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. (
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.
Mark Izu
EMMY winning composer Mark Izu, a third generation Japanese-American, has fused the traditional music of Asia with African-American improvisation. Izu plays acoustic bass as well as several traditional Asian instruments such as the Sheng (Chinese multi- reed instrument) and Sho (Japanese multi-reed instrument). Izu has gained international recognition for developing a new musical genre, Asian American Jazz, and has performed with artists such as James Newton, Steve Lacy, Zakir Hussain, Kent Nagano, George Lewis, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Brown, and Jon Jang.

Izu has composed scores for film, live music concerts and theater. In 2009 Izu won an EMMY for Out Standing Music for his score in Bolinao 52. His film scores include Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award-winning Days of Waiting; Emmy-winning documentary, Return to the Valley; and a new score for the DVD release of Sessue Hayakawa’s 1909 masterpiece, The Dragon Painter (Milestones DVD - 2007). His theater scores have been performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and Sundance Festival and he was awarded a Dramalogue Award for Best Original Music & two INDIE Awards for best CD. His recordings include The Queen’s Garden (INDIE Award 1999), Tales of the Pacific Rim (INDIE Award 1990), Circle of Fire (Top 10 picks of the year, SF Bay Guardian), and recordings with the Grammy nominated Asian American Orchestra. Izu’s CD Threading Time featuring masters Togi Suenobu (Gagaku) and Zakir Hussain (tabla) was released in Tokyo in 2007. Izu’s other awards include Meet the Composer, Asian Business League Artist Award, Rockefeller MAP, National Endowment for the Arts, and San Francisco Arts Commission, Izu was a founding faculty member of Stanford’s Institute of Diversity for the Arts in 2002. In 2007 Aoki & Izu received the US/Japan Creative Arts Fellowship to Japan sponsored by the NEA and the Bunkacho.
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. (
Claudine Naganuma
Claudine Naganuma (Choreographer) was born and raised in San Francisco and currently lives in Oakland where she directs her dance company, dNaga. Naganuma is the founder of the GIRL Project, a free art and empowerment workshop for girls living in East Oakland and is the Program Director for Dance for PD®, Oakland. After receiving her M.F.A. in Dance from Mills College, she served as the Artistic Director of Asian American Dance Performances and was a founding board member of the SF Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. Her choreography was part of Dave Iverson's 2014 documentary Capturing Grace and the company recently performed in Barcelona at the World Parkinson's Congress.
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.
Emiko Omori
Emiko Omori began her career as a filmmaker and cinematographer in 1968, when there were few camerawomen and fewer still Asian American cinematographers. Her first job was as camera/editor on the KQED program, Newsroom, in San Francisco. She left KQED in 1972 and, since then, has freelanced as a producer, director, cinematographer, and editor on many award-winning films, taught, and traveled extensively with her work in addition to making her own films. Her Emmy Award-winning documentary "Rabbit in the Moon" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
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.
Wendy Slick
Wendy Slick is an established Bay Area film producer, director, writer, and editor. She has produced a wide range of films over the last decades, establishing herself as a talented and sensitive filmmaker who is effective in multiple roles and a variety of contexts. “Passion and Power — a women’s rights film” — garnered a successful run following a Lincoln Center premiere. Her work for American Playhouse, PBS, Lucasfilm, Disney, Showtime, and Apple has been honored with Emmy and ACE nominations. She recently produced and directed “A Love Poem to My Friend Ethel” — a portrait of a longtime activist in her 80’s that premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
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.
Hiroko Tsunetsugu
Artist/designer Hiroko Tsunetsugu creates elegant and refined installations, objects, and garments using textiles, flowers, and other natural materials. Whether functional and built to last or ephemeral and decorative, Hiroko's meticulously hand-crafted creations are guided by her Japanese roots and the unique attributes of the materials at hand. Soon after arriving in the United States, Hiroko crafted stage elements for First Voice productions of Kuan Yin and Mermaid thanks to an introduction from her mentor Maria Vella. Nearly a quarter of a century later, she is pleased and proud to continue collaborating with First Voice's family of Asian-American creators.
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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