Crowds gathered over 2 hours before showtime as anticipation grew for the Iha Four Sisters’ “Tinsagu nu Hana ” concert. The rare performances in Hawai`i marked the 50th anniversary for the group, and 14 years since their last group performance in the islands. Many in attendance remember the first concert of the sisters at McKinley High School Auditorium in 1967. Despite 40 something years passing, the voices and emotion of the group have matured, but not changed. They are still the foremost female shimauta group, and could even be considered best overall.
From the start of the show, to the end, tears flowed, both in the audience and on stage, as emotions were exchanged, without any division of performers and guests. Nostalgic songs brought so much memories back as the eyes of seniors glistened with tears of happiness. Children and grandchildren who came with their grandparents/parents, visually and emotionally understood why the Four Sisters were a household name in shimauta, as they themselves experienced a priceless encounter that brought so much nostalgia, healing, and aloha. The whole weekend cannot be explained in words.
Many who met or saw the Iha sisters before, brought old photos, record albums, and tapes to share with friends and the performers. Standing ovations ended each concert as people rose to their feet in unprecedented gratitude. In Maui and the last concert at the academy of arts, the audience spontaneously chanted “Danju Kariyushi” to wish the sisters farewell and a safe journey home. The sisters could not hold back their emotion as tears flowed as they joined in the chanting.
“This was truly a surprise to us. We were reminded of how things should be and brought back in time. We have a lot to think about when we go back to Okinawa. This was truly a priceless experience.” said Kumiko Iha of the group. ” We had to come all the way to Hawaii to be reminded. We didn’t really know what to expect and were afraid that it may be hard to sell tickets since mostly 1st and 2nd generations know us. We were surprised and elated to have had sold out and standing room only shows. Maui also surprised us. We are so grateful. Words cannot express our gratitude and happiness”, said Sadako, leader of the group.
“My 92 year old father was so happy when we got home. He is usually fast slseep by that time, but he stayed up to look for his old tapes of the sisters that he hadn’t played in years, and listened to them till he fell asleep. It brought him so much happiness”, said one lady who attended the Sunday show. “All of my aches and pains were gone! I was debating whether I could come because of my cancer, but I forced myself and am happy I did!”, said another woman at the Sunday show.
The experiences, emotions, and connections were inexplainable. Priceless. Magical. The sisters obviously brought back so much to those who knew them, and also made hundreds of new fans, many in the younger generations, who would never think to listen to this genre of music. So many felt proud that this was part of their heritage. Hopefully it planted more seeds so that this will continue in the same way that the Iha sisters have shared with us throughout the years. The Iha sisters have realized that there is so much we need to do to pass on and preserve and decided to work with Ukwanshin to continue to educate and bring this into the next generations.
The concerts were produced and sponsored by the Ukwanshin Kabudan, with the support of Young Okinawans of Hawai`i, Maui Okinawa KenjinKai, and the Maui Ryukyu Culture Group.
click the link to see the Iha sisters at the Lanakila Senior Center, Thanks to David Miyashiro. Photos on this article are by Claire Ikehara.