Saturday, November 4, 2017, This day was so memorable that it would be impossible for us to forget it.
This historical theater was built during the era of the former Emperor’s administration.
Whoever you ask in Ethiopia will tell you that it is the “BEST!"
This theater has its own exclusive traditional musicians and dancers. The special seat used by the Emperor has been preserved until now, and its general use is forbidden.
This is the best theater in Ethiopia, and the cultural center of Ethiopia. HEAVENESE was honored to perform at this prestigious national theater at an event hosted by the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Environment.
We can’t get ready due to repeated power loss!
It was unprecedented for us to get everything ready by 4:00 on the day of the performance without having done any preparation the day before. On top of that, our band members and staff who were staying at the Melody Hotel were delayed due to blackouts. Also, the bus that was to pick them up didn’t come on time. Due to these circumstances, our preparation start time was greatly delayed.
Things cannot be done according to schedule in this country.
As we were preparing to leave our hotel in order to reach the venue slightly after the Melody Hotel group, I got a call from our director Mr. Kobayashi.
He said, “Even if you come now, nothing can be done, so please take your time. There’s no need to hurry!“
“Huh? What do you mean?” I asked. He replied, “The circuit breaker keeps tripping. We can’t do anything without power, ah!!! It tripped again!”
This is a song that we must sing in Ethiopia.
Even though we were lacking some musical equipment at the venue (which was not according to the plan) our sound specialist, Ms. Ishii, got to the venue early and did her best to deal with this situation. Yet what awaited her was a storm of blackouts.
“Please just prepare for an acoustic show; we have to get prepared to play unplugged!!” Mr. Kobayashi repeatedly said on the phone.
The theater told us that there was a generator at the theater which was used in the event of a power failure, so there was no need to worry, but it took at least a minute for this generator to switch on. That meant the venue would be completely dark for a minute due to power failure. Actually, it took about three minutes for the power to come back on while we were on the phone.
Dealing with an unexpected power failure is always part of our rehearsing in Japan. When the electricity goes out the keyboards, the base guitar and vocals will disappear, and the show will continue with the drums, taiko drums, saxophone, shakuhachi, koto and shamisen.
As power loss was a reality, we had a meeting to go over what to do when the power went out during virtually every point in the show and even what to do if the power went out in the middle of a song; we planned what we would do. However, as the blackouts seemed to be so relentless, we were concerned whether or not there would actually be a concert.
Half of the channels on the mixing board were broken
The sound was a real issue.
Our sound specialist, Ms. Ishii who has accompanied us on all of our oversea tours, has under all circumstances managed to prepare for the concerts just fine. The trust we have in her is tremendous.
But when I arrived at the venue that afternoon, I could not hear any sound. "What are you waiting for?” I asked. She said, ”Only half of the lines that were said to be usable at the meeting are working!”
This theater is certainly historical; the most prestigious place for art and culture in Ethiopia.
However, it and everything associated with it have not been kept up. Things were not functioning properly.
The mixing board was obsolete; one we no longer see it in Japan. The lines that our sound specialist was planning to use were not working properly.
There may not be the budget to replace the equipment.
In many respects, it was diametrically opposed to how the Japanese Imperial Theater is.
There was no running water in the bathroom sink in our dressing room which was a unsanitary for us. I know it’s not a modern building, yet the condition of this building blew me away.
It couldn’t be helped; this is what we had to work with. This place is the highly esteemed center of Ethiopian culture.
With many of the lines not working, we were in a bind.
As a band, we couldn’t make sound!
While changing the wires, it was taking forever for Ms. Ishi to check the lines one by one to see where the problems were. In fact, this is not the work of a PA but that of an audio equipment technician. However, the musical equipment had not been checked and was left broken and not repaired.
There was no sound, and we could neither do our soundcheck nor rehearsal until two in the afternoon. We were running out of time.
"Kaori, forget about things that are not working, let’s start our sound check anyway as best as we can!”
"No, I can get it to work; just give me a little more time.“
This exchange went on for a while.
We had sound！！！
That was a delightful moment.
It was around 2:00 in the afternoon, two hours before the theater doors would open. We had sound from all our band members.
Yay!!! We were excited as if our show had been over.
Finally we could start our sound check and do our rehearsal.
Since we were short of monitor channels, the band members had to share the monitors standing side by side. Still, our joy was great, so we did not care much about the fine sound adjustment. Fine adjustment could cause a blackout, which could result in ruining the evening. Under such an extreme condition like this, I didn’t care much about the sound balance.
We finished rehearsing and went to the dressing room to have our final hair and makeup done for the show.
In Ethiopia if you are bit by a bedbug, it will cause tremendous itchiness. I heard that when you sit on an old cloth sofa or seats on the bus or in taxi, you will get bit. So I put a plastic sheet over the dressing room's old sofa.
A TV station came to interview us on that day of our performance.
There was no space in the dressing room to interview us all, so I alone was interviewed in an yard behind the theater. Later I found out this TV station had come to see us at the press conference.
We had been featured regularly on the various media outlets since we arrived in Ethiopia.
Many people saw us on the news and on TV.
Our support team were handing out our flyers in the market, one of the people they gave the flyer to said, he just watched HEAVENESE on the news. We heard a taxi driver say the same thing.
Just before the performance started, our hearts were united by the ancient words of an old sage!
Ambassador Saita arrived 30 minutes before the performance which was scheduled to start at 5:00pm.
Various kinds of media were also there at the venue.
For this great purpose we came to this country.
Before the performance, I confirmed once again the purpose of civilian diplomacy and the expectations of people and the circumstances of this country, for instance, singing Gospel music at a government hosted event cannot be done; singing an Ethiopian hit song in the gospel cncert is customarily unacceptable. However, we were about to do something new.
I read a passage from Isaiah 43:19 in the Old Testament.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it spring us up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
These words of an ancient Israelite sage which were written over 2600 years ago are what the current Israelis had held onto as they sought to revive their nation which had once been destroyed. Just as these words said, Israel turned the desert into a lush green land.
We reconfirmed the purpose of this show which was as in anything, the most difficult thing is to lead the way because you have to go down a road that does not exist.
Possessing the unique “Japanese” brand we are going to do something nobody has ever done before.
Taking pride in who we are, not trying to show off, but standing on the stage with a heart of dedication to return our gifts to heaven since all our talents have come from above.
As we always do before we go on stage to perform, we made a circle and held hands to be unified through prayer and especially prayer for no power loss and with the shout of “HEAVENESE”, we were fired up and ready to perform.
Given that major blackouts occurred repeatedly that morning, we had to be ready for one or two to occur during the show, if it happened, we would resume our show as if nothing happened with applause when the electricity came back on again.
・・・・ And at last the show was about to start.
The MC’s opening was followed by a speech by Ambassador Saida.
Ambassador Saitda talked about HEAVENESE’ message which is love for humanity; all humanity is related, so we should love each other.
The National Theater’s traditional dance troop enlivened this cross cultural event and was followed by a performance by a local rap group, Cross Concept.
Finally, HEAVENESE’ performance began.
As always, the opening video played, and all the band members took their position.
I felt relieved that the video was working properly. During our rehearsal, there was a man who works at the theater who said to me repeatedly, "That is my projector.” I was so glad to hear that and hoped for his sake that there would be no blackouts or a breakdown.
①The Code of the Samurai
The Komuso ( a traditional mendicant Zen priest style Shakuhachi player) appeared, accompanied by the koto.
I was wondering what our African audience thought of this.
After the Code of the Samurai finished, the vocalists walked to the stage from stage right to the sound of applause, and when the band members turned around and froze, there was a big round of applause. I was glad to see their response. I looked at the audience, and the venue was almost full.
③You are good
During the opening session, we had a couple of upbeat songs, so we were out of breath and found it really difficult to sing at that high altitude.
The high altitude didn’t have much effect on Kumiko, my wife. We tested her oxygen level, and found it was normal. She didn’t feel out of breath when she went up stairs. She only noticed the difference when she sang. Both the shakuhachi player and the saxophone player found it difficult to hold a long note.
LIFT is our representative song from our EP when we made our debut in the United States; it has very strong Gospel feel to it. The lyrics of the opening song include “Hallelujah”, which was repeated many times. We were told not to sing “Hallelujah”, but it was totally accepted by the audience.
During our introduction time, my usual greeting phrases of “Doyo (How’s it going?)
“ and “Iiyo (Good!)” were well received in Ethiopia.
This is the theme song of our Ethiopian performance because everything had started from the recording of this song.
When Kumiko began singing a cappella in Amharic, the crowd cheered and applauded.
This song was the talk of the town before we got there. Ethiopians were wondering why Japanese people are singing this Ethiopian hit. Actually, this melody led us to Ethiopia.
⑤ Tsugaru Jongara Bushi (Shamisen Solo)
I assumed that the Tsugaru shamisen was something that most people got to see for the first time. Our Shamisen player, Motoki, had a solo performance and was the only one on the stage, so I could not see the reaction of the audience, but I heard loud applause and cheers from the audience. This reminded me of the reaction of the African Americans in Kansas City in the United States. I feel that Ethiopians are similar to Japanese, but blacks are blacks wherever they are as they share the same root. After the shamisen solo performance, there was a loud cheer.
⑥ Carrying taiko Duo
Our drummer, Ikki is not a taiko player.
However, for the performance in Israel in 2014, he had practiced the taiko drum so hard that it enabled him to do a duet with our taiko player, Leu.
This was Ikki’s second taiko duo performance oversees since then. His skills have improved, and it is becoming his own.
⑦ Comedy Routine
This comedy routine is designed for an oversee audience. We performed this for the first time during the 2011 U.S. tour. It has been refined during our many domestic tours, and now we have a number of variations. For this Ethiopian tour, we were not sure about their sense of humor, so we debated which one to do, whether going with the original version from 2011 or the improved version of Kamehameha. After throwing around which one to use, we finally decided to go with the version that had been used during our second US tour.
I was wondering if our sense of humor would be well taken by Ethiopians. Children laughed when we performed it at a school in Addis Ababa. How would the audience at the National Theater, the center of art and culture react to this comedy routine?
I was so pleased to see that people laughed out loud. That simple comedy, playing catch with something invisible worked in Africa. Every time our drummer, Leu caught a ball, they laughed. They might not have known about the Japanese animation, Dragon Ball, yet people yelled on, “Kamehameha”. It was well received. There were shrieks of surprise when we shot the streamers at the audience.
⑧3N1 (taiko perfomance)
After the taikoperformance I was out of breath, so I caught my breath stage right which helped me feel better.
⑨ Japanese Traditional Dance
The reason the dance followed the taiko performance was that I thought I wouldn’t be able to talk from being out of breath and I would be able to catch my breath during the dance. Because of this order, I could finish the entire show without collapsing during the performance.
My wife, Kumiko, asked our shamisen player, Mr. Morinaga, to dance at our last rehearsal in Japan.
During our first US tour, we had a tap dancer who did “Kanjinchou” (a famous Kabuki play). For oversees audiences, it was necessary to have something very lively to keep their attention. Mr. Morinaga accepted the request and did it well.
⑩ Silk Road
This was the highlight of the evening. Before the song started, I shared about how Ethiopians and Japanese people are similar, and that Ethiopia has a sacred place, Lalibela, and Japan also has a sacred place called Ise. Some people believe that both groups of people might have originated from the same ancient people in Mesopotamia. This receive great applause.
We had a local rap group, Cross Concept perform with us.
They sympathized with our ideas.
I told the audience that the relationship between Japan and Ethiopia would grow stronger, which brought the house down.
⑪ It’s so easy
This is HEAVENESE’ only reggae song.
In Ethiopia, reggae is popular. Rastafarianism, the essence of reggae music, is a black ethnic movement that praises the last Emperor of Ethiopia as their Messiah. The message of reggae was originated in Ethiopia.
At the end of this song, I invited Ethiopia's Quincy Jones "Avegas Shiota” on to the stage. He got a warm welcome from the audience.
12. Addis Ababa Bethe
From here started a medley of Ethiopia’s great hits. This song was recommended by the Belgian ambassador to Japan’s wife who is Ethiopian. She said that all ages of people would absolutely love it. When I heard it for the first time, I was at a loss; it sounded like a psychedelic trance.
“Do children like this?” I thought.
The lyrics of this song go like this.
“She loves everyone.
She lives in Addis Ababa.
Everyone wants to see her.
But I get to see her every day.
Because I live next door.”
Everyone seemed to be very familiar with this tune and their bodies began to move to the music. I saw smiles.
Shiota played the solo; his unique jazzy scale gave a sophisticated urban feel to the song.
From the latter half of the song, the theater’s exclusive dancers joined us on the stage and enlivened the show.
This song is an original version of a big hit in Ethiopia, Nanu Ney.
Just playing the intro brought tremendous applause.
Lastly, HEAVENESE, Mr. Shiota, the dancers and other singers all became one and sang the chorus of Nana Ney.
This was the program for the night.
After the concert, a bouquet giving ceremony as a testimony of the friendship between the two countries and a commemorative photo shoot followed.
Despite the numerous blackouts before the concert, never once was there a power failure during the show.
When I got to the dressing room, "There were no blackouts, Yeah!!” poured forth from evveryone's mouth. I thought it was a miracle.
The reaction from the audience in the nearly full theater was wonderful.
There were several media cameras as well.
The response to the message I said was great.
Ambassador Yoshida was also interviewed after the show.
When I greeted him, he said with excitement,
"I was impressed by the event. You made it so lively, and it united two countries.”
I was busy dealing with each interview requested by the media.
Forbidden things were carried out this day!
I did something I should not do at a government hosted event, which is a political event should be “secular”, that means that singing gospel music is not allowed, but we did it. I talked about the possibility of the same root; the traditional religions of both counties might have originated from the same place, even though it affects the teachings of ancient Orthodox churches. Singing a secular song which is never sung by passionate Protestant Christians, but it didn’t provoke their anger or booing. The media response was also incredibly favorable, and it seems that the music director of the National Theater was very pleased with it.
What Pastor Z had said came true, there are things we can share because we are Japanese. I was convinced that this marked the day that we embarked on a journey of private diplomacy by becoming a bridge connecting Ethiopia and Japan.