They performed in a small theatre in Arizona and an ancient cave in Texas. Kazemon, the duo of shakuhachi bamboo flute master Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos and flautist Chris Bernetchez, have recently returned from an amazing journey in which they took their unusual music to the southern U.S. in what Ramos describes as a blending of a musical and a spiritual experience.
“It was everything a tour should be,” said an enthusiastic Ramos upon their return to the Coast where they are preparing for a concert in Roberts Creek on March 29.
The two met when a mutual friend introduced them, but the collaboration didn’t start until a few years later when Bernetchez, who plays the Native American flute, and Ramos realized that they could create a great sound together.
“Chris is so warm and open,” Ramos said. “We connected.”
Ramos, who is the director of the Bamboo-In, a shakuhachi retreat centre, is one of the foremost teachers and performers of shakuhachi in North America and the first non-Japanese (he is of Filipino descent) to win a prize in the all-Japan Shakuhachi competition. His name Ryuzen, meaning dragon meditation, was awarded to him in November 2008. He is the first Canadian, and one of only a handful of non-Japanese, to receive this honour.
Bernetchez has a passion for the sounds of the Native American ?ute, clay ?utes of Mexico and South America and Moyo drums. He began his musical career 25 years ago as a classical ?autist playing with orchestras, but his musical path took him into the realms of healing and meditation. On the Coast, residents of care centres have appreciated his healing flute.
Ramos suggested that the new duo tour under the name of Kazemon, which means “wind gate” in Japanese. They loaded all the instruments — including a six-foot long didgeridoo — into a mid-sized car and set out.
“It was a true initiation,” Ramos said, describing how they drove 70 hours non-stop from B.C. to Texas to their first gig, then drove through desert roads in the night without hitting a single animal, and got to unfamiliar venues on time without a GPS or cell phone to guide them.
“We had divine help,” he said, with gratitude. Audiences were receptive wherever they went — none more so than in the most unusual venue, The Cave Without a Name in Texas. After making their way through a small opening, 126 steps dropped the musicians and the audience down into the earth to an ancient cave where they began their show.
Though much of the music is improvisational, they do follow a pattern: they open with singing bowls, then follow with shakuhachi, wood and clay flutes, didgeridoo and percussion instruments that provide a textured, resonant sound. Ramos sometimes plays guitar and sings a kind of chant.
“The acoustics were unbelievable,” he recalls, “and the audience was moved deeply.” Other performances at Solar Culture, a venue in Tucson that Ramos describes as awesome, and a solo performance at a Japanese garden turned the tour into a magical experience.
Ramos and Bernetchez have each recorded separately, Ramos with several albums and Bernetchez with a recent, independently produced album, Into the Water. They will be finding time in April to record together.
Kazemon performs on Friday, March 29, at 7 p.m. at Yoga By The Sea (1055 Roberts Creek Rd.) Tickets are $20 (advance) and $25 (at the door), available at Gaia’s Fair Trade in Gibsons, MELOmania in Roberts Creek and Straight Music in Sechelt.
After another West Coast tour the two will return to Sechelt on April 27 for a concert at the Seaside Centre.