Issue - January 2009

January 2009


In this edition: Minato Kobori interviews Makoto Shishido, a member of Los Kjarkas; Barbara Walter wanted to know how and where the Don Bosco mission work began in Bolivia; finally Walter Sanchez brings us chronicals of the beginning of photography and the most representative photographers in more...

January 2009

Makoto Shishido

Makoto had been on a tour in the United States and he had a week of rest in Cochabamba before heading off to Argentina. He agreed to speak to me when he was in Cochabamba. He invited me into the Los Kjarkas office on a Monday evening. I was let in by one of the secretaries and was amazed by the countless awards decorated all over the office. Makoto came in a short while after and it was great to speak to someone in Japanese in Bolivia. He was very relaxed so it made it very easy for me to start the interview.

Minato Kobori
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Yokohama - Japan

Cocha-banner: When was the first time you heard of Los Kjarkas?

Makoto Shishido: When I was eight years old. Kjarkas was on a tour in Japan in 1985 and they came to perform in a concert hall near my house. They come to Japan every so often - I think they have gone to Japan about seven

CB:Is that when you became a fan of Los Kjarkas?

MS: Yes - but the truth is that from when I was six years old I was always a part of this kind of music and the instruments as well.

CB: So you already knew about the charango?

MS: Yes of course. I knew about it since I was born. My father and mother were really into this kind of music and I was already learning to play the charango when I was six years old. When they heard that Kjarkas were coming to perform near our house, they went to watch and took me with them.

CB: What was the main reason which made you decide to go to Bolivia?

MS: I was in a professional Japanese band which played the same kind of music as Kjarkas. However, playing music in Japan means working with Japanese people. I wanted to go to the country where the music originated from and listen to true Bolivians playing. I was 19 when I first came to Bolivia. I stayed in Cochabamba for a month and there I met the ex-charanguista (the person who plays the charango) of Kjarkas, and from him I got lessons while I was there. Then I went to a music gathering party where I met a band called Munay. They were playing and dancing and were meeting various different Japanese people. They heard me playing the charango and liked it and asked me if I wanted to join the band the followingyear. A year later I packed up my suitcase and left Japan.

CB: How did your parents react when you told them you were leaving Japan and going to Bolivia?

MS: They were very good about it. They told me to do what I wanted. They like this kind of music so it was easier for them to let me go. Also, my father used to play the classical guitar and he had a time when he was pursuing a career in music. He wanted me to go for it.

CB: How long were you in Munay for? And how did the opportunity arise for you to join Los Kjarkas?

MS: I was with Munay for 1 and a half years.

There was a person called Wilson, one of the original members in Los Kjarkas. At the time a charanguista in Los Kjarkas was going to quit so Wilson was looking around for another one. He watched different bands play and he came across to Munay. He took a liking to me and I was invited to an audition. I failed the first audition. Yes I was nervous, but at the time I could not play at the high standards Kjarkas wanted.

CB: What did you do after the audition?

MS: I quit Munay and for one whole year all I did was practise playing the charango. I had people to teach me and I also went to the remote country sides to play. I think this was really important. I had to go back to the roots – the origins of the music. I learned how the charango was actually supposed to be played. After one year there was a second audition. This time I had to play the Kjarkas songs in front of the Kjarkas members. I had been a Kjarkas fan from when I was in Japan so I did not have to think about playing, my body did it for me. This time I passed the audition.

CB: It is very hard for a Japanese person to join a Bolivian band. What were the main factors which made your dream come true?

MS: There was a lot of luck. There is the fact that Kjarkas just so happened to be looking for a charanguista. If a guitarist had quit I would have had no chance.

CB: Did the other members have any problems with you joining the band?

MS: I personally believe that whether you are Japanese or Bolivian, black or white, music has no barriers. Things do not always go perfectly, and some of the Kjarkas members were unsettled with my inclusion. I used that as an incentive to work harder and prove to them that even a Japanese person can play really well. My desire to become an excellent charanguista was stronger than that of a Bolivian.

CB: How did the Bolivian fans react to your arrival as the new charanguista of Los Kjarkas?

MS: The fans only say good things to me so I am not sure what their true opinions are. However it is always nice when they tell me I play like a Bolivian, or even play better than a Bolivian. That is my ultimate goal so naturally it makes me happy when they tell me that. The fans reacted a lot better to my arrival than the members.

CB: You started living in Bolivia when you were 20. Did you speak any Spanish?

MS: I did not take any lessons and I did not speak a word of Spanish before I came here. However I did have a pocket dictionary with me! Communication was very difficult.

A Japanese lady was kind enough to let me stay at her house when I first came to Bolivia. I did not learn much Spanish because I would speak Japanese to her while I was at home. It was only when I joined Kjarkas that I moved away from that home and started living by myself. Then I was forced to speak Spanish all the time. Well, then I got a Bolivian girlfriend and married her so I guess that helped too! It was hard in the beginning, but everyone was nice and it was more important to play the charango well.

CB: Do you plan to be a part of Los Kjarkas for the rest of your life?

MS: Yes of course. The band is now in its 37th year and I think as long as any of the original three members is still in Kjarkas, it will not disappear. If the band exists, I will carry on playing for them forever and I believe the other members share my thoughts.

CB: Have you ever thought of returning to Japan?

MS: No, I have never thought about that. I have often compared Japan and Bolivia, and I have come to the conclusion that it is easier to live in Bolivia. It is less crowded than it is in Japan. Bolivia just suits me better – for example I have a Bolivian wife.

CB: What was the most difficult experience you had when you came to Bolivia?

MS: I was never homesick, so at the end of the day I think the most difficult thing was the language. I am fluent now, but it was very difficult. I never had a time when I thought I want to eat sushi although I like it! I did not miss my parents or friends. Maybe I’m a bit cold hearted... I am very grateful to my parents though. I would not be where I am without them. Kjarkas went to America last week and there my parents actually came to watch me. That was only the second time my mother saw me play since I joined Kjarkas. They were both touched by the music and went home happy.

I do try and go back home when I have time. At the end of year around Christmas time, Kjarkas do not perform so I always do my best to go home.

CB: What was the best experience you had after you joined Los Kjarkas?

MS: Absolutely everything. Recording, international tours, at first everything was so much fun. At first though. As the years go by it can get quite tiring. I still enjoy everything, but sometimes I think I would like a few more days of rest. Some things are not always like people think. When we go on tour to the United States or Europe, it’s not as if we get time to go sightseeing. However, the one thing I love most is performing so that takes away all the negative things.

CB: Do you still remember your first concert for Los Kjarkas?

MS: Yes. It actually wasn’t in a concert hall. It was at a wedding in Cochabamba. Believe it or not we perform in those kinds of places as well. If there is an agreement we would go and perform anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether there are 30 people or 30,000 people. It is all the same to me and it is very important for us to satisfy everyone.

Makoto told me that there was a meeting later on in the day and all the members of Los Kjarkas were coming. I stayed so that I could meet them and it was my greatest pleasure to see all of them. I was very lucky to meet such distinguished and nice people.

Being Japanese myself, I can say that what Makoto did was incredibly brave. The Japanese culture and language is very different and it is very hard for a Japanese person to adapt in Bolivia, let alone pursuing a career as a charanguista. He made the impossible possible. With pure determination he made his dream come true. He is an example all of us should follow. Hard work pays off.

Because the children are our future

A village in the African Bush, some huts made of clay and a church, the last village which has electricity before there is nothing more than red dust and poverty.

read more ...

Archive Issues

2007 | 2008 | 2009