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Japan

Published on September 22nd, 2015 | by Ray Funk and Andrew Martin - Trinidad Guardian Newspapers

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The Journey of the Japanese Pheonix

Who would have thought that a Japanese steelband would be able to come to Trinidad, compete in an international Panorama – playing a non-Calypso – and still place in the top ten?

This is the story of Yoshihiro Harada and his Panorama Steel Orchestra (http://panorama-so.org/)  from Tokyo, Japan.

Of the steelbands competing in the recent International Conference and Panorama, they travelled the farthest. The journey was not in vain as the band was one of only three foreign steelbands to place in the top ten and the only foreign steelband to feature a foreign composition, Harada’s own Dance of Phoenix. According Harada, the composition was inspired by the need to overcome obstacles, such as battling illness or the need for his steelband to constantly reinvent itself after losing key members and gaining new less experienced ones, reinventing themselves and rising again like a phoenix.

Panorama Steel Orchestra’s ranking in the Panorama was not reflective of their enthusiasm and the band conquered the hearts of many Trinidadians in the grandstand, the drag, and the many visitors to the Pandemonium panyard in Belmont where they rehearsed leading up to the competition.   Yoshihiro Harada grew up devoted to music and started playing guitar, piano, trombone and percussion. In addition to performing, Harada is also an accomplished composer, arranger, and producer. His first exposure to steelpan came from hearing street musicians play the instrument in New York in 1989. “At that time was the first time I see and hear pan. No pan in Japan. It is wonderful, its sound changed our real world, [for me it] raised to heaven.”

As it is for so many across the globe, the moment of first hearing of steelpan was transformative for Harada, yet it was several years before he ordered and received his first set of steelpans. Given the relative unknown status of steelpan in Japan, Harada was unsure where to purchase instruments which led him to special order a set of double-seconds from Germany. He was then able to purchase a lead from Patrick Arnold. With no pannists in Japan to turn to for help, Harada taught himself how to play the instruments and his devotion to learning steelpan was instant and intense. Harada decided to devote himself to the instrument, in the process becoming a soloist and forming an eclectic trio with an accordionist and a guitarist. The group was called Pan Cake and has since become a staple in the Japanese market, regularly performing concerts and recording several albums. As a soloist and jazz improviser on pan, Harada released a solo album Pan Alone and has also performed on numerous concerts and collaborated on albums with several other artists. There are a series of excellent appearances one can watch on YouTube of Harada performing solo, with Pan Cake, and the whole band.

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