Pagol Hot Samprodai at Karma

02Nov06

The night after the RF concert, I met up with my friend Mai in Umeda to see Pagol Hot Samprodai play their first show at Club Karma. Our mutual friend, Suganuma-kun, plays tablas and he invited us to the event at Karma, although he warned us that PHS would be playing first, for only a short time, and that he couldn’t guarantee the quality of the other acts, since he had never seen them. Since the name of the event — “Panjab Night, Diwali Special” — was quite promising, I decided not to worry too much.

Pagol Hot Samprodai, as Suganuma explained, plays a kind of contemporary bon odori music, emphasizing the Biwako-area tradition of goshu ondo singing. While bon odori dancing exists throughout Japan, each region claims its own particular style of music and dance.  In the case of the Biwako region, goshu ondo, which began as religious recitation but was refined over the years into a type of entertainment, is the prominant singing style. Pagol Hot Samprodai takes goshu ondo singing and throws in contemporary rhythmic elements, as well as the tonal colorations of non-Japanese instruments, including the use of the tablas and a kind of bendy-note Bollywood style of keyboard playing. It was the singer’s contemporary interpretation of the goshu ondo style that really let the tigers out though. At the end of Beat Takeshi’s Zatoichi, there’s an incredible sequence where the entire village performs a dance together, constructing the song out of the synchronized clacking of wooden geta while accompanying drums pound out deep rhythms. These are the rhythms of an imaginary village harmony amplified by Takeshi (and, um, his musical director) and it’s a perfect blend of a contemporary sense of rhythmic intensity and older patterns of rhythm based on traditional village music styles. Pagol Hot Samprodai does the same thing with the goshu ondo, and they do it right. The singer, whose lyrics were updated to include some kind of riff on the different train lines in the Kansai region, began by using a more traditional-sounding Japanese vocal waver and ended by busting with a fast and sharp vocal explosion that sounded more like toasting or grime than anything else. It was just about the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.

When the goshu ondo began, the bon odori dancing started as well, with several of the older members of the audience forming a circle and moving their arms in choreographed intensities along with the music. In the countryside, at least in the Kansai, many people are exposed to bon odori dancing. My friend Mayumi, from Ehime prefecture, used to play the drum while her mother and the rest of the members of the family danced in the bon odori circle. In Osaka, though, it seems that young people haven’t been exposed to bon odori enough to join in comfortably — at Karma’s Panjab Night it was only the obasans and ojisans who were joining in the circle.

Wikipedia has this useful explanation of the origins of the bon odori dance:

Bon Odori originates from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of Shakyamuni, who saw a vision of his deceased mother in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts where she was indulging in her own selfishness. Greatly disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha answered, “On the 15th of July, provide a big feast for the past seven generations of dead.” The disciple did this and, thus, saw his mother’s release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother’s release and grateful for his mother’s kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or “Bon Dance”, a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.

I like this idea of dancing to celebrate the ancestors. There’s enough sadness without the formal trappings of mourning — let’s dance our ancestors’ memories instead.

Here’s Suganuma-kun playing the tablas. He told me that even though the group had been practicing for weeks that they had really increased the pace for this performance and he was having trouble keeping up. I certainly didn’t notice — they sounded great, and the pace of the playing seemed perfect to me. It made me want to leap up and join the circle, even though I have no idea how to do the bon odori.

Of course, the theme of the evening wasn’t bon odori, but Panjab — and later in the evening the DJs took over and the Bhangra came out. But before the Bhangra dancing, there was belly dancing.

The first set of dances was performed — I’m pretty sure — by students who were studying under the final dancer. The dances were well choreographed and involved flowing veils, translucent wings, and various types of Turkish/Middle-Eastern dance-pop. Mai and I were sitting on the floor in the front row with these beautiful dancers gracefully floating back and forth through the air in front of us. In fact, they didn’t end up using their bellies too much — probably because that’s the most advanced art when it comes to belly dancing — but they substituted for this with sweeping arm extensions and dramatic frozen tableaus.

Of course, when the belly-sensei appeared for her solo dance, things really hotted up. It’s amazing how good belly dancers seem to be able to move every last part of their bodies in a kind of transcendent frantic shimmer. When her performance ended, the Bhangra started and Mai and I found ourselves immediately in the center of a very hot and sweaty dance floor, which would have been great except that there was absolutely no room to move. I’ve never had fun in those kind of packed dance situations where there’s no room on the floor to move your legs, so after 20 minutes or so, Mai and I decided to beg off and have some dinner. We met Suganuma-kun for okonomiyaki and beer to make even more glorious what had already been a most glorious night.

Pagol Hot Samprodai — you MUST see them, if ever you have the chance!

Click here for the Club Karma page.

Click here to read more about the Goshu-Ondo tradition.



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