Anthony Brown, who is of African and Japanese heritage, will commemorate the intersection of his biracial identity as part of a 20-year retrospective of his Grammy-nominated Asian American Orchestra Feb. 18 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, celebrating Black History Month and observing the Day of Remembrance. The Day of Remembrance reflects upon the 76th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which put the wheels in motion to forcibly remove more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent — mostly American citizens — and herd them into American concentration camps.
In addition to a performance with the Voices Of A Dream ensemble, the Asian American Orchestra will open an exhibit of their two decades of music, as well as hold a CD release party for their latest work, “GO FOR BROKE! A Salute to Nisei Veterans.” In an e-mail interview, the celebrated percussionist discussed the momentous occasion, as well as his new work.
Nichi Bei Weekly: How did “GO FOR BROKE!” come to fruition?
Anthony Brown: “GO FOR BROKE! A Salute to Nisei Veterans” is the Asian American Orchestra’s musical commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066 (EO9066) that forced over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into desolate internment camps until the end of World War II. Commissioned by the Zellerbach Foundation, “GO FOR BROKE!” was composed to honor the courageous Nisei soldiers who fought in WWII while their families remained imprisoned.
NBW: How would you describe the new composition?
AB: “GO FOR BROKE!” is a multi-movement commemorative musical work. I drew on several musical idioms to compose “GO FOR BROKE!” including martial or military music, primarily bugle calls that I heard when growing up on the Presidio and while serving as a U.S. Army Captain. Since I wanted traditional Japanese instruments to represent the cultural heritage of the soldiers, I included koto, shakuhachi, and of course taiko to evoke the sound of battlefield conflict. Together with former San Francisco Poet Laureate Janice Mirikitani, we researched the archives of the National Japanese American Historical Society with the invaluable assistance of Executive Director Rosalyn Tonai and her staff to identify poignant quotes from letters, memoirs, and newsletters for spoken word passages performed by Janice. Her mother testified before the Commission (on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians) and she includes excerpts of her testimony in her recited poem, “Breaking Silence.” George Yoshida, who served as a primary adviser and collaborator on our original project, “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire” — which created the Asian American Orchestra in 1998 — said, “we identified ourselves as Americans through our music.” He played saxophone with the Poston Music Makers dance band in camp, so I included excerpts of popular swing tunes in homage to George, with whom I had a cherished friendship until his death in 2014 at 92 years young.
NBW: Can you tell us a little about the collaboration with the Voices Of A Dream ensemble?
AB: Voices Of A Dream (VOAD) is a vocal ensemble founded in 2013 to join the AAOrchestra in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. They will join us on Sunday to perform a sneak preview of choral excerpts from my new work, “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE Requiem for a King.”
Commissioned by the Wattis Foundation and InterMusic SF, “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE” is the headlining event and thematic focus of the 2018 SF International Arts Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of MLK. “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE Requiem for a King” features the Asian American Orchestra with Voices Of A Dream and includes spoken word performance by Dr. Angela Davis. “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE” premieres on Saturday, May 26 at Ft. Mason’s Cowell Theater.
NBW: This event also marks the release of the Asian American Orchestra’s new CD, “Go For Broke!” What message do you hope to convey with the new CD?
AB: We hope that “GO FOR BROKE!” will provide the public a contemporary artistic interpretation of major historic events that have shaped and continue to inform our society. Today, with our current president stating that he “might have supported Japanese American internment,” it is vital that every American know our history so that we do not repeat it.
In celebration of Black History Month and in commemoration of Day of Remembrance, Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra and the Voices of a Dream ensemble will perform Sunday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m., at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 9th St., Suite 290 in Oakland. Tickets are $20 to $45. For more information or tickets, visit: http://oacc.cc/.