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Other (Electronic) Musicians - Kitaro interview

Robi - Tue Sep 18, 2007 8:35 pm
Post subject: Kitaro interview
As Kitaro sits down for an interview, the contrast between the cool of Columbia Records' cloistered Akasaka offices and the outside heat foreshadows the surprising contrasts that are to emerge in an hour-long chat with the self-taught musician.

While the interview has been scheduled to promote Kitaro's current project sampling the temple bells of Shikoku, a wide-ranging discussion reveals an unexpectedly stubborn side to the soft-spoken composer.

Since his debut solo album, 1978's "Astral Voyage," created a sensation, Kitaro has been known for atmospheric, instrumental music that blends the sounds of East and West.

But the determination that has made him a leader of so-called "New Age" music has also led him into minor confrontations with authoritarian regimes at a time when he acted as a sort of musical ambassador for Japan with neighboring countries that had been its victims in World War II. A concert scheduled for Singapore in the early '80s, for example, had to be canceled when Kitaro refused to bend to the strict rules applied to those seeking to enter the country.

Singapore once wanted to cut his hair

"The tickets were sold out," he recalls. "But when I went through immigration, they were like, Kitaro, please come over here, you have a problem. You cannot enter with long hair. They said, eIf you would like to enter Singapore, you will have to cut your hair.' I said, eI don't want to cut my hair, so I would like to cancel the concert.'"

Kitaro's entire band and crew had already entered the country, but he was not to be deterred. "I called the airline and said, ePlease tell them I would like to cancel the concert because I don't want to cut my hair.' I next flew from Singapore to Narita, and then immediately to Hong Kong, where I held a press conference explaining why I canceled the show."

When he returned a decade later, Kitaro says, things were different. "Ten years later I had another concert planned there. Immigration officers again surrounded me, so I thought there might be a problem, but all they wanted was to get my autograph. Singapore had changed its laws."

A few years later, Kitaro again ruffled feathers during one of the first visits by a Japanese musician to China in the postwar era. "It was 1984, and the former leader of China, Jiang Zemin, was then the mayor of Shanghai. I think this was normal for China, but when the leaders sit down, the music has to start. Jiang had already sat down, but people were still waiting to get in, so I said we should hold off another 20 minutes. Jiang's secretaries rushed back stage saying, eQuick, quick, start now,' but I insisted on waiting. It was very strange."

With the simple but lofty goal of creating "music that eases the war within," Kitaro's new project reflects a long record of activism for anti-war and environmental causes. An album series intended to run to eight or nine volumes, "Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai" traces beloved Buddhist monk Ku-Kai's thousand-year-old pilgrimage to Shikoku's 88 temples, whose bells Kitaro is sampling in a multi-year project. The first volume, released last fall by Domo and distributed in Japan by Columbia, features characteristically ethereal compositions built around the plangent sounds of the bells.

New project influenced by 9/11

According to the stocky 51-year-old, the project grew directly out of the events of Sept 11, 2001. "I was on a flight to LA, but there was an emergency landing in Honolulu due to 9/11," the 20-year Colorado resident recalls. "During my five-day stay as I watched the sad events unfold on TV, I was thinking about what I could do as a musician. Finally I thought of this project. Although the world seems to be going in the opposite direction, through music I'm trying to create peace step by step — that's the final destination."

Kitaro's faith in the power of music may seem naive, but when viewed in light of his upbringing in a Buddhist/Shinto agricultural clan in rural Toyohashi Prefecture, and his experiences as Japan's musical emissary to its former enemies, it begins to make sense.

In addition to the physical tests of visiting all 88 temples on the 1,100-kilometer pilgrimage route, the project turned out to be more of a technical challenge than Kitaro had expected. Each bell presented its own obstacles, and in order to capture their sound accurately, he and his recording partner employed an arsenal of high-tech microphones and recording equipment.

"The first time we went to Shikoku it was summer. Summer is so noisy, with young people racing their cars about, so finally we decided to do it in winter when it's quiet and the air is cold, clear and resonant. But even in winter we found it noisy, so finally we had go to the temples at two or three in the morning, the only quiet time of day."

Despite winning a Grammy for Best New Age Album in 2000 for "Thinking of You" (one of 10 nominations), Kitaro has mixed feelings about the genre with which he is associated. "When I started out in music, in the early '70s, I believed in the words New Age," he explains. "They followed from a lifestyle out of which the music grew. It was the right name for the '70s, but after that the music changed when many jazz artists began to play in the style. The New Age category still exists in the Grammy Awards, but my philosophy is, I don't care about trends, I have my own style."

Kanta - Tue Sep 18, 2007 10:29 pm

Thanks Robbie for putting Kitaro's interview here. :D It is a very interesting read, indeed. He certainly has a lovely personality from reading that interview. :bravo:
Finaero - Tue Sep 18, 2007 10:32 pm

He does, but I've never really got into his music.

I had some album of his lying around here somewhere 4 years ago, but I only listened to one track regularly and I don't even remember that one. I guess Kitaro can make neat music, but I think he makes the kind of music that most definitely makes you think "this is so new age".

GeeJee - Tue Sep 18, 2007 11:51 pm

In 1999 I heard a couple of tracks of his and they indeed scream NEW AAAAGE. Not uncommon at the end of a century though.

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