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Kitarō - A Biography

KitarōThe musician Kitarō (Japanese: 喜多郎) was born on the 04th of February, 1953 as Masanori Takahashi (Japanese: 高橋 正則) in Toyohashi (Aichi Prefecture), Japan. His parents have been Shintoistic-Buddhistic farmers. Because of his long hair schoolmates nicknamed him „Kitarō“ after the main character from the well-known manga series GeGeGe no Kitarō.

In his school time he was not very interested in making music or instruments. His main interest was playing tennis and he thought to be a professional tennis player after finishing school. This changed when friends at the high school planned to start a music band and asked him to join. He started to play the guitar and with the time he trained himself to play other instruments whenever a band member got sick. He was an autodidact and couldn’t read music sheets for many years. With the time he started to love making music.

His parents haven’t been happy about his music plans for the time after finishing school, they wanted „a good real job“ for their son. They asked companies for job interviews, but he refused them.

1975 he was one of the founding members of the band „Far East Family Band“ playing keyboards and percussion. In the same year the band published two albums. The second album „Nipponjin“ was mixed by Klaus Schulze, the famous German synthesizer musician and founding member of the electronic band Tangerine Dream. Schulze produced and mixed their third album „Parallel World“ as well. The first meeting between Schulze and the „Far East Family Band“ happened in Germany, the later studio sessions were hold in Tokyo and in the famous „Manor Studios“ in England. At these sessions Schulze gave Masanori Takahashi (at that time he didn’t use his later artist name „Kitarō“ yet) tips for studio work and synthesizer usage. And Kitarō realized that the way Schulze created his music had something spiritual in it. This was very important for his later way of making music.

1976 Kitarō left the band and travelled though asian countries like Laos, China and Thailand. In India he lived several months in Poona at the ashram of the then famous guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His name there was „Deva Setu“.

Through his travels to Europe and Asia his feelings for the beauty of nature got stronger and he wanted to mirror these feelings into his music. And it was important to find his own, Japanese/Asian style of music, because he didn’t want to copy (for example) Klaus Schulze with his German style of electronic music.

In 1977 he returned to Japan and tried to start his career as solo musician. By chance one of his first recordings of synthesizer music came to Moko Nanri, the wife of japanese producer Taka Nanri and they contacted him. It was a hard time for Kitarō, he worked at daytime on construction sites or had part time jobs to earn money for living and in the night he worked in the studio of Taka Nanri on his musicial ideas.

In 1978 his first two records were published: Ten Kai under his artist name Kitarō and his very unknown album Space Roman which was published under his real Japanese name. It is obvious that he tried different musical directions. The „New Age music scene“ was just starting and other known synthesizer artists (like Tomita) covered known Sci-Fi soundtracks. He tried both styles.

Influenced by his travel impressions, meditation and nature he turned his back on the loud Japanese urban life. He founded his first own studio at the foot of Mount Fuji on the height of the 2. station (Ni-gôme). His second Kitarō album Dai Chi / From the Full Moon Story (1979) was recorded there.
Unfortunately a land slide endangered his studio so he moved to Kamakura. He found a cave close to the ocean where he meditated a lot. At his time at Kamakura the next three Kitarō records (Oasis, Silk Road & Silk Road 2) have been composed and recorded.

Besides to his synthesizer music he worked for pop music productions of other musicians as well. It’s still possible to find some old pop music singles on the japanese second hand market that have been produced by Kitarō.

After his second Kitarō album Dai Chi / From the Full Moon Story he had fans, but he was more or less unknown to the wider Japanese public. And he was totally unknown to the international public. The first two Kitarō albums had been published by the small label „Zen Music“. The first step to a bigger publicity came 1979 with his change to the well-known Japanese record label „Canyon Records“. They published his third album Oasis (1979) and it was a big selling hit in Japan. He performed his first concert at the „Small Hall“ of the Kosei Nenkin Kaikan in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Oasis was a big success, but the much bigger success still had to come: it was the soundtrack for the NHK documentary about the famous Silk Road, the ancient trading route between Asia and Europe. The story behind it: when the series was in production NHK couldn’t find a composer with music that fit to the series. They searched for about a year, but still had no one. One day a friend of chief producer Isao Tamai brought him a copy of Oasis and he liked the music so much that Kitarō was engaged as composer for the soundtrack. The rest is history: the documentary was a huge success and his music received national and international attention.

To get inspiration for his soundtrack, Kitarō decided to travel again through Asia and Europe. On his trip the European Alps impressed him very much. Following these impressions he searched in 1980 for a new home closer to nature. He found a more than 230 year old farm house in the little village of Yasaka in the Japanese Alps and renovated it himself to a living house and studio. In this place all remaining albums of his „Japanese era“ have been composed and recorded. The first one was Ki (1981).

In 1983 he married Yuki Taoka, the daughter of the important Yakuza godfather Kazuo Taoka. They have a son, Ryunosuke (Kitarō used the baby giggle on his later album Tenku). In the same year he gave his first free Taiko concert for the gods of nature at Mount Fuji. He drummed from sunset to sunrise. Every year more people visited and joined him drumming for nature. This free event still happens every year at full moon in August. Just the place changed to Nagano mountains since higher radiation was measured at Mount Fuji. Videos of this event can be found at Youtube.

In 1985 the American record company Geffen Records re-published several of his former albums in the USA and in 1986 he completely changed from his former Japanese Record Company to Geffen Records. His album Towards the West (1985) was the last he worked with his producer Taka Nanri on. With this his „Japanese era“ ended.

His first album for Geffen Records was Tenku (1986) and the first changes in his musical style are obvious. For the next album The Light of the Spirit (1987) he worked together with several American musicians and this album has a big change in its musical style compared to his former releases.

In 1987 he performed his first North American tour, in 1989 his first European tour.

The beginning of the 1990ths brought more changes. He divorced his wife, because he worked mainly in the USA and she wanted to stay in Japan. Then he moved from his farming house in Japan to – as he said - the peak of the entertainment world: he moved to the USA, but he chose an isolated place. He moved to the little town Ward, outside of Boulder/Colorado. There he had his house and big studio „Mochi House“, built on a large piece of land with his own lake. He kept his farm house in Japan, it was not sold.

In the USA he felt more freedom for his musical work and the market for his music was bigger. But a strong connection to Japan and Asia always stayed with him.

1994 Kitarō changed to Domo Records, a record company founded in 1993 by the Japanese Amuse-Manager Eiichi Naito in Los Angeles. He was the first artist who signed a contract with Domo and is still the most famous musician in their portfolio.

Middle of the 1990ths he married the Japanese musician Keiko Matsubara. She played with him on some of his albums and in several concerts.

After his house in Ward was totally isolated in a heavy snowstorm 2004/2005, Kitarō and his wife thought about moving to a less isolated place. They searched for a new place and moved to a house outside of the city of Sebastopol in Northern California. Kitarō build up a new studio „Mochi 2“. The house and studio in Ward have been sold.

Today Kitarō is a well-known musician, he had sold many millions of albums, he got nominated several times for a Grammy and received a Golden Globe Award in 1994 for his soundtrack Heaven & Earth. His biggest honor was winning the Grammy 2001 in the category “New Age” for his album Thinking of You.