Ancient Instruments Find New Voice at BEMAC in Kangaroo Point

When JADE Ensemble and ZÖJ take the stage at Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre (BEMAC) in Kangaroo Point on May 4, the air will be filled with the distinct yet harmoniously intertwined sounds of ancient musical traditions.

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These two formidable acts wield traditional instruments rooted in centuries of cultural heritage to forge adventurous new frontiers of cross-cultural improvisation.

For JADE Ensemble’s Takako Haggarty, the koto is more than just an instrument – it’s a conduit to over a millennium of Japanese musical lineage. The 13-string zither harp originated in China but became an iconic part of Japanese culture. 

Photo credit: Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre (BEMAC/Facebook)

With movements flowing like calligraphic brushstrokes, Haggarty coaxes transcendent tones from the koto’s strings through a mastery earned over 40 years of immersion.

Iranian composer and vocalist Gelareh Pour is the driving force behind the innovative ensemble ZÖJ. Her chosen instrument, the kamancheh, has an even more ancient pedigree. 

Kamancheh (Photo credit: CC0/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons)

This bowed string instrument featuring a distinctive cylindrical shaft and gut fretting is the precursor to the modern violin, with origins dating back over 4,000 years to Mesopotamia. In Pour’s hands, the kamancheh’s haunting voice becomes a conduit for raw emotion.

Whilst the koto and kamancheh represent vastly different musical vocabularies from opposite ends of the Asian continent, JADE Ensemble and ZÖJ find common ground through the boundless language of improvisation. These adventurous artists allow their distinct traditions to intermingle and influence one another in searingly spontaneous ways.

Japanese koto (Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Smgregory/Wikimedia Commons)

Rounding out JADE’s multi-cultural lineup are Indigenous didgeridoo master David Williams, Nepali tabla virtuoso Dheeraj Shrestha, and Australian guitarist/composer Dr. Anthony Garcia, whose pan-global influences include Mexican and Spanish folk traditions.

For these musical trailblazers, the goal is to create resonant social impact by showcasing the potential for harmony amidst cultural diversity. As Pour articulates of ZÖJ’s performances, “It is totally improvised…every show is different.” Their musical alchemy transmutes age-old tones into audible symbols of unity.

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Don’t miss this unique opportunity in BEMAC to experience the future outer-limits of cross-cultural music-making where decades of dedication to upholding hallowed musical traditions collide with ultramodern innovation and infinite imagination.

Published 1-May-2024