Keeping traditions alive is not easy; it's even harder when there is no one to teach them. When Ainu musician Oki recently re-created traditional tunes on the tonkori, the stringed instrument of the Ainu people, his only guides were pre-1970s recordings of tonkori music collected by ethnomusicologists on bulky open-reel recorders.
The result, "Tonkori," an album that was released in late May by Oki's own label Chikar Studio, reflects the artist's continued quest for his Ainu roots. But this time, the musician, who is famed both in Japan and abroad for mixing reggae, dub and other roots music in his tonkori performances, stuck to an authentic rendition of the endangered traditional tonkori music.
Day and night for three months, Oki listened to the researchers' poor-quality tapes, trying to imagine how the tonkori players had moved their fingers across the strings. Because there are no living tonkori masters and compositions were never written down, this was his only option. He even tried to reproduce the subtle tunings of the tonkori and the varied thickness of the five strings -- all through intense listening. It was a straight-forward but challenging process, Oki recalled.