Kishi Bashi And The Essence Of Omoiyari Blurred Culture Talks With Kishi Bahsi At The Skirball Cultural Centers Summer Concerts
LOS ANGELES, CA- Every summer, the Skirball Cultural Center holds a series of free summer concerts. The Sunset Concerts concluded it twenty-second season last month, and Blurred Culture was able to attend its August 23rd offering featuring the internationally renowned recording artist Kishi Bashi.
It was a magical performance in the Center’s beautiful patio, as Kishi, accompanied by “String Quartet Live!” (an special ensemble of his Berklee College of Music friends) performed music from the entirety of Kishi’s three album repertoire. The string arrangements added a depth and warmth to Kishi’s already earnest experimental/indie pop sonics added a breeziness to the light and carefree tone set throughout the evening. A notable highlight of the performance was when Kishi and his band went into the crowd during the encore to perform his massively popular cover of The Talking Head’s “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody).
But prior to his taking the stage, I was able to spend a few moment to talk about what he has planned for the future, particularly his independent film Omoiyari, which delves into his personal connection with the internment of Japanese American during World War II, and was funded through the generous donations of supporters through an Indiegogo campaign.
[Editor’s Note: Our contributor had taken some great photos, and portraits, of Kishi and the performance, but due to the fickle nature of technology- and perhaps a little bit of negligence- those photos have disappeared into the digital ether. We apologize.]
Your last album, Sonderlust, was released in 2016. Is there a new album on the horizon?
Yeah, it’s about that time where I should have a new album, but I don’t because I’m working on this movie, this documentary.
I’ve heard a lot about it. Being Asian American, it’s something that I want to know more about. Care to give us the 411?
[W]e start with Japanese American incarceration […] and how I kind of relearned the history. I just wanted to feel like what it was like back then, you know, as a Japanese American, because that would have been me. My parents were immigrants after the war, so I don’t have any direct connection. So culturally, the difference is, I’ve always felt that I was American and then also Japanese because I speak Japanese. But what they talk about in the incarceration is the Japanese American identity, which I’ve never had any connection with. So it turns into me trying to figure out what the other perspective in World War II was, which was the losing side, which was Japan. And I ended up going to Japan.
Was this desire to reach out into this historical topic spawned from recent events?
You mean like Donald Trump?
The short is yes, initially. He is responsible for really activating me into really understanding history. But it’s not about hating Trump or just adding to the reverb tunnel that is liberal media. It’s kind of about finding commonality, about creating empathy [and] understanding why this country is the way it is. Why President Trump is a manifestation of a lot of the problems. About being a minority in America, being white in America and acknowledging privilege. Being a minority in America and acknowledging privilege as well, like East Asians.
Recently, this Crazy Rich Asians phenomenon, in at least in the film sector, there seems to be a greater sense of what you are gunning for also, which is finding the interracial self?
Yeah. What I like to tell people,… I play for a lot of kids sometimes, like elementary schools, and I tell kids that basically 50% of school age children right now are people of color. So that means, by the time they are adults… voting, hardworking, taxpaying adults… America will be a very different place. It kind of gives hope to a lot of minorities. It’s also about what I see with conservative party […] They are really kind of fighting the change that’s happening in this country […] I’m Asian, and I’m doing fine. My parents are professors. I have something to fall back on. So acknowledging this privilege and understanding that we need to share this country with people who don’t have this advantage […] and to really acknowledge that.
Oh, I hear you. I have a couple of your albums and my general impression of your music is it’s typically more uplifting. Can we expect something a little different with Omoiyari?
A little bit.
Is your expression is a little heavier than what it has been in the past?
There some sad songs. It’s also about love and these universal emotions that have existed; which are the ways that we, in the present, can look back and connect and empathize with history. So it’s like … you look at a relationship that happened 75 years ago in a dusty old picture, and you try to imagine what it was like to be in love back then. And that’s how you can empathize with people back then through history. So I like to focus on all the emotions instead of just the ones that have come, like all the dark stories that surfaced. Look at the resilience of humanity. Look at these heroes who were really, kind of – I guess like, the one thing I find consistent is that the ability to have compassion is really what kind if sticks out as stories that I want to continue.
Is that one of the driving messages?
Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause I see a lot of negativity in my fans and it’s so divisive.
Wait, you said in your fans?
Yeah, in my fans and my friends, they’re so negative. They just hate – they hate Trump, they hate this, [they had that] – and it’s so easy to hate. It’s so easy to put someone down. What I’m trying to do is I’m trying to drive this whole elitism that people have, especially musicians, artists, intellectuals, people in big cities… you know, they have this elitism and they think, “I know better than this farmer, this Trump guy in Florida…” [T]hey have these opinions, but that’s the first step in the wrong direction. How do you know? Just because you’re college educated or you have a Ph. D. or something, does that make you a better person?
There’s always a commonality. Everyone has emotions; everyone can feel certain basic things.
Somebody who goes to church, they probably do so much good for their community. They volunteer. I barely volunteer. It’s easy to click on these things and really not do much. So the idea is a reality check for a lot of liberals. And I’m very liberal and progressive myself, but to have a reality check and to understand that this compassion, the idea of really not hating and giving someone a chance and not looking down on anybody.
So is that the music aspect, or the film aspect?
That’s more the film aspect.
The music aspect – I create the music that will keep people engaged. I don’t want to be too preachy, but it’s like, these are my ideas – and I mask it in the music so that people can get sucked in and kind of get attached.
Love the music and then learn the message.
Learn the message. It’s intertwined. So people who already like my music, I’m hoping they will watch this movie and come out with a good feeling about being a human being.
Just to back track, from your last album – Sonderlust – is there anything that you’ve learned from that album in the past two years and touring with it? Has the music maybe changed during the live performances or has the meaning to you for some of those songs changed?
I’m still the same musician. I’m attracted to every kind of everything. Intellectually, I think I’ve changed in that I really care about my fans.
That’s something that happened post Sonderlust?
The music before I made partially to appease my fans, my listeners, and also for selfish reasons, it’s about my emotions, it’s about my experience. I make this music now to give people hope, almost like a pastor or something.
A musical preacher…
A musical preacher because it’s like you go to the congregation and you’re like hurt, and you listen to the pastor. That’s why people go to church. To find their community, you listen to something; it’s kind of like a sermon is what this is. I’ve never really thought about it that way, but from now on, I’m going to mention that.
The word “Omoiyari” is an interesting one. From what I can glean, it is a universal concept of the kindness in human interaction; encompassing compassion, empathy, and the like. It clearly sounds like Kishi Bashi is embracing it’s essence fully.