Experimental jazz vocalist performs at UH Manoa

Celebrated New York-based experimental jazz vocalist, Fulbright scholar, and Stanford University graduate Jen Shyu is in Honolulu at Doris Duke’s Shangri La, doing a two-week residency.


“I received a Doris Duke Impact Award in 2014 and actually, I had first heard about Shangri La in 2013 from the famous Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho, who directed this solo music-dance drama that I’ll be performing January 28th, which I composed and premiered in 2014. I had heard about Shangri La even before I won the Impact Award, so naturally, I wanted to come here to perform and also work on new music for my next project, also large based on Javanese traditional music and culture,” she explains.


The multi-talented Shyu is a vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, “mainly influenced by jazz and classical music as well as many ancient musical traditions that I have been studying for the past 15 years from not only my parents’ native lands of East Timor and Taiwan, but music from Indonesia and Korea.”


At UH Manoa’s Orvis Auditorium on January 28, Shyu will perform the piece she composed (which she had asked Garin Nugroho to direct in 2014) called “Solo Rites: Seven Breaths.”” It’s a journey in seven movements, or ‘breaths’ which leads the audience through stories, corners of the world, and perhaps languages they have never experienced before. It is ancient and future intermingled and indistinguishable sometimes, just as we have so much to learn from ancient practices, even in our modern world. It’s like a very personal ritual piece, based on my travels, but I also have made it a universal monologue, which I believe everyone can relate to and be healed and transformed just by listening and watching this marriage of ancient and contemporary elements.”


For Wednesday’s performance on KHON she sung the beginning of a song she wrote, “inspired by one of my teachers in my mother’s birthplace, East Timor, named Mestre Marsal, who taught me this lakadou song. The lakadou is a traditional bamboo instrument, whose rhythm I transferred to this Taiwanese moon lute, which I bought in Hengchun township, where I have been doing research since 2007.”


“So in a way, this song is a symbol of my mother and father meeting in America, where I was born and raised. Then I wrote English lyrics inspired by a dream I had about my mother after I began reading an amazing book by my East Timorese friend named Naldo Rei. The book is called Resistance: A Childhood Fighting for East Timor. So I called it ‘Song for Naldo’ and it is dedicated to both to Naldo and also my mother, and at the end of the song, which we probably won’t get to, I sing testimonies from the commission report from women who suffered violence from the military of Indonesia during wartime there starting in 1975. East Timor became an independent in 2002, but it was a long struggle,” she concludes.


Jen Shyu performs on January 28 at 7:30pm at University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Orvis Auditorium. For more information and tickets: (808) 956-8246 or http://outreach.hawaii.edu/community/.


Song for Naldo lyrics:


Hori uluk beala la rai buat ida rai netik kultura hanesan mean, hey hey hey…

(Translation: In the past, our ancestors left us nothing but culture, and it’s like gold)


My friend was a weaver of words

and he began to write

his voice was young with the soul of a sage

he wrote of our motherland

and the violation by a bigger nation


and I dreamed of another time

but I saw her there

my mother

but she looked different, with white skin

and short golden hair

but in dream I knew it was her

in a colorless cell surrounded by guards with guns

torturous questions


when finally, they pressed her face into a shield of thorns

a silver shield of thorns


then I appeared like an angel unheard and concealed

and I ran to her to lay her face in a veil of ice


to heal her bleeding brow

I thought she had died but no, she survived

to sing the Timorese woman’s sorrow.

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