiences.
Q How do you come to be in Okinawa (Ishigaki)?
1995 to 1998 I worked as an English teacher in Ehime and Okayama.
During that time I learned the Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute,
and when I went back to England I decided to study for a masters
degree in ethnomusicology at London University based on my shakuhachi
studies. After I graduated, I decided to continue at university
to do a PhD, and was looking around for an interesting topic. I
had been interested in Okinawa for a while, first through a band
called the ne-ne-s and then through cds of folk music performers.
I started learning the sanshin in March of last year and after becoming
more and more obsessed with Okinawan music I finally ended up here
in Ishigaki in July this year. (laughs).
Q What interested you in Yaeyama folk music in particular?
A After hearing a lot of music on cd I became curious about the tradition of yunta and jiraba work songs, which have never previously been documented outside Japan, and decided that I wanted to find out more.
Q And you're also based in the museum?
right. I was introduced to the museum director by chance and he
kindly offered to provide me with a desk in the museum office. When
I'm free during the day I come here and use the facilities.
(ed. Although he is not an employee of the museum,
Matt has his own desk in the office.)
Q How did you come to meet Asato Isamu?
A I had
been listening to Asato-san's music a lot on cd and knew him because
of that. When I went to the Okinawan mainland I met the famous Yaeyama
singer Yamazato Yukichi who told me to go to "Asadoya"
when I got to Ishigaki. When I got there Asato invited me to sing
during the interval, and later offered to teach me in his club every
day. That was three months ago, but I'll be here for another year.
Q I hear you've also been directly involved in local festivals as well.
I think it's worthwhile getting involved in festivals. I played
the sanshin to accompany dancers during the "Angama"
festival at o-bon. You get a completely different perspective as
a performer rather than just being a spectator, and I want to try
to get inside the music as much as possible.
Q Do you compose music yourself?
no good at lyrics (laughs). I used to compose music, but I the moment
all my time is taken up trying to remember Okinawan songs.
(Ed. Matt's repertory already exceeds 50
After being involved with Japan for six years, Matt's Japanese
is really good. Although he's only been in Ishigaki for three
months, he's become quite a celebrity through appearing in the
local press and on television. When he gets back to England he
says he wants to start an Okinawan music group, and will hopefully
spread "churajima" culture around the world.
By the way, from next month you can look forward to reading about
Matt's experiences in an essay on this site.