An Interview with Japanese klezmorim of Jinta-la-Mvta



Wataru Okuma, clarinet & band leader Miwazow, Chin-dong drum (Japanese traditional percussion)


How did you first encounter klezmer music, and what made you want to start playing in this style?

Wataru Okuma: In the mid-1980s, klezmer recordings became available in Japan as part of the Klezmer Revival, and I fell in love with the music. But I didn’t even know the term “klezmer” at the time, so I was just doing as much research as I could on my own. This was about when I picked up the clarinet after encountering the Japanese street music called chindon. Until then I was a keyboardist/guitarist in a rock band, but I started to shift towards clarinet as my main instrument. Chindon and klezmer had some common attractive traits, such as nostalgia and the fact that it was people’s music that prominently featured the clarinet. So it was only natural that I started to play klezmer in the stylings of chindon music.

Miwazow: Over 20 years ago, I became involved in a klezmer musical as a university student. The beautiful melodies captured me, and I also became interested in Yiddish theater. While I was playing chindon drums in a rock group, I started to play klezmer when Wataru Okuma asked me to. I didn’t have much trouble playing it—chindon drums and klezmer seem to be a natural fit.

What has been one of your most memorable gigs, and why?

WO: For a klezmer show, when I performed with the members of the Klezmatics at the opening concert of Kulturfest in NYC last year. It was awesome playing with my favorite players and receiving such a warm standing ovation from a huge audience.

In Japan, the most memorable gig would be when I performed at a large anti-nuclear demonstration after the triple disaster in Northeast Japan in 2011 (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster). It was meaningful to be a witness and performer as many people’s anxieties and anger transformed into a sense of alliance and hope to change things for the better.

M: The lunchtime concert at the Jewish Heritage Museum in NYC, as part of Kulturfest. I sang Papirosn in Yiddish in front of Yiddish-speaking people for the first time in my life. I sang with all my soul, and many people cried and welcomed my performance. I was touched by one of the audience members, who told me, “I could feel war orphans. Thank you for understanding the Jewish soul.” It became an unforgettable concert for me.

What are 3 words you would use to describe Jinta-La-Mvta’s style?

WO & M: Street, memory, history.

How did you come up with the band name, and what does it mean?

WO & M: Jinta is a name for street brass bands that had been transformed from a high-brow imported western practice into a localized and populist genre. Mvta (pronounced Moo-ta) is a word we got from the street singer Soeta Azenbo who was active in the early 20th century. We admire his humor and rebellious spirit.

Favorite song/cover that you’ve done?

WO: There are many, but  Klezmorim and Der Glater Bulgar means a lot to me in particular. Tom Cora, the cellist from the New York downtown scene, taught me those tunes in the late 1980s and we played together in Japan. These were the earlier tunes that got played in Japan, from Klezmer Conservatory Band’s record.

M: I like them all; klezmer/Yiddish songs feel so natural to me, as if I wasn’t listening to them for the first time. But among them all, I like Klezmorim. A Japanese band called A-Musik covered it first, and their performance was amazing—so I try to perform it with their stylings.

What are you looking forward to in Boston?

WO: Very curious how our unique sound of chindon-klezmer will resonate in Boston, which is home to the Klezmer Conservatory Band—the first klezmer record I encountered in my life!

M: I hope the Boston audience enjoy the match made in heaven—the chindon drums and klezmer repertoire. I will perform wishing for everyone’s wellness and happiness!