Junko Ueda (born in Tokyo, Japan) is Japanese singer and satsuma-biwa player, presenting Japanese traditional biwa epic story telling and shomyo Buddhist chant. Ueda studied satsuma-biwa epic story telling with the famous Kinshi Tsuruta (Satsuma-Biwa Tsuruta-style) and Buddhist shomyo chant with Kôshin Ebihara (Tendai school). She studied composition (under Reiko Arima, Jôji Yuasa, Sei Ikeno) at the Tokyo College of Music. She has participated the project of Reigaku Ensemble (ensemble of reconstructed instruments from Shôsô-in Imperial treasure house of 8th century) directed by the Tokyo National Theatre, Japan.
Ueda has based in Europe and has been presenting biwa epic story telling as well as shomyo Buddhist chant concert in numerous situations and at music festivals. Her traditional biwa CDs L’épopée des Heike (CD650 VDE/AIMP Geneva) and Satsuma Biwa (ARN64577 Arion, Paris / Ethnomad, Geneva) received several prizes e.g. the Grand Prix du Disque, Academie Charles Cros, Paris and Choc Le Monde de la Musique, Paris. She has released her solo CDs of shomyo Buddhist chant titled Meditative Flowers and Kujô-Shakujô (E-records, Granada, Spain).
Since 1995, Ueda has been presenting the shomyo chant workshop and lecture. In these events, participants enjoy exploring the 1200 year old shomyo melodies and its concept and seek the wisdom and power of the breath from this ancient tradition.
Contributing for new compositions and improvisation, Junko Ueda has been working with composers, e.g. Jean-Claude Eloy, Akemi Naito, Keiko Harada and performing with e.g. cellist Yo-Yo Ma, viola da gamba player Jordi Savall, contrabassist Peter Kowald, Dutch Nieuw Ensemble, percussionists Ying-Hsueh Chen and Lê Quan Ninh. Also, she performs the pieces for biwa of Japanese composer Tôru Takemitsu like November Steps and Voyage. Since 1988 she has been presenting a duo performance with Dutch flutist Wil Offermans. This Dúo Ueda Offermans has recorded the CD How to Survive in Paradise (CD732 VDE-Gallo Swiss) and has been touring world-wide (Europe, Asia, North and South America), performing own compositions and improvisations. She has been active as a producer for several inter-cultural projects including 12xHolland. Since 2021, she is performing together with the French progressive rock band ‘PoiL’. This project called ‘PoiL Ueda’ is touring extensively in Europe and has released the album (CD/LP) PoiL Ueda (Dur et Doux, France) in 2023.
Live recording of a Heike Monogatari arrangement by the Duo Ueda Offermans at the Copis Miyoshi Concert Hall, Saitama, Japan. Includes the traditional pieces Dan-no-Ura and Gion-shoja. Ful version (26 min).
See more videos in the Video Gallery.
- Junko Ueda, a master in musical silence... a musical beauty, which is not known in Europe...
(West Deutsche Zeitung, Germany)
- A voice full of mystery and solemnity, yet sensuality... performing her instrument with an amazing precision and variety...
(Le Monde, France)
- Breath taking beauty... her audience are caught within two seconds...
(De Volkskrant, Holland)
Some thoughts about...
Performing satsuma-biwa music: A challenge for sharing an emotion, which is evoked when you touch the significant dignity facing to the deepness which has been continuously developed through the tradition. My biwa teacher, Ms. Kinshi Tsuruta was convinced that everywhere in the world, the biwa story-telling music can be understood. One of the most important elements of the story-telling is the sound of the voice and the breath which contain human’s thoughts, feeling and deep sense. The most impressive element is not the meaning of the words, but the sound of the voice and the timing 'MA' of the breath.
Singing shomyo: The human being is a child created from the stars wandering in the universal space. Then, now, by the action of singing, the small energy of voice or a vibration wave of the sound goes to the air. The wave continues traveling in the universal space. A little energy of the voice goes back to the universe where once human was created. A little energies of the voice are piled up in the universe and again continue wandering in the space like stars. If the imagining the universe is the existence of the universe itself, I imagine that my voice continue to wander in the space as an evident energy of the existence of the universe.
Playing the Biwa: One of the most characteristic effects of the biwa sound is "sawari" effect. "Sawari" means "to touch". Through touching, it creates mixture, distortion, waves and finally a complex noise which may consider as a "beautiful noise”. The sawari sound seems to symbolize the aspects of the nature or the universe.
Playing Music: A voyage towards something universal. An admiration towards something meditative. And through the act of music, a challenge towards healthy and peaceful world and common feelings to share with the people. Music is an essential food for the heart of the people.
- International Festival Musique Actuelle, Victoriaville, Canada
- Festival Détours de Babel, Grenoble, France
- April Jazz, Espoo, Finland
- Rudolstadt Festival, Rudolstadt, Germany
- Womex, Lisbon , Portugal
- VinterJazz, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Romanischer Sommer Köln, Germany
- International Sacred Music Festival of Bogota, Colombia
- Festival des Musiques Sacrées du Munde,’Sacrées Journées de Strasbourg’, France
- 19th Festival de l'Imaginaire, Maison des Cultures du Monde, Paris, France
- Copenhagen World Music Festival, Denmark
- Festival Electr()cution, Brest, France
- Academie Internationale d'Ete de Nice, France
- Mantica Theatre Festival, Cesena, Italy
- 17e Rencontres Internationales de Musique Médiévale du Thoronet, France
- Festival Trob'Art, Troubadours du Monde, St. Michel de Grandmond, France
- 8ème Festival International du Luth, Tétouan, Morocco
- Festival Ethnomad, Geneva, Swiss
- Voice Expeditions, Amsterdam, Holland
- Festival Suoni dal Mondo, Bologna, Italy
- Traditional and Sacred Music Heritage of Humanity, Yerevan, Armenia
- Lute Festival, Rasa Utrecht, Holland
- Singapore Festival of Arts, Singapore
- New Music Festival, Middelburg, Holland
- Musica Contemporanea, Bogota, Colombia
- Musique Action, Nancy, France
- Festival d'été de Québec, Canada
- Why Note, Dijon, France
- Sigma de Bordeaux, France
- Musica Strasbourg, France
- Warsaw Autumn, Poland
- Festival d'Autumn, Paris, France
- Oude Muziek Festival, Utrecht, Holland
- Wratislavia Cantans, Wroclaw, Poland
- Festival 38e Rugissants, Grenoble, France
- Inventionen, Berliner Festival Neuer Musik, Germany
- ISCM, World Music Days, Zurich, Swiss
- Rheinisches Musikfest, Köln, Germany
- Gaudeamus International Composers' Workshop, Amsterdam, Holland
- Midem, Cannes, France