by Matthew Rabinowitz
“When I was a child, I heard lots of American music and [watched] American movies. This is America; everything’s so surprising. I couldn’t even imagine being here,” Tact Hirose, the leader of the Japanese band Kiwi and the Papaya Mangoes (KPM), told The Current about visiting America for the first time.
The Tokyo-based band’s inaugural trip to the U.S. included a performance opportunity during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, playing twice at the Japan-America Society of Washington’s 59th annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival.
The band’s style — “Tokyo DownTown Rare groove,” according to their website — is comprised of a mixture of American pop, traditional and pop Japanese, Brazilian Forro, traditional Indian, and traditional West African music. It’s as if folk, reggae, funk and rock are all meshed together, which makes their music really stand out.
“Everything is very important, and every musician and traditional performer is our teacher. So, I picked up some elements and mixed other traditional music and American pop music,” Hirose said.
KPM’s lead vocalist Hiroe Morikawa, a professional geisha — meaning that she is trained in entertaining and hosting in a traditional Japanese style — loves working in the five-person band because of its atmosphere.
“We’re sometimes crazy and have good vibes. So, some Japanese traditional music is very polite, but our music is very relaxing and cheerful and danceable,” Hirose translated for Morikawa.
Throughout the band’s various tours and visits, Hirose has channeled his passion for music into experiencing the cultures of other countries that he’s visited, but certain of them and their forms of music stand out to him the most.
“Mozambique and Ghana, mainly countries in west and east Africa…” Hirose said. “West Africa has very strong theories about reason, gurus [a spiritual teacher], and the past. It’s just very different from our Asian cultures … which are sometimes very silent because silence is important to us. But I love West African music because it’s more cheerful and powerful.”
Although Hirose enjoys experiencing other cultures through his travels, as well as festivals such as Sakura Matsuri, one key part of America stood out to him: “I was surprised to see how much Americans like cherry blossoms,” he said. “It’s almost like people back in Japan.”