The Otakon Matsuri on Thursday is a spectacular success despite temperatures hovering around a hundred the entire time. The deadly* heat prompted Brent** to proclaim it as “Swampass Con”. Held in the parking lot of the First Mariner Arena, my first impression found it small in every sense. Expectations for a matsuri that one encounters in anime are certainly unreasonable but I had hoped otherwise. There were only three food vendors which would be ok had they featured Japanese cuisine but instead offered pork, Pho and noodles. Besides, the prices were not exactly appetizing. It’s understandable that choices among food trucks or those with mobility would be limited and pricy. The booth that had not one, but two, bottles of water for $1 was a definite win however. Performers’ booths rounded out the rest. In short, not much to do or see.
The music overwhelmingly overshadowed all of the above. I was familiar with none of the bands beforehand but ended the day with two very happy discoveries. Prior to their performance, drummers from the Chin Hamaya Culture Center engaged the crowd by offering anyone a chance to play the drum. I am very confident that my drumming, or more accurately, lack of drumming, sorely disappointed the boy that approached me. I know this because in a few minutes I got to witness him and the rest of his troupe drum and march their way into my heart.
I had to pick up friends
DJ Cutman had another mini set. I am picky with my rave music, hence my early exits at the Otakurave each year, but I found myself nodding along for the majority of the set. He had an adapter that connected his Game Boy for some chip tunes at one point. My favorite part was the flawless transition into “Call Me Maybe”. It was subtle and well played.
Finally, we were treated to Hsu-nami. You know it’s going to rock when there’s an erhu involved. And no, I did not know what it was at the time. I had to ask Jack, who plays said instrument, how he kept the bow string from breaking to which he revealed that he has never broken the string which astounded me because he played with a ferocity that kept the string stretched practically the entire time. Run, don’t walk, to the video.
While cute at first, Brent’s insistence on rousing the crowd got old given that the music spoke much more convincingly. Actually, the music roared. I was delighted by the showmanship of Jack who often held the erhu like an extension of himself where he released all his emotions. I was too busy dancing to record the part where a brief duet took place between him and the keyboard to my chagrin. Hsu-nami demonstrated superb synergy among the instruments. There were definite moments where it sounded like an erhu concerto with band but on the whole, each sound complimented each other like long time friends conversing, well, dancing around a table. The set was a fantastic ending to the Matsuri. I felt it set an upbeat tone for the rest of the con.
Okinawan Taiko Drums:
The Paranku is a small hand-held drum with a cow skin frame drum which is used in traditional events called “Eisa”. Eisa is a form of folk dance unique to the people of the Ryukyu Islands. This is a centuries-long tradition, to mark the end of the Obon Festival. Eisa is an event which young people play paranku/other kind of drums and dance with the song and the musical band to send off the ancestor soul to another world.
More pictures on flickr.
* Linda, one of our correspondents, got sick from the heat :/ She is better now.
** Brent is the guitarist for Hsu-nami.