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04 novembre 2007

Joji Hirota on World Music Central

Percussionist, composer, singer, flautist - Joji Hirota joyously eludes definition. Trained as a classical musician in Japan, he has now spent over half his life in England freely blending instruments and influences to create a music that is uniquely his own. His flute sounds like singing, his singing sounds instrumental, and his drums sound like nothing on earth.

Joji Hirota was born in Hokkaido in North Japan. His father played the shakuhachi flute and gave him his first flute - a small child's version - when he was five years old. Joji began to study percussion at the age of eleven and by the time he was thirteen he was composing his own music. He then went on to study at the Kyoto Municipal Arts University.

In 1972, he was invited to be Musical Director and Percussionist of the Red Buddha Theatre in England by the illustrious Stomu Yamashta. Joji himself says, if not for that invitation, he might have stayed with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra playing Beethoven's 5th for the rest of his life. This was a turning point that led Joji, in 1987, to become Musical Director and Solo Percussionist for the Lindsay Kemp Dance Company, which presents shows in Europe, Canada, South America, and Japan. In 1991, the company won the Time Out award for Best Dance Company for their production 0nnagata, for which Joji wrote and performed the music.

Joji settled in England and has lived there ever since. The serious interest in folk music in the West inspired him to explore the folk music of his own culture long before it was taken seriously back in Japan. He denies that he is mixing traditions.

"I happen to be a Japanese man - but as a musician I am drawing on all these traditions to create my own style."

In 1992 Joji collaborated with Clannad's founder Pól Brennan and Chinese flautist Guo Yue to form Trísan.

Joji Hirota pursues several different lines of musical work. He carries out solo-based Japanese percussion performances, with drums and shakuhachi. Sometimes the program also includes vocal performances of Japanese folk songs. In Great Britain, Joji often performs with Mark Alcock and James Barrow as 'Joji Hirota and The Taiko Drummers'. In Europe and the world, Joji has performed as part of the WOMAD Festivals.

Another project Hirota was involved is the world percussion duet Taiko To Tabla' with Peter Lorkett. The group is a fusion of percussion from all over the world - contemporary music with drum-based percussion blending traditional techniques and sounds with modern influences. The instruments include Taiko drums, tablas, congas, bongos, jembe, drum kit, gongs, and many hand percussion instruments. The duet recorded their first live concert in February 1998 at The Brugge Festival in Belgium, which was released on CD on Nov. 9.

Hirota has also collaborated with The String Orchestra, which consists of Dai Emanuel and Deborah Widdup on violin, Andrew Brown on viola, Caroline Dale on cello and Clare Tyack on double bass. Joji arranges and performs Japanese folk music for The String Orchestra - involving traditional Japanese singing, shakuhachi flute and Japanese drum-based percussion - blending pure folk melody with new classical string harmonies. Joji also composes classical music especially for the Orchestra, which occasionally includes the involvement of special guest musicians.

In addition to these projects, Joji has composed and performed for Anglia TV's series of 'Survival' wildlife programs, in collaboration with Anthony Phillips. This collaboration work has also extended to numerous pieces of library music.

In February 2004 Joji Hirota received a commendation from the Japanese ambassador for his contribution to the introduction of Japanese culture in Britain through the medium of taiko drumming and other musical activities,

On 7th July 2007 Joji and his Taiko Drummers, along with approximately 100 drummers, played for the opening of the "Live Earth Concert" at Wembley Stadium (London). This concert, similar to the "Live Aid" event, was covered by BBC radio and TV. Groups in the event included Madonna, Genesis and others.

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