Happy Flower Beach Party, Day One

The next day Hiromi drove us up to Nago, in the northern part of Okinawa, to camp and make music at the Happy Flower Beach Party music festival, right on a white sand beach on a huge, very calm bay. Clouds gathered, but no rain fell on the freaks camped in tents, hammocks and vans all around a distinctly boho beachfront bar called Heaven. The encampment included a communal kitchen, and it’s even got a co-ed bathhouse.

We arrived just in time to see a tipi-raising, that is, a tipi on bamboo poles that had been hand-sewn by Tako Matsui, the mom of the five musical children with whom we’d been bunking at Donto-in.

And yes, of course there is a shrine at Happy Flower Beach Party. It’s inside one of Tako’s tipis.

Tako and Roku Matsui’s eldest child, Kameya (in pink), who plays electric bass guitar, was selling tickets, souvenirs, and CDs at the gate of the festival. Instead of stamping ink on your hand to prove right of entry, Kameya presented each celebrant with a necklace comprised of a Heaven Beach seashell strung on a piece of yarn made from recycled saris. It’s the yarn of choice for hipsters everywhere.

Down the beach from Heaven I saw a couple of divinely funky beach shacks made from shipping containers. Yes, I thought. I could get used to this.

Actually, I stayed both nights in a shabby chic little beach shack, which Sachiho rented for me as a gift.

Just like the parking lot vendors at Grateful Dead concerts, I thought when I saw cafes and craft shops opening under tents all over the beach, one offering o-den (a bliss-inducing Japanese soup), another offering Nepalese curry, another macrobiotic foods, and another an Okinawan stew. I had a fish taco the second night, and the vendors made the tortilla by hand while I watched.

At sundown, Rie and her husband opened the show with sweet spiritual songs.

The children of the Amana band have their own band. They all sing; Sachiho’s son Lakita at age 16 already has the makings of a rock star. Yoko’s daughter Seina has loads of style, wit and charisma. And Hiromi’s daughter Tapiwa is breathtakingly gorgeous, blending the grace and beauty of Japan and Zimbabwe in one form.

Hiromi’s African band, Dinkadunk, played a wild set that got everybody dancing. Toshi Arayama sang, yelped, played flute, and kept a spirited patter going; Masaha Tahara provided the texture with African electric guitar riffs, and Hiromi Kondo kept the whole thing perculating with hand drums, electrically amplified mbira and a mournful keyboard wind instrument called a pianica. With so many other instruments going, Hiromi had to get another woman to play the balaphone. Sachiho joined them on bass and I think they had a trap drummer, too. The band is in its fourteenth year, and just released the loveliest meditative music CD imaginable, called Dinkadunk 2.

The Beach Party really got happy dancing to Dinkadunk.

How do you follow an act like that? When punker Yoko Utsumi took the stage as a solo following Dinkadunk, I found out. You sing with a voice that shakes the heavens and bring the crowd to its knees.

Yoko will be singing with the late legendary rock star Donto’s former bandmates at the big Soul of Donto rock concert the night after tomorrow at a theatre in Okinawa City. We got a little taste of that, too, with Donto’s pianist and drummer, plus Donto’s wife Sachiho on bass, Donto’s son Lakita on lead guitar, and Donto’s buddy Roku Matsui singing with Yoko, Donto’s greatest hits. Donto and Sachiho created the first Happy Flower Beach Party ten years ago, and Sachiho has continued to coordinate them since his death in 2001.

After the show, happy people drummed and danced on the beach into the wee hours.