John John Festival showcase traditional Irish, Celtic and Scottish folk music at National Folk Festival in Canberra.
When talking about traditional Irish, Celtic and Scottish folk music, Japan probably isn't the first place to come to mind.
Yet the Land Of The Rising Sun is home to a rapidly-growing interest in traditionally Anglo folk music, headed by acclaimed trio John John Festival.
Mana Okubo is the fiddle player and vocalist for John John Festival, and says the fact a Japanese trio plays a type of folk music so far removed from their cultural origins often provides a point of surprise for newcomers to the band.
“Everyone must think 'oh why are Japanese people playing Celtic stuff?'” Mana says.
“Whenever we come to Australia people are wondering why we started this type of music; we just love music, the Celtic stuff, and Celtic music is slowly becoming popular in Japan.”
Despite some confusion as to the 'why', the 'how' is plain to see and hear – John John Festival are quickly becoming one of the most popular bands of their kind in Japan, due in no small part to the artistry and commitment of each member.
With Mana on fiddle and vocals, John John Festival also features the supreme talents of guitarist/ vocalist Hirofumi Nakamura and bodhran (an Irish frame drum) player/ percussionist Toshi. Together they layer vocal harmonies over traditional rhythms and grooves to create a sound that is all at once classic and contemporary.
John John Festival bring their music and live show to Australia for a performance at National Folk Festival in Canberra this April. “We are so excited because we've heard about National Folk Festival a lot, everyone says it's one of the best festivals in the world so we are so excited,” Mana says.
“We mainly play Irish and Scottish folk music, mixing with J-pop style. We love pop music and we also love traditional music.”
Though ostensibly disparate countries and cultures, Ireland and Japan have enjoyed a cross-cultural exchange over the years that has fuelled Japanese interest in Irish trad music, with a number of bands in Japan practising the craft and even recently competing in the Fleadh Cheoil, an Irish music competition.
Though John John Festival are based in Japan and frequently perform there, Mana is currently staying in Australia in preparation for National Folk Festival, which will be part of a larger Australian tour for the band and their first gigs for the year. “We haven't had any gigs yet.
“We're all travelling around and I'm now staying in Australia for a while. We haven't had any gigs in Japan yet either [this year] so our Australian tour will be the first gig[s] this year,” Mana says.
“We are starting with the Australian tour this year; we are travelling around and ending up at National Folk Festival, and we're also bringing our new album over to Australia. It's a live CD, a live recording of a gig we did at the end of last year. So we're coming with the new album. I hope everyone can come to see us and enjoy our music.”
John John Festival Australia Tour 2019
Sat 30 Mar - Wonthaggi Baptist Church (VIC) Sun 31 Mar - Lindenow Pub (VIC) Sat 6 Apr - Fireside Session (Warrandayte, VIC) Sun 7 Apr - The Old Church On The Hill (Bendigo) 12-14 Apr - Tathra Hotel (NSW) 18-22 Apr - National Folk Festival (Canberra)