KEONE YOUNG – IN HIS OWN WORDS
For the past six months, I have been singing one song and one song only day and night. An hour in the morning and a couple hours at night. Perfecting my singing and accompanying myself on my instrument. “Nufwa Bushi” is a song that dates back maybe 500 years. It’s part of the catalogue of Okinawan Classical Music. A song about a man’s departure from his soulmate due to illness — so relevant to what we are facing today.
I did it as a test that was conducted internationally; birthed from Okinawan, also known as the Ryüküs, once an independent peace-loving kingdom.
I represented the Afuso-ryu school headed by National Living Treasure of Japan, Choichi Terukina, from the Los Angeles branch. I am proud to say that I was the first person from the U.S to take my certification test via Zoom.
I took the test to get my Shinjin-sho which is actually a certification of a beginner’s life in the world of Okinawan classical music. Most participants take on the challenge in their teens and 20’s.
It is a most difficult song without boundaries to scale and to technique. Singing some of the highest notes to the lowest in measured time. I am proud to say I passed and earned my certificate.
Why at this late stage am I doing this? Well for one, to honor of those who came before me.
My mentors like Mako the great actor and Seiryu Oshiro and Seiichi Shimabukuro my former teachers in the art of Okinawan music.
At 74 I made a step amongst those who I out age by 40 and 50 years. But it is never too late.
I am fortunate that I had those youths that stood by me and carried me on their shoulders. Particular my sensei in Los Angeles, Ryan Nakamatsu-Sensei, who I owe a lot to. And my teachers in Hawai‘i: Kenton Odo-Sensei, June Uyeunten Nakama-Sensei, and of course Hawai‘i’s living treasure and uta-sanshin master, Grant “Masanduu” Murata-Sensei who keep this ancient but wonderful art form alive.
As performers, we don’t know why we do things. We just keep searching, looking, fighting for, that something. Something special. Something unequivocally unique. That something magical that enriches our lives and those around us. We become monsters sometimes in our passion and then we can become angels too. It is our flaw and our gift.
The search continues….
Keone Young hails from downtown Honolulu Chinatown and the slopes of Nu‘uanu. Born to a Chinese dad and Japanese mom, he grew up living above his father’s music store, Sharps and Flats, on Bethel Street and listened to all the old-time Hawai‘i musicians who use to come to the store.
Later, Young ventured to California and New York to pursue the performing arts. He has acted in hundreds of movies, television shows and theatre productions. He’s loved Okinawan music and culture ever since he fell in love with a churakägi at R.L. Stevenson Intermediate School. Although he’s learned through DNA that he has roots going back to Okinawa, he does not consider himself to be Uchinanchu. Instead, he says, “I am just a student.” When he met Murata-Sensei, he knew that he was a genuine true artist, one that inspires him to this day.
Young loves Okinawan music, but also likes to sing songs from Hawai‘i, Spain, Germany, Italy, Africa and Brazil.