Auckland has been my home for more than half of my life, and as a performing artiste based in this big little city, I have been fortunate to attend and witness, participate and collaborate in a number of programmes that promote cultural diversity.
Having said that, there are of course challenges in ensuring all ethnic communities have a platform to showcase their respective talents.
Moreover, it is not common to see inter-cultural exchange between communities on the same platform, an ‘alliance’ between ethnic groups.
East Asia beckons
The ‘Cultural Exchange Concert,’ hosted by the Auckland War Memorial Museum on Sunday, September 20, 2015 was an example of this intercultural alliance, specifically focusing on Māori and East Asian communities.
Since its inception in 2012, the Cultural Exchange Programme has grown in popularity and attendance, and this year’s Concert was celebrated by musicians representing the Chinese, Korean and Japanese communities, in addition to Māori’s representation by Te reo Pirihimana (NZ) Police Kapahaka Group.
The Concert began with an instrumentation called ‘Celebration’, a name apt for a performance that was splendid beyond words.
Performed by Melinda Gao on the Pipa (Chinese lute), Ma Xin and Jason Gao on the Dagu (Chinese drums) and Tony Ma on Jazz Drums, one of their pieces was similar to ‘Jugalbandi’, a musical exchange that I thought was peculiar only to Indian Classical Music. It made me realise that this unique partnership between musicians is also prevalent in other ethnical cultures.
The Programme then proceeded to choir and ensemble performances by The Music Association of Auckland (MAA), comprising ethnic Chinese members, Music Association of Korea in New Zealand and the Korean Culture Society, and Sakura no Kaī, comprising members of Japanese origin.
In particular, ethnic Korean Soprano Helen Kim, backed by The Orchestra of NZK and Friends, moved the audience to tears with her beautiful renditions of ‘Longing for Mt Geumgang’ and ‘Arirang,’ while Japanese Mezzo Soprano Yuko Takahashi sang effortlessly with ‘Yuku-haru’ (Departing Spring) and ‘Habanera’ from the famous French Opera, Carmen. She was accompanied by pianist Setsuko Strang.
A waiata (song) from Te reo Pirihimana Police Kapahaka Group, followed by ‘Po Atarau’ sung by all the performers, proved a fitting finale to the Cultural Exchange Programme of 2015.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Director of Public Engagements and Capitol Projects Sally Manuireva, said that the Museum was privileged to host a Concert of this calibre that not only brought together the communities of East Asia but also fostered friendships between them and Māori, symbolising their assimilation into their new home.
The Museum is committed to provide active space to engage people from all backgrounds through the universal language of music, enhancing social and cultural values.
It is commendable that associations such as MAA, Sakura no Kaī and The Music Association of Korea use music as a bridge to develop communication among its peers, and I believe that they found a way to balance their traditional and western lifestyles by singing traditional songs from their original homeland to the accompaniment of Western classical music in their adopted home.
With the rise of East Asian musicians, sopranos, tenors, choir conductors and directors, particularly as new migrants to New Zealand, they have struck a chord with mainstream society and have successfully displayed social integration and intercultural harmony through their talent and stage presence.
- Korean Group Gayageum Ensemble in performance
- ‘Sakura no Kaī’ by Japan’s musical group