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Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center reopened to the public on March 23, three scant days after Spring had arrived. This coming weekend, they will be solidifying their return with a three-day music festival to celebrate the ephemeral beauty that is the yearly arrival and subsequent falling of the season’s cherry blossoms. The Sakura Concert Series of the Shofuso Cherry Blossom Festival of Philadelphia will boast a new theme per day and serve as a fusion of Japanese and African diasporal musical traditions in honor of the largely African American community who reside near the western Fairmount Park location. Rob Buscher, associate director of organizational culture for Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, who runs Shofuso, has been at his post for less than a year, but this concert has been cooking in his consciousness for a lot longer.
“Music is very important to me because I’ve been playing music my entire life and [have been] a guitarist for 25 years. My mom’s a classical pianist and is my Japanese American parent. My dad is a white dude from the NY suburbs but he’s a blues harmonica player. I grew up with a deep appreciation for blues music.” Growing up mixed-race in the suburbs with very little diversity, Buscher understood his circumstances weren’t comparable to the blues men and women he admired, but he was impressed by how they could persevere through adversity using art and music as a conduit. This dovetailed nicely with hip-hop rising to the status of global youth culture in the 90s when Buscher was growing up and extended to when he was living in Tokyo in 2008 seeing firsthand how profoundly hip-hop had influenced contemporary Japanese culture from fashion to music.
In a written statement announcing the reopening of Shofuso, Buscher spoke about the intentionality behind the music festival.
“In my past work as an arts curator and film programmer, I have found culture to be one of the strongest tools for creating empathy in building bridges among our communities. The fact that Japanese Americans already have a substantial cultural overlap in their love and appreciation of historically Black music genres such as Jazz, Funk, Reggae, and Hip Hop makes for some incredibly fun programming opportunities at the festival where we will be exploring these topics through our communities’ shared love of music. The best part is, since the three-day Sakura Concert Series is free and open to the public, everyone is invited.”
The music blossoms
Each night of the Sakura Concert Series will have a different musical theme and a different experience for the discerning concertgoer. Friday night is hip-hop featuring acts like DJ Oluwafemi and MC Tingbudong, also known as Jamel Mims, a Fulbright scholar, artist, Mandarin teacher, and anti-mass incarceration activist. Saturday is reserved for taiko and funk with acts like trained jazz musician and world-famous traditional taiko drum master and instructor Kenny Endo. The festival closes with a full day of taiko, jazz, and reggae on Sunday headlined by Brown Rice Family.
“I’m so excited. I’ve known about [Brown Rice Family] for a decade. The Asian American Film Festival had a film screening at the African American Museum back in 2013 or so. We were trying to see if we could get them as a musical act, but it didn’t come to fruition. I just remembered them out of the blue and thought these guys would be perfect for this. If there’s a group that embodies the work that we’re talking about, it’s Brown Rice Family.”
So whether you’re looking to dance away the stress of the week on Friday night, invite some friends out to party on Saturday night, or load up the picnic basket and bring your family to a day of musical fusion and cherry blossom viewing on Sunday afternoon, you’re covered.
Check out the full festival lineup here.
What, When, Where
The Sakura Concert Series of the Shofuso Cherry Blossom Festival of Philadelphia. Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center. April 8-10, 2022, at the Horticulture Center in West Fairmount Park, 100 N. Horticultural Drive, Philadelphia. (215) 878-5097 or japanphilly.org.
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