Young N.O. musicians part of recovery for tsunami-damaged Japan

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 3, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Eric Paulsen / Eyewitness News

At the Narita airport in Japan, the welcome signs were everywhere, when 16 young musicians landed in mid-October, on a mission to bring a bit of New Orleans to the land of the rising sun.

Eight Tipitina's Foundation interns, led by musician Donald Harrison and 8 members of the O. Perry Walker Chosen Ones marching band, led by Wilbert Rawlins, were there on a cultural exchange trip.

Just getting on the bus to Tokyo it was clear this trip would be about music – New Orleans music.  Sounds of the Crescent City, and “When The Saints Go Marching In,” were in the air. 

These young New Orleanians were about to see parts of Japan that had a lot in common with New Orleans: cities that lived through a disaster and where music made a difference.

When the tsunami hit Ishinomaki, Japan in March 2011, more than 3,000 people lost their lives. A year and a half later, more than 500 residents are still unaccounted for. So when the young New Orleans musicians hit the stage at a special festival designed to give people here a bit of fun from the long recovery process, they were an instant hit.

Then Yoshio Toyama, who helped arrange this trip, got on stage with the Tipitina's interns. The man called the Satchmo of Tokyo sang a Louis Armstrong classic, “What a Wonderful World,” in English and because music is the universal language, there was no need for translation.

Then, in a perfect finale, the O. Perry Walker Chosen Ones marching band took the stage, New Orleans style. They brought the house down and the spirits up for the Japanese people who have suffered so much. They were true ambassadors for New Orleans and having been through Hurricane Katrina, they understood how much their music meant on this day. 

The next day, it was another music festival for the interns and O.P. Walker students, this time in the city of Kesennuma.   The O. Perry Walker students and the Tipitina’s interns were here to play with the Swing Dolphins, a band made up almost entirely of school girls. After they lost their instruments in the tsunami, it was the Tipitina's Foundation that got them new instruments, so this was a special day.
 
Tipitina’s intern Hunter Burgamy agreed that music is the international language. It crosses all boundaries and brings people together. And to him, it’s everything.
 
“Music brought me here, it gets me through everything,” he said.
 
Both here in Kesennuma and in Ishinomaki, when these young New Orleans musicians were on stage or just mingling with the crowds, there may have been a language barrier but there was a bond between people who had been through a disaster in New Orleans and the tsunami in Japan all made a little better with the sweet sounds of New Orleans music.
 
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Eric Paulsen will produce a documentary chronicling the New Orleanians' trip to Japan, to air early next year on WWL-TV Channel 4 and Japan's Sendai Television.

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