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Hiroshima's Little Tokyo

As the U.S. Congress talks about immigration reform, we remember that the United States is a country of immigrants. The group Hiroshima helps to show how diversity is the backbone of the country. When Japanese Americans, Dan and June Kuramoto, formed the group in East Los Angeles, they wanted to bring in other cultures to the mix, including Asian, Latin and African American, and others. By doing that, the group has helped to establish a style all their own.

Their newest CD Little Tokyo is a testament to that vision. Dan Kuramoto says, America is composed of communities and all the cool stuff comes from all these little pockets of places where we go. For instance, the best burrito or the best bagel or the best sushi or the best fried rice or the best smoke salmon. Whatever it is, all of these things grow out of these various communities. We're always looking at things from a multicultural perspective.

Hiroshima's Little Tokyo helps to show a problem that many major cities are facing. Kuromoto says, We live in Southern California, where the ethnic population is in the majority. 'Little Tokyo' is a celebration of our community that we grew up in in Los Angeles. It's also the fact that we are at this point starting to lose these communities. There are about only three large Little Tokyos left in the state of California because everyone is moving out to the suburbs. We wanted to celebrate culture on all levels in this country because in our mind that's what the greatest richness of this country is, that we are multicultural and our band Hiroshima has always been about diversity. The more we homogenize, the more we give up that notion of cultural diversity and the less we'll understand each other.

Not only does Hiroshima's Little Tokyo salute the various ethnic communities around the country, it also gives a salute to an area hard hit in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Dan Kuramoto says, there is a song called 'Red Beans and Rice,' which is a tribute to New Orleans because of the joy of the music. All the Dixieland, most of the jazz and blues, came out of that community, out of the Emerald City. Last year, we did a bunch of benefits for Katrina, so we thought on our next record we should do a tribute song to really how cool that musical spirit is that came out of New Orleans.

This is the second consecutive all instrumental release for Hiroshima. Kuramoto says, The last release 'Obon' was all instrumental because Terry Steele, who had been singing with us for the last seven years, left to play Luther Vandross in a currently evolving musical called 'Remembering Luther.' Terry still sings with us from time to time, but he went with our blessings, of course, because he's family. Eighty percent of our music is instrumental and so instead of going through the whole process of finding another singer and changing keys and everything, we thought why don't we do an instrumental record. We also wanted to do a tribute record and that's what our last project 'Obon' was.

In recording Little Tokyo, Hiroshima really wanted to show the instrumental side of the group. Dan Kuromoto says, This time around, we're doing it really by choice. We thought it was so interesting to do an instrumental record, let's do another one with the intention of spotlighting the six people in the band now and creating and growing our identity as an instrumental group. That doesn't mean that in the future we won't return with vocalists, but right now on our 16th record we're continuing an exploration of instrumental music I think with a little more intent and with more pointing towards the future. 'Obon' was a retrospective kind of record while this one is exploring the now and really exploring the future in terms of our musical ideas.

On Hiroshima's Little Tokyo, you get to hear some things that you don't hear with most other groups. Kuramoto says, It's been really a great pleasure as we have transitioned with the taiko, the big Japanese festival drums that we use, we really don't record that much because it's so hard to record. We use a lot of Japanese percussion and in this case, we have on the record the mentor our young taiko drummer Shoji, who is a brilliant kid in his 20s. Kenny Endo is actually from Los Angeles and went to Japan and is the first American to reach the highest level or Master level of taiko playing. They're both playing on this record and we have this really cool Japanese percussion.

However, there is not only Asian based percussion that you hear on Little Tokyo. Dan Kuramoto says, On most of our records, we have quite a bit of Latin percussion with the brilliant Richie Garcia, who was voted number one in the world last year in percussion. We're a groove oriented band, but has a slightly different rhythmic spin because of both of those cats. So that's really a lot of fun.

There is also a Chinese influence on Little Tokyoas well. Kuramoto says, On 'Quan Yin,' we have the great Chinese virtuoso Karen Hwa-Chee Han, who plays a Chinese violin-like instrument called a arhu. She is sort of like June Kuromoto's koto counterpart. That's why on June's record I wrote a song for them called 'Two Sisters' because they're the two great Asian musicians who have been able to make the transition of playing in a Western idiom.

The first single to be released from Hiroshima's Little Tokyo is called Lanai. Dan Kuromoto says, It's a really cool tune that we didn't write. Normally, we write all our own stuff or do our own arrangements at the very least. This song is written by Heads Up label mate James Lloyd, who is with the great group Pieces of a Dream. I think it takes another person who is in a group to understand why people like having groups. He really wrote a number of songs for our group and we picked this one because we just thought it was a pretty piece of music.

Hiroshima's Little Tokyo celebrates the ethnic diversity of America and shows why it's important to keep that diversity alive. Kuramot says, We see this as the coolest thing about America. Its strength and its vision comes from its multi-ethnicity. Those difference are going to give us the strength to be more unified. In these days of people trying to ignore the differences that make this country great, it's nice to know that there are people like those in Hiroshima that embrace those differences.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Hiroshima
  • Interview Date: 6/1/2007
  • Subtitle: A Study of Diversity
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