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9_local_voice_01.gif 9_local_voice_02.gif Kitaro (real name Masanori Takahashi) was born in 1953 in Toyohashi, Aichi. He formed a rock band after graduating from Toyohashi Commercial High School, performing mostly in the Nagoya area. He traveled around Japan and Southeast Asia with his synthesizer and won critical acclaim for his debut album Tenkai (Astral Voyage) and follow-up OASIS. He rocketed to fame when his score for the NHK documentary series Silk Road in 1979 became a major hit and made a 24-city tour of the United States in 1986. His 1990 recording Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) remained at the top of Billboard's New Age charts for seven consecutive weeks. His score for the Oliver Stone film Heaven and Earth won the 1994 Golden Globe Award for best original score. His latest recording is Gaia. @

The Universal Voice of a Singular Artist

A solitary samurai, aloof and taciturn; a moody loner wont to avoid company. These were the images I brought to my interview with Kitaro, internationally acclaimed composer and synthesizer player who has succeeded in creating electronic music that pulsates with the rhythms of nature.

Kitaro, after all, is not your typical musician. After graduating from high school, he journeyed alone to Thailand and India and roamed the length and breadth of Japan with synthesizer in hand. The big breakthrough for the self-taught musician came in 1979, when his score for the documentary series Silk Road on NHK, Japan's public broadcasting network, stirred the hearts of listeners worldwide. He subsequently moved to a mountain community in Nagano Prefecture to pursue a self-sufficient lifestyle and devote his energies to musical composition. He now also has a studio overlooking the Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado, where he makes many of his recordings and uses as a temporary home during world tours. A first-hand meeting with this world artist, though, revealed him to be anything but cool and unapproachable. A good example was his explanation for a three-day "disappearance" following a concert tour in mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore.

"I heard through acquaintances that a concert promoter in Fukuoka whom I was very close to when I was still playing with a band in Nagoya had passed away," he says. "So I wandered around the city with my wife and an American friend trying to locate his grave. I gave myself three days to find it; on the third day I finally met up with his family and was able to pay my respects. I owed him at least that much, I think, considering all the support and encouragement he gave me."

This was Kitaro being his most sentimentally Japanese self. It was not a gesture made for propriety's sake; it was an expression of his universal warmth and dedication to an old friend. This is also the kind of warmth that permeates his compositions. They transcend national borders, bestowing dreams, inspiration, and serenity on his listeners. Kitaro, though, remains modest about his talents.

"When you come down to it, you might say that my music comes from my lack of competence. When I'm composing or producing a recording I can't handle two or three projects at the same time. I like to complete one project before beginning a new one. I'm just a very simple human being."

His three-day "disappearance," moreover, appears to have allowed Kitaro to initiate a new chapter in his career, and his fans can look forward to even more inspired works in the coming years.

His straighforward personality, he concedes with a grin, may lie in his Mikawa (eastern Aichi) upbringing. "Perhaps the best expression of this temperament is the Mikawa Tezutsu Hanabi," a fireworks festival that truly tests the courage of the participants.

The distinctive feature of tezutsu fireworks is that they are launched from thick, hand-held bamboo stalks about a meter long. Participants thus not only risk having the gunpowder explode in their hands but must also endure the shower of metallic powder that hurl down on them. It is precisely the dangers involved, though, that make the festival so thrilling. Kitaro is a regular participant and active supporter, having formed his own tezutsu fireworks club.

The unflinching fortitude that characterizes festival participants is also evident in Kitaro's live performances; he eschews the use of prerecorded tapes and computers, preferring to leave room for spontaneity. This is also consistent with Kitaro's unwillingness to compromise whether in play or work. Even when he is far away in the Rockies, the spirit of Mikawa lives on in Kitaro's heart.