When June Kuramoto first came to the U.S. at the age of six, she lived in an African-American area of Los Angeles. She learned the koto, which is a zither-type instrument that has 13 strings, by sharing her home with Japan's top koto player, Kazue Kudo, so she could teach lessons. As June grew older, she wanted to learn how to play the songs of the Temptations on the koto and asked Kudo if she could learn those.
Then in 1974, June and Dan Kuromoto, who also were interested in African-American music while singing in a Baptist church, formed Hiroshima. They formed the group with Johnny Mori, who plays the Japanese drum called the taiko, and trap drummer Danny Yamamoto. Their first self-titled record was released on Arista in 1979. The group was popular on the East Coast, where they gained a loyal following among African-American audiences. After releasing two more albums, they released Another Place, that garnered their first gold record thanks to the classic track One Wish.
In the years following Another Place, Hiroshima has continued to record some of the most innovative music around. They have also tried some new things that have bridge ethnic groups, such as the play Sansei which was performed at the Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Hirmoshima also released LA, which helped heal the Los Angeles community after the race riots in 1994. Dan Kuromoto, the group's leader and producer says, "Our band is unique, that's a positive. Some people say we're different, we're weird. Record labels have told us for 25 years we don't fit in anywhere, necessarily. There's no bin in the record store that makes sense for us. We're jazz, but we're not. We are world music, but we're not. We're rock, but we're not. We're R&B, but we're not. If you grow up on the Pacific coast, you get everything. If you grow up in Los Angeles, you're exposed to everything all the time. We took our background as Japanese Americans and we started to bring things together, and it's always a journey.
Hiroshima's first release for the Heads Up label is called The Bridge. Dan Kuromoto says the CD is different than previous projects. He says that it is "the most up-tempo record we've ever done. It was essentially recorded 'live' in the studio, but with overdubs, odd loops and even scratch tracks. We're featuring different elements of the band, the koto, the keyboard - rebalancing the yin and the yang to create a larger sound."
The Bridge wanted to express different meanings to the listeners, both in culture and artistic merit. Dan Kuromoto says, "As a third generation Japanese, it's about growing up here and trying to integrate socially. Also, the music business has continued to change its complexion and as a group, we need to constantly reinvent ourselves while staying true to our artistic vision." He says, "The way we're trying to bridge different music from different cultures into something that is hopefully unique and different and enjoyable.
Kuromoto says there are many different bridges that are featured in The Bridge. "That's why the CD cover is a picture of the First Street Bridge in Los Angeles," he says. "That connects East Los Angeles, which is the main immigrant community, with downtown, where everybody goes to work. My dad used to drive that every day when he went to his gas station. I have all these cultures in me that created the music that we do. We're crazy in love with what we're doing and as we get older, that's another bridge, because in this country, there was a time when Frank Sinatra couldn't cop a gig, unbelievably. We're blessed that we've been able to continually make records and do the things we do, but we would want to transition our audience to say 'you know what, man, there's a whole lot out there' and we got to recreate all our options."
Dan Kuromoto says on each CD, they is always a different concept. When they did Urban World Music, they had Sade's producer Robin Millar record the tracks. He says, "It was a very hip, interesting record and working with Robin was really a trip. For us, it's this whole process of trying different things and waking up to what we do. We've been doing it for a long time and after June Kuromoto's new solo release called Spirit and Soul, what we wanted to do with The Bridge was to not focus quite so much just on June, but the whole band. Make it a lot more accessible and make it more up- tempo and more uplifting, especially after 9/11. We wanted people to feel like a sense of positivism. . .like things are going to be cool, things are going to be okay."
The first single released from the CD is a remake of the song penned by Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper called Caravan of Love. Kuromoto says he was surprised that that song is catching on so quickly, even though Heads Up was not actively promoting the CD. He says, "We're very selective about doing remakes, but we wanted to do that song because in this day in age, a little brotherhood doesn't hurt anybody. You go back to that era where there were people like Marvin Gaye and the Beatles. John Lennon and everybody was trying to say a little something like the world can be a lot better place and it isn't that hard to do. That was why I liked that song. We're all on this planet for a little while and we could treat each other like brothers and sisters. We thought it was a good time to pick a song to say that."
Caravan of Love is sung by the present lead vocalist for Hiroshima, Terry Steele, who also performs a cover of George Benson's song I Just Want to Hang Around You. Dan Kuromoto says the group has gone through many singers through the group's career and feels that the changes are positive. He says, "It's kind of fun for us and that is one of the areas in the band where we have a fair amount of transition. That keeps us fresh. You get a different singer, a different perspective." Steele is not only a good singer, but he is also a good writer. He penned Here and Now for Luther Vandross, which was his biggest hit, and also has his own solo CD out called Day by Day. Kuromoto says, "When our last female vocalist left about five years ago, he just started filling in for awhile and then the next thing you knew, he was like working with us, which was comfortable and he stayed on."
Besides Steele's solo project, both Dan and June Kuromoto have been working on different projects away from Hiroshima. Dan did some music for the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and June is presently working on the soundtrack for the latest Tom Cruise movie that is expected to come out around Christmas time. Also, bass player Dean Cortez, who has played with Boz Scaggs' band on tour, has worked on over 300 movies as well. But when all is set and done, the members of Hiroshima come back together to work on the music that bridges many musical influences and audiences. It is a band with no particular category, just good music.