Koto master, lion dancers and ballet folklorico share spotlight at Lodi’s Multicultural Bazaar

Koto master Yukiko Matsuyama performs at the Kick Back Cafe in Tokyo. Matsuyama will be performing on Saturday at the Multicultural Bazaar in Lodi.

Fresh off of her appearance at the Multicultural Bazaar, koto master Yukiko Matsuyama will perform at Micke Grove’s Japanese Garden. She’ll be joined by special guests Rieko Ivaska, playing the taiko drums and dancing, Diana Dentino on keyboard, Peter Hackett on drums, and Chris Akin on bass.

An Osaka native who moved first to Los Angeles, then to Acampo, Matsuyama has made a name for herself playing the traditional Japanese instrument — not just performing the traditional music, but also crafting original music blended with jazz, world and other styles of music.

When Matsuyama first began to learn the koto, she never expected to earn mastery of the instrument. It takes more than just learning to play well — she had to reach certain milestones.

“Japanese culture of things is to always have certain steps,” she said.

It wasn’t a straight road, either. Matsuyama first quit studying the koto while she was in school, to focus on her studies. She began practicing again at 24 to earn her mastery, but stopped again once she passed the final test.

But she couldn’t stay away. Soon, she was performing with legendary musicians like James Gadson, the Paul Winter Consort and Shakira.

The koto is a stringed musical instrument that stretches back to the 7th century in Japan — and closely related to the Chinese zheng, an instrument with a 2,500-year history. The koto is considered Japan’s national instrument.

The instrument began to fall out of favor as western music became more popular in Japan, but Matsuyama is on the forefront of a movement to adapt this new music to the koto.

“Koto is one of the old instruments, but there is lots of possibilities,” she said.

When Matsuyama first moved to the United States, no one in Los Angeles really knew what a koto was, she said. They didn’t know what her status as a koto master meant. And on her part, she didn’t know that in the U.S., musicians bring along CDs when looking for gigs.

“So I said please let me play for free the first time, and if you like it, hire me,” she said.

The first gig she landed was at a multicultural event similar to last weekend’s bazaar.

“The next day, the local newspaper took a picture of me and the band,” she said, still seeming surprised.

That inspired her — and landed her and her band more jobs.

But she never expected to be playing on a Grammy-winning album — the Paul Winter Consort’s “Miho: Journey to the Mountain” — or to be on stage with Shakira at the Latin Grammy Awards.

“Shakira’s a star!” she said. “It was a tremendous experience, but at the same time, very emotional.”

Matsuyama is grateful for the people who have helped her along the way, from the L.A. venues that gave her a chance to show her skill to the teachers she has met over the years.

They were tough on her, but helped her grow musically.

“Without their help, I (could not) be a musician right now,” she said.

She’s excited to continue writing and creating new music here in Lodi. Matsuyama loves the rolling vineyards, local wildlife, and break from the busy life in Los Angeles.

And with next weekend’s concert, she hopes to share her music with her new neighbors and show them the beauty of Japan’s musical culture in the beautiful Japanese Garden at Micke Grove.

“I want the people to feel that combined western culture and eastern culture,” she said.

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