Q&A: Tomo Nakayama

Fire, Nature and the Role of Art and Community

Meet Tomo Nakayama, named “Best Folk Act of 2017” by Seattle Weekly, and the mind behind this year’s Ampersand LIVE, an evening of storytelling about people and place. Tomo’s deep connection to nature and the art community in the Pacific Northwest made him the ideal person to curate our sixth annual Ampersand LIVE.

Q: The event is billed as a “showcase for more than a dozen diverse voices, each with a distinct take on the joys, wonders and worries of life in today’s Pacific Northwest.” What’s a joy, wonder or worry about life in the PNW that you feel most acutely?

I think what makes life in the PNW so unique is our proximity to so much natural beauty; the water and forests and mountains that surround us, just outside of our city which is home to so much technical innovation and complicated history. As our city grows and our communities grow along with it, I think many of us are having to think about our place within it. The reason we themed the show “fire” was in one way literal, with large forest fires becoming increasingly an annual event as a consequence of climate change, as well as the symbolic urgency we feel as a community to address these things. And to do so we need to find a way to communicate our different points of view and to work together to find effective solutions.

The reason we themed the show “fire” was in one way literal, with large forest fires becoming increasingly an annual event as a consequence of climate change, as well as the symbolic urgency we feel as a community to address these things.
Tomo Nakayama

Q: Is there a performance that you’re particularly curious about or looking forward to at Ampersand LIVE?

That’s a tough question! As the curator of this show, I’m obviously excited by every single performer, and I honestly think there’s going to be something for everybody. There are a few pieces that have been created specifically for this show, such as Shin Yu Pai’s new poem and accompanying video piece that is going to be really powerful. Climate scientist and composer Judy Twedt is debuting a brand new sonification about the changing length of the Arctic melt season, which she created in collaboration with two native Alaskans and two other climate scientists. These are just a couple of the amazing acts we have in store.

Q: What ideas or memories have stuck with you from past year(s) Ampersand LIVE shows?

The first time I performed at Ampersand was in November 2016, a week after the election. I think we were all in a state of shock at the results. I can say I was honestly devastated and scared about what the future might bring, and the full weight of the reality of the history and systems of oppression and brokenness that led us to this point was just beginning to make itself clear. That night I sang “We Shall Overcome” and all 800 people at Town Hall spontaneously stood up, held hands and sang along. It reminded me what a powerful community we have here in Seattle, and that moment has helped me many times in the days since.

Q: Forterra is focused on land use and the ways in which people and land can intersect to create a more sustainable future. What is it about that mission that resonates with you?

I admire Forterra’s work and the way in which they have evolved from land conservation to work in conserving and building the communities that live on that land. They have been very open and receptive to our feedback through events like Ampersand LIVE, even when some of the opinions have been very critical. Land conservation and ownership is a complicated, multi-layered issue, and I think the diversity of perspectives in every Ampersand LIVE show reflects Forterra’s commitment to giving a platform and a voice to the communities that may otherwise go unheard.

Q: Nature and a sense of place are two threads that consistently come across in your music. What does this connection to the natural world mean to you, and how has it informed your songwriting?

As an immigrant to this country who grew up in the PNW, I often wonder how much of who I am has been shaped by my surroundings. I’ve often been told that my music reminds them of Seattle, which I find interesting. My connection to the natural world has absolutely shaped my music. I grew up camping almost every weekend with my parents, and as an adult, I love going on hikes and foraging for mushrooms with my wife. All these things have a way of finding their way into my work.

Join us on Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Moore Theatre to experience the diverse performances of 15+ amazing storytellers who call the Pacific Northwest home.

Tickets Available Here
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