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Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012

CD songbook expected to deepen awareness of traditional Ainu culture


A unique songbook containing 45 pieces by indigenous Ainu people published recently along with two CD recordings is expected to deepen public awareness of traditional Ainu culture.

News photo
"Songs of Akan': A CD of traditional tunes of the Ainu ethnic group and accompanying songbook are shown in this photo taken Sept. 6. KYODO

"The Songs of Akan" was compiled by Nobuhiko Chiba, a professional musician who collected and scored the songs, while Ainu language instructor Tetsuhito Ono offered commentaries on the meanings of the lyrics and their backgrounds. The lyrics are provided with Japanese and Roman alphabet phonetic transcriptions and Japanese translations.

The name Akan comes from a part of Hokkaido where the Ainu people have long lived.

The book includes around 60 pictures contributed by freelance photographer Makiko Ui to illustrate Ainu dances accompanying the songs.

"I hope this book will contribute to handing down voices of Ainu singers for posterity while helping those who want to learn time-honored Ainu songs," Chiba, who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, said.

Among the songs is "Crane Dance," or "Sarorun Rimse" in the Ainu language, which accompanies a dance depicting a pair of cranes. Presenting its score, Chiba notes in the book that the singers "sing throughout with vibrato."

Another song is "Playboy's Dance," or "Sine Okkay Tu Menoko," which means one man and two women. The song accompanies a comical dance in which two women fight over a man.

The scores in the book have special marks, including one that instructs a singer to use falsetto, a vocal style of the Ainu.

Chiba, 55, who started playing the guitar in a high school rock band inspired by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, gradually became interested in ethnic music while pursuing his professional career.

More than 20 years ago, he encountered old recordings of Ainu songs, "and I was fascinated by them as they were songs that I had never heard before." Since then, he has visited Ainu singers in Hokkaido to learn their songs "while eating, drinking and dancing with them."

Now he also plays the "tonkori," an Ainu stringed instrument.

Chiba launched the project to document the voices of five elderly Ainu women in their 60s to 80s after he was asked by an Ainu woman five years ago to record their singing while they were still active, so people could learn and inherit the songs from them.

The five are "memory keepers" of traditional Ainu songs, and some of them regularly give performances to tourists visiting the Ainu "kotan," or village, beside Lake Akan in eastern Hokkaido.

"There were few proper recordings of their songs, and I became aware that even young people hope to learn the old songs," he said. "Thus, I decided to transcribe them into Western-style scores so that as many people as possible will be able to catch the pictures of the songs."

Stressing the significance of publishing the CD book, the Ainu language instructor Ono, who lives in Samani, Hokkaido, said that "detailed research on the traditional arts of the Ainu people, including their music, has not been carried out sufficiently so far, compared with that, for example, on their history."

"Enabling people to learn the meanings and backgrounds of the lyrics and the vocalism of the songs, this book and the CDs could be called a record of Ainu culture as well as educational material," he said.

The Tokyo-based photographer Ui shared the view, saying, "I took pictures for this book so the readers can visualize how Ainu people dance to accompany the songs. It was a pleasure to contribute to preserving the records."

Ui has long photographed Ainu people living not only in Hokkaido but also in and around Tokyo.

Ainu people have lived for centuries in Hokkaido and nearby areas, including Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, and have their own language and customs. They have been marginalized under the government's assimilation policy and the persisting view that Japan is an ethnically homogeneous nation.

The 171-page CD book was published by Sapporo-based Crews for ¥2,625 including tax. For further information, call 011-242-8088 at the publisher.

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