If you’re free on Saturday night then you must head to Brandon Music at 7:30 p.m. to see Hiroya Tsukamoto. It’s a show not to miss. He is a guitarist and composer from Kyoto, Japan who now resides in New York City. He began playing banjo when he was 13 years old and took up guitar two years later. In 2000, he received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and came to the U.S. Since then, he has been performing internationally, including several appearances with his group at Blue Note in New York, and he released five albums as a leader. Tsukamoto will be singing some Japanese folk music with stories behind the songs. The music is all originals and he says that when he plays his music it’s easy for audiences to imagine the places he’s singing about. “I write many songs while I’m traveling and people have told me that my concerts are like watching a film, so they made up the term ‘Cinematic Guitar Poetry.’” Recently, I got a chance to speak with him and he has some great stories to tell.
Tsukamoto has been playing guitar for 25 years. He taught himself until he was 21, when he got his first teacher. In 1994, he attended college at the Osaka University and it was there that he discovered a musical and social movement in South America called Nueva Cancion headed by musical legends such as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra. In 2000, he first came to the states to attend college at Berklee and has a degree in music from there.
Living in Japan when he was a kid, he grew up with American folk and rock music; then he got into jazz. He primarily studied jazz while at Berklee. When he moved to New York, he got many opportunities to play with musicians from different countries. “I got inspired by these guys playing world music,” Tsukamoto states. Right now he’s focusing on his music, his originals. “My music is a mixture of everything I’ve played and listened to,” he says, describing his music as eclectic with a mixture of folk, jazz and Japanese.
Tsukamoto’s current tour is taking him up and down the east coast, playing 12 to 15 shows a month. He has performed at Brandon Music for the past two years and enjoys coming to Vermont and says it’s very pretty here. Last year he played at the Burlington Jazz Festival. Tsukamoto says, “It was great playing there, but it was very far; we drove from New York.”
Tsukamoto has released quite a few albums and has won some prestigious awards, including the Professional Music Achievement Award. Tsukamoto completed a debut album entitled “The Other Side of the World” with his band INTEROCEANICO, released in 2004. His composition entitled “El Otro Lado del Mundo” was nominated as the finalist of the U.S.A. Songwriting Competition in 2004 and “Samba de Siempre” in 2005; and “Seventh Night” was a finalist of the International Acoustic Music Award in 2006. He released his second album entitled “Confluencia” in 2006 and the third album “Where the River Shines” in 2008. Tsukamoto’s recent album is “Heartland” which was released in August 2012.
His music has received some rave reviews:
Jazz Review.com includes in their review, “…chops, passion and warmth. Zealously recommended.”
The Asahi writes, “Hiroya has pioneered a sub-genre of world music that mirrors the multicultural make up of the ensemble.”
The Groove says, “His music is earthy, organic and an amalgam of elements imported from diverse genres.”
We talked about the differences between playing in Japan versus playing here in the states. He said the biggest difference is the audience because here, people are more direct. “They react directly which I like and I’m now used to. Once a year I play in Japan and the crowd is very quiet and I can’t tell if they like it or not.” He likes to travel and meet new people and says it’s very inspiring.