In April of 2019, FIRST VOICE presented a four-part performance series celebrating the important role of “culture bearers” during the 52nd Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. These performances at the JCCCNC and Suite 520 in the Japantown East Mall were sponsored by J-town Task Force, J-town Foundation, GFTA, and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation.

* Culture bearer. (ANTHROPOLOGY)  any individual, especially a migrant, who carries, and thus diffuses, cultural values and traits between societies. The role of culture bearers is particularly important within those cultures undergoing transition or experiencing threat from outside the culture.

Infinity: Hanabi Masaru Koga & Friends

Saturday, April 13, 2019 – 3:30 PM @ JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco

Masaru Koga, lead artist, flutist and saxophonist is originally from Japan. Fueled with a passion for cross-cultural experience, Masaru has been an integral part of San Francisco’s creative music scene. Known for his cross-cultural musical palette and innovative approach, Koga was joined by Jimmy Biala (percussion), John-Carlos Perea (electric bass) and Amikaeyla Gaston (percussion, vocals).

The Present: Pacific Bridge Akira Tana & Otonowa

Saturday, April 13, 2019 – 8:30 PM, Suite 520, Japan Center East Mall

A benefit performance by Akira Tana (percussion) and Otonowa, featuring Masaru Koga (reeds/percussion), Noriyuki Ken Okada (bass) and Ben Stolorow (keyboard). Since the 2011 earthquake & tsunami in Tohoku, Akira Tana has made annual pilgrimages to Japan with the group under his leadership Otonowa, creating music directly from the crucible of disaster, building a bridge between Japanese American and Japanese musicians that inspires and heals.

The Past: Memories, Movies & Music Mark Izu with George Yamasaki, Shoko Hikage & Masaru Koga

Sunday, April 14, 2019 – 3:30 PM, Suite 520 Japan Center East Mall

Composer, producer and bandleader Mark Izu, George Yamasaki, Shoko Hikage, and Masaru Koga performed live to rarely seen Japanese American Home Movies from the 1930s, with special guest Stephen Gong, Executive Director, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

The Future: Hapa Voices SF BATCO with hapa director Jamie Yuen-Shore & Othello Jefferson

Saturday, April 20, 2019 – 4:00 PM @ JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St. San Francisco

Led by director Jamie Yuen-Shore, the singers, dancers and musicians from SFBATCO, performed excerpts from their sold out Izzie-nominated musical “I, Too, Sing America.” “I, Too, Sing America” which honors and intertwines experiences of American artists of color with poetry, song, music and movement, featuring original compositions by Othello Jefferson.

FIRST VOICE creates, presents and produces, the stories and music of people living between worlds. Passionate about impacting America culture, our mission emphasizes “personal experience” or “voice” emanating from a deeply rooted community as essential to the authentic representation of the people of the United States. Through their pursuit of this distinct purpose, founders Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have contributed to Asian American cultural heritage since 1976.