Abstract Grooves’ (Intro):
First of all, I’m honored to
have the privilege and opportunity to speak with for the time with two
musicians that I consider as a priceless commodity in the ever
revolving doors of the music business. You’re incredible, awesome,
and talented. Your voice fused with contemporary jazz and the alluring
and blissful sounds of the Orient has been carefully and successfully
woven into the fabric of not only the American culture but Globally as
well. It’s my honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to
interview the founding members of one of my favorite groups Hiroshima.
Welcome Dan and June Kuramoto; it’s great to have you with us, at
Believe us it is our honor.
Music is such a blessing, and the fact that we have had the
opportunity to share our music and culture with the world for 25 years
is amazing. Our hope is
we represent the idea of a diverse America well enough.
(Statement /Question) When I was introduced to the
music of Hiroshima back
1979, I discovered an aura of uniqueness about your music. It was
original, powerful, and rhythmic structures laced with the pulsating Taiko drums beats, and glistening tones of the Koto absolutely captivated
me. Over the course of time your instrumental voice continues to be an
important fixture in contemporary jazz. Your music is a melting pot of
styles that’s wrapped itself within the global landscape. How did you guys originally derive at this concept musically?
The original idea was June’s. She
was born in Japan and came here when she was around 6. She was raised in the ‘hood, on Adams and La Brea in Los
Angeles. She inspired me
to accept the challenge of creating a new kind of American music—one
that dignifies and creates pride in not only Japanese music and
culture, but of an America that embraces all people.
Every day since then is a blessing—and challenge.
(Q) Dan, what
I have found interesting and truly amazing about the music of Hiroshima
is the marriage of the Koto
and Taiko drums within the other instruments.
Is this primarily from a cultural point of view, fusing the West and East
(Koto as well as the Taiko
drums) into the fabric of your distinctive sound?
It’s really an Asian-American point of view.
America is a country of immigrants.
In Japan you might never hear the koto and taiko playing
together, but as people of color in this country, we have the unique
opportunity to give back to our cultures a fresh perspective.(A):
The ‘yin-yang’ of koto and taiko, keyboards and shakuhachi, or on
our new CD,
interplay of tsutsumi (classical Japanese pitched hand drum), Er-hu
(ancient Chinese predecessor of the violin), and of course, June on
koto is just the kind of thing that we love.
And we are so grateful for the support of these ideas for so
guys are in the mist of celebrating 25 years of making some truly
incredible music. Dan, the
development of your current sound has evolved and continues to glow
into a new hemisphere musically.
Could you please explain the titled and purpose of your latest project
’is really a kind of celebration.
In Japan, they are festivals.
It begins with the acknowledgement of our ancestors and
continues through those who have influenced and guided us, to our
children, who represent the future.
For 25 years we have—against all odds—had the opportunity
to explore a new kind of American music. We wanted to take this time
in our career to show respect to our ancestors, to thanks those who
have influenced us, from Pharoah Sanders and Moody and Miles, to all
our fans who believed that something new and different could be of
one’s ancestral background should be held with great passion and
high regard! Kudos to you for blessing us with this fabulous music,
it’s simply awesome! I
noticed several influential compositions on Obon (Swiss Ming, Pharoah,
Atomic Café etc). Why, were you so inspired to weave these songs into this riveting
collection of music this project?
As I said, this is a CD of celebration and gratitude.
Swiss Ming was originally written for our friend, and chef
extraordinaire, Ming Tsai. He
has a new cooking show PBS and we had the opportunity to do the music.
What’s interesting is that this song was NOT chosen.
We decided to include it on “OBON’)
because I was inspired to write it because of the great tenor player
Eddie Harris, who’s innovations on sax included experiments of fx
pedals—and of the classic album he recorded with the brilliant Les
McCann, “Swiss Movement.” Pharoah
was my personal tribute to Pharoah Sanders, Charles Lloyd, Moody,
Miles, etc. who inspired me to try and create something new—and keep
the faith. Atomic Café
is really a tribute to the now defunct but, best noodle joint in Japan
Town LA. This
instrumental project was just a labor of love.
AG: I’m personally captivated by this project; the
compositions, solos and overall instrumentation are timeless.
you visualize you fans receiving this project?
We have too much respect for our audience to anticipate how they will
receive “Obon,” but
considering how open-minded and hip or fans our, we believe that they
will dig this project as much as we do.
being that smoothjazz radio focuses primarily on cover songs and
vocals these days. Where does
your instrumental voice fit into this equation when it comes to
Radio play is so important. It
can make or break you. On
the other hand, Hiroshima has not always been the favorite of
radio programmers—remember our goal is to create new American
Music—music that brings diversity forward--and often radio is
looking for a kind of familiarity.
We survive on the basis that our music is based on emotion and
soul. We will always
trust and believe in that first.
(Q) Has the musical journey you have taken so far, been
as satisfying as you wanted or expected it to be? Please explain …
Well, it would be cool if it made us rich, but that’s not the
case!!! Seriously, as we
said at the outset, making music is a blessing, and if we can dignify
our community, and people of color and possibly help inspire passion
and compassion—how much more could you ask for?
(Q) Dan, you’re
covering a lot of territory compositionally on “Obon.” I can only imagine the time and effort you guys put into
writing and rehearsing this material for this offering. So, how about giving us the inside scoop on the time spent, and what
made or didn’t make it to the final cut?
(A): Actually, we worked very quickly.
Once we decided we’d do our first instrumental CD, it was fun
and challenging writing music for a small ensemble.
It got us into some interesting new things, and we’re pleased
that it’s a little more up-tempo and jazzy.
It also gives us the opportunity to feature our amazing
keyboard player from Hawaii, Kimo Cornwell.
Having worked with Jarreau and Maze, to mention just a few, he
is known by all the other musicians as a ‘monster.’ Folks
need to check him out. BTW
most of the CD was done basically ‘live,’ so that made it more fun
and June, what are your favorite
compositions on Obon? Please
(Dan): for me its ‘Kototsu-han’ because its so different, yet sexy, ‘Pharoah’
because its my tribute to my heroes—and its fun, ‘Heritage’
because its so beautiful, and its so much about who we ALL are.
My favorites are the same as Dan's!
I love Kototsu-Han for its uniqueness, sexiness, mystique
melody and groove; Pharoah for the way it makes me feel--happy; and
Heritage for its simplicity. It
reinforces less is more!
(Q) By chance, do you put much thought into improvisation
when you decided to record Obon?
Improvisation is really important to us.
That’s why we believe our live show is so much better than
our records. For that
reason, we make our recordings as spontaneous as possible, and we try
and record our solos in the first ‘take’ or two so the VIBE
& June, approximately how much
time do you put into scheduling for the tour?
That’s more a function of our management (Daniel Markus, Dreamstreet
mgt.) and our booking agent, Variety Artist.
They do a good job for us, so we try and concentrate on putting
together a good live show.
(Q) What is the best moment or highlight for you when
you’re on the road performing live?
Just the opportunity to play, and reaching people’s hearts.
That is such a gift.
I’m excited to see that you guys are on a new record label (Heads
Up). As you know, you’re blessed to have progressive thinkers at
the helm when it comes to recording music and a killer lineup of
artists is just awesome on the label. Kudos to Dave
Love and his team for making things happen. Bravo! Do
feel at home in your new environment?
Talk about being blessed. Dave
and his Heads Up crew are the best.
They are all about music, and creating an environment for BOTH
artist and fans that is about what music was meant to be.
(Q) How different is it for you since you’ve signed
with Heads Up from a creative and support perspective?
Again, Dave is SO supportive. He
never asks you to sacrifice your sound or ideas—yet provides a
direction for the entire roster that is extremely hip and viable.
(Q) Before I go, I want to reflect back in time and to
what I found to be quite interesting in the journey to your success
path. From my understanding was it due to support of the African
American Community on your self-titled debut project in 1979.
later, how supportive is the African American Community (consumers,
radio etc) your music?
I can only explain it with a story.
When we first signed a record deal in ’79 (Larkin Arnold,
Arista), most thought we would never sell any records, because
“Asians don’t listen to music.’
Only Larkin believed that it was about the music and expanding
the potential of music in America by signing us and putting us out
there. Being people of
color, only ‘black’ radio would play us—and they did.
We ended up starting our first east coast tour at Howard
University in Washington DC, a predominantly African-American
institution. We were
booked for 2 shows in a 1500 seat hall.
We thought “who would come?”
To cut the the chase, both shows were sold out, and the
audience was totally silent for the first 2 songs—we thought we were
bombing. On the next
song, June played a koto solo, and the audience started standing and
applauding, and they kept applauding through the entire song!!!
Afterwards, folk came up to us and said, they never knew where
Asians were coming from, and hearing us, they realized we are ALL
coming from the same place.
As far as today,
African-Americans still comprise a majority of our audience, in some
cases 3 generations! In
terms of radio, since the majority of ‘black’ radio is no longer
controlled by African-Americans, we do not get as much play as
before—but we are most grateful for the support of our brothers and
(statement) The reason that I asked is many people could possibly
be unaware of your background living in the ghettos in Los Angles and
singing in the choir of a Baptist Church etc. Reflecting on your
music, I feel this had a phenomenal impact on your vision of fusing
the best of both worlds, (Asian heritage blended with the African
American). Also, over time you have intergraded other cultures into
this unwavering universal soundscape called Hiroshima. Thank you, for
being open to share your vision with the world!
We always say the only qualification for growing up in the ghetto is
being poor, and we had that covered.
We are proud of growing up in the ‘mix.’
The experience of our multi-cultural background is the
foundation of our music, and we are so proud that our communities have
rolled with us ever since.
(Q) Do you have any potentially new prospects
artistically for Hiroshima in the production department in the near
Many!! But they are
secret. After all you
have to have some surprises.
(Q) Actually, I asked this with June in mind because of
her solo record. I was thinking that it might be possible for Dan
Kuramoto to be so kind to share with us his voice, as a soloist from
another perspective in the future is that plausible?
It is unbelievably kind of you to even suggest I might do a solo
project, but I have a ‘full plate’ writing and producing the great
musicians in our band, and am so blessed to do so.
It’s certainly a blessing and real joy for me talking to Dan & June Kuramoto. I truly appreciate you taking time out of
your busy schedule to stop by to rap with us at Abstract Grooves’ about your new, exciting and diverse collection
of music that celebrates the spirit and ancestry of Hiroshima, titled
“Obon”. All the best on
your new project and up and coming tour, now and in future endeavors!
Peace be with you, Rob Young …
(A): Brother Rob, it is our honor. Music and culture can only survive through those of
commitment and faith. It
is what we are about—and it is clear that you have also put your
soul forward. Blessings to you and Abstract Grooves.