Soul of The City Cast & Creative

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Brenda Wong Aoki
Brenda Wong Aoki is a playwright, an artistic director, and America’s first nationally recognized Asian Pacific storyteller. She creates works for theater, symphony, contemporary dance, world music, taiko, jazz, live performance with film & museum installations. A descendant of Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Scottish ancestors, her work speaks to the essential hybridity of American culture. Brenda has deep roots in San Francisco. Her grandfather, Reverend Chojiro Aoki, in the 1800’s was a founder of the nation’s first Japantown, San Francisco. One of the world’s first fully ordained Japanese Christian priests, he was forced out of Grace Cathedral because he supported his younger brother’s marriage to a white woman and died in Salt Lake City Utah where Brenda was born. She wrote an award winning play, Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend, about this story and the children resulting from the marriage, the first documented bi-racial Japanese children in the U.S. Brenda’s grandmother, Alice Wong, a bi-racial Chinese woman was a founder of the first Chinatown Garment Union in the nation’s first Chinatown also here in San Francisco.

Aoki has been awarded Hollywood-Dramalogue, Critics Circle, Dramatist Guild Awards, two NEA Theater Fellowships, the first Wattis Artist Residency and a Japan-US Creative Artist Fellowship. Past presenters include the Kennedy Center, New Victory Theater on Broadway, Hong Kong Performing Arts Center, the Adelaide International Festival in Australia, the Esplanade in Singapore, San Diego Rep, Dallas Theater Center and the Apollo Theater. In 2023, she will premiere a new work about her family’s 126-year history in San Francisco commissioned by a Hewlett 50 Playwright Award. Since 1976, Brenda and her partner, composer Mark Izu, have created original performance works by people of color representing the authentic story of America. (
Caroline Cabading
Caroline Cabading, a 4th generation Filipina-San Franciscan, is an actively performing jazz musician and steward of pre-colonial Philippine music. Her work is strongly informed by her connection to tribal culture bearers in the Philippines as well as her engagement with a Filipino community that has been contributing to the Bay Area since the turn of the century. Born and raised in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, Caroline’s family first came to the City in 1904 and her connection to Historic Manilatown began with her grandfather who lived on Kearny Street as a young immigrant laborer. Caroline’s compositions have been commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, California Arts Council, Zoo Labs and New Music USA.
Shoko Hikage
Koto (Japanese zither) player Shoko Hikage is grateful to have studied with wonderful teachers, Chizuga Kimura, Iemoto Seiga Adachi, Tadao and Kazue Sawai and more. She, Mark, and Brenda have worked together on Aunt Lily’s Flower book (2017~), Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend (2016), Suite J-town (2015), Mu (2013), Kabuki Jazz Cabaret (2011), and more projects. For Offerings to Mother Earth (2020), Shoko assembled an unusual Koto tuning form using the pitch of E, A and H (B) — the inspiration of her piece, “E - A - H,” coming from the combination of the sound (pitch) and space.
Mas Koga
New York City based wind instrumentalist Mas Koga is a long time friend of First Voice who has also worked with luminaries such as Akira Tana, Anthony Brown, Wayne Wallace, Kenny Endo, Kat Parra, and the late Fred Ho, as well as his mentors Hafez Modirzadeh and royal hartigan. He has toured domestically and internationally, most notably as a member of Otonowa (www.otonowa-, visiting Japan yearly (prior to the pandemic) to support the communities affected by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. As a Shin-Issei who grew up as a Third Culture Kid, his music encompasses the many cultural traditions that he has been touched by, and the worldview developed though diverse life experiences. His first recorded album as a band leader titled “Flower Fire” was released in 2018. (
devorah major
devorah major served as San Francisco’s Third Poet Laureate. She is a poetry performance artist who performs her work nationally and internationally with and without musicians. She has worked with First Voice on several projects, most recently in Mark Izu’s Song of San Francisco. She has two poetry/jazz CDs with Daughters of Yam and is featured on several others. She has seven poetry books, the most recently califia’s daughter, two novels, four chapbooks and a host of short stories, essays, and poems in anthologies and periodicals. (
Jimi Nakagawa
Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Jimi Nakagawa joined the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, directed by Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka and became a performing member in the late 80's. In Japan, Jimi studied and performed Taiko with Sukeroku Daiko Hozonkai and Master Kenjiro Maru of the Wakayama style festival music. Also, he studied "tsuzumi (a Japanese hand drum)" with Master Saburo Mochizuki to become "Natori (accredited master)" and received a name, 望月武響 (Bukyo Mochizuki). In addition to Japanese traditional music, Jimi is a jazz drummer who studied with Robert Kaufman, a former professor at the Berklee College of Music. He is one of the founding members of Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, a San Francisco Bay Area based taiko group and played in the group for 11 years. Jimi has collaborated with world renowned musicians like Peter Erskine, Nguyen Le, Frank Martin, Van Anh Vo, Akira Tana & Otonowa to name a few. Jimi's refined but driving stickwork has been featured in film, video, and on stage.
Kenneth Nash
Internationally renowned producer, arranger, musician, author, and teacher, Kenneth Nash is creating some of today's most rhythmically compelling music. Breaking out into a superbly syncopated realm all his own, his high energy innovative playing has earned him a reputation as one of the foremost percussionists in jazz and contemporary music. Fusing jazz, pop and world-music elements, he creates an effervescent style of music. Kenneth Nash has composed and arranged percussion pieces for the Joffery Ballet, The San Francisco Opera & American Conservatory Theatre. He has written and performed music for films, television and theatre. Nash received the Isadora Duncan Award and in the same year his book Rhythms Talk was released worldwide in three languages. Kenneth Nash has performed or recorded on hundreds of recordings and productions with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Pointer Sisters, Weather Report, Sergio Mendes, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and many more.
Mark Shigenaga
Mark Shigenaga is a third-generation Japanese American with a passion for supporting community activities through photography. This pursuit has deepened an understanding of his heritage and enabled a connection to many cultures. A chance alignment at the 2013 San Jose Obon led to a commission from Mark and Brenda Wong Aoki to photograph their work MU later that year, followed by continued documentation of many First Voice performances. While his photographic style continues to evolve, he is most inspired by images that portray the vibrancy and Soul of our collective communities, whether through the sharing of various art forms, celebrations, or remembrances.
Sara Sithi-Amnuai
Sara Sithi-Amnuai is a multi-instrumentalist (on trumpet, sheng, and some handcrafted electronic instruments) based in Los Angeles. Her interest in the connection between culture and gesture has led her to build gesture-based musical interfaces - one of those is Nami, a custom built glove interface designed for live musical performance inspired by Nikkei community research. She has presented her work at the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, received the 2021 Nikkei Music Reclamation Fellowship with Sustainable Little Tokyo, 2019 ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award, and has performed with the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra.
Lydia Tanji
Costume Designer
Lydia is thrilled to be working with Brenda and Mark again. Past productions include: Kuan Yin, Mermaid, and Type O. Other theater credits: ACT, Berkeley Rep. Theater, Theatreworks, Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Syracuse Stage, Arena Stage, Huntington Theater, Guthrie, Indiana Rep., Dallas Theater, Children’s Theater, Seattle Rep, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mark Taper Forum, and South Coast Rep. Film credits include: The Joy Luck Club, Hot Summer Winds, Dim Sum, Thousand Pieces of Gold, and The Wash. She also co-produced Vanishing Chinatown: The World of The May’s Photo Studio which aired on KQED and KVIE.
Olivia Ting
Olivia Ting is a digital multimedia artist whose interest in visual communication as a storytelling vehicle about the human condition brought her to work in collaboration with movement-based performers. In addition to theater work, Olivia continues to work as a graphic and video media designer; her clients include the San Francisco Dance Center, San Francisco Performances, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California. Olivia serves as the Video Projection Designer for Soul of the City.
Andi Wong
Fifth-generation Chinese American Andi Wong has designed graphics and multimedia for First Voice projects, including J-Town Culture Bearers (2019), Earth Dance Offerings (2020), Story Circle of the Japanese Diaspora (2021-2023), Song for J-Town (2022) and Soul of the City (2023). Her creative partners include Marcus Shelby, The Last Hoisan Poets (Genny Lim, Flo Oy Wong and Nellie Wong), Del Sol Quartet, and the Internet Archive. She is currently working with Contemporary Asian Theater Scene (CATS) on “Drawn from Life: The Creative Legacy of Flo Oy Wong,” a short film premiering at the 2023 Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFest in October.

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