Born Masanori Takahashi on February 4, 1953, in Toyohashi, Japan. Addresses: Record company--Domo Records, 11340 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 270, Los Angeles, CA 90064, website: http://www.domo.com.
Surrounded by banks of synthesizer keyboards, Kitaro eases out a seamless thread of flowing, melodic sounds. Is it enhanced elevator music or the harkening sound of the New Age? The category New Age came along after 1977, when Kitaro began releasing his long list of successful solo albums. But he embraces the philosophy that this style of music reaches to our hearts, that it can uplift us to a spiritual peace, and that music can heal. As he told John Diliberto in Down Beat: "The sound has a power for humans, for nature. I took two speakers and in front of each I placed a flower. On one side came loud music, on the other side came my music. After one week, the flower in front of my music is bending towards the speaker, the other one is dead. I think it is the same thing for humans." No innocent humility here. But as Diliberto expresses it: "The problem is, he is innocent. Kitaro has a childlike demeanor that is disarming. I looked for guile and found utter guilessness."
Kitaro was born in Japan in 1953. His given name is Masanori Takahashi, but he took the stage name Kitaro, which means "man of joy and love." His first instrument was acoustic guitar, and he lists the Beatles and British progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson among his influences. His introduction to the synthesizer came in 1970 when he worked with the Far East Family Band. German synthesizer wizard Klaus Schulze produced two albums by the group: Nipponjin and Parallel World. "I feel that the music [the Far East Family Band] pursued was more inwardly directed," Kitaro told Down Beat. "It was a more personal expression. When the time came for me to go solo, it wasn't a dramatic change or departure, but rather a natural progression of the expression of the deep inner self."
In the mid-1970s Kitaro lived at the ashram of free-love guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Although he took on the trappings of conversion, he claims that his main purpose was to learn chanting and music for meditation. He gives credit for his creations to a power beyond himself. "This music is not from my mind," he told Rolling Stone. "It is from heaven, going through my body and out my fingers through composing. Sometimes I wonder. I never practice. I don't read or write music, but my fingers move. I wonder 'Whose song is this?' I write my songs, but they are not my songs."
In 1977 he released his first solo album, Ten Kai-Astral Trip. Ten years and about a dozen albums later, the United States was ready for Kitaro. His first American tour, which began in the fall of 1987, attracted listeners of all ages and lifestyles. The touring band consisted of seven musicians, with Kitaro matching his banks of synthesizers against two other keyboardists and a guitarist, violinist, drummer, and percussionist. A light show added dramatic flair. USA Today reported that the bank recreated what Kitaro calls "impressionistic music" or "sound pictures." At times his show, like his records, is cosmic, almost like a science fiction soundtrack, with high-decibel sparkling tones. Other times, it sounds like music from terra firma, an electronic flute singing to the cascading waves of the ocean.
Kitaro's albums, originally only available as expensive Japanese imports, were released on the German Kuckuck label and in the United States on Gramavision during the 1980s. Kitaro signed with Geffen Records in 1986, which gave him the American exposure he needed. He signed to the Domo label in the mid-1990s.
Relaxing music with a spiritual flair is what many listeners turn to New Age music for, but there is a danger if the artist does not evidence some level of progression. A 1987 Audio review of the album Tenku stated: "Now, more than a dozen albums later, Kitaro is still doing it. Taken on its own, Tenku is magnificent. Kitaro bends synthesizer technology in strangely delicate ways, obtaining a nuance of expression that few can match. His Asian melodies bolstered by thickly layered harmonies, are tinged with melancholy. However, among the romantic cosmic feelings that Kitaro evokes is a sense of deja vu. I've heard it all before."
Perhaps Kitaro's best-known and most representative work is contained in the Silk Road albums which were drawn from the soundtrack music for a long-running Japanese television series. A Down Beat review said that " Silk Road is seductive and intoxicating, forming a musical veil with the translucency of Japanese rice paper" but criticized compositional weaknesses. Rolling Stone described the album's music as "serene, seductively melodic electronic compositions that, at their best, evoke the fragile tension of Japanese traditional music and, at their worst, veer sharply into middle-of-the-road."
Other notable releases include The Light of Spirit, released in 1987, the soundtrack to Oliver Stone's film Heaven & Earth, for which he won the Golden Globe for Best Original Soundtrack in 1993, and Thinking of You, which won the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 2000. Kitaro also composed the score to the Broadway production of Cirque Ingenieux in 1997. According to Linda Kohanov of All Music Guide, Kitaro's style has changed since his releases of the 1980s and has become "more theatrical and assertive while retaining a certain level of innocence and purity. His more recent recordings also show a renewed interest in the rock and pop elements that originally attracted him to music in the late '60s."
Kitaro's music is unique to the ear of most Western listeners. Many will find it pleasant, relaxing, even mystical. Some will find it too nebulous to be really satisfying. It is unlikely that Kitaro will be bothered or inspired by any critical ruminations--he'll just go on producing his own best creations as he hears them. USA Today characterized him this way: "He is more than just another Japanese musician seeking world-wide recognition. Kitaro's compositions are mystical and they are enhancing legions of listeners. In fact, the more one learns about him, his lifestyle, and his history, the more incredible he becomes."
by Tim LaBorie
Began playing acoustic guitar; played keyboard synthesizers with Far East Family Band, beginning 1970; began recording solo albums, 1977; released Silk Road, Vols. 1 & 2, 1986; left Polydor, signed with Geffen Records, 1986; released film soundtrack to Heaven & Earth, 1993; signed with Domo Records, mid-1990s; released Grammy Award-winning album Thinking of You, 1999; released Ancient and An Ancient Journey, 2001; has toured throughout the Far East and North America.
Golden Globe, Best Original Soundtrack for Oliver Stone film Heaven & Earth, 1993; Grammy Award, Best New Age Album for Thinking of You, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Asia (live), Geffen, 1978.
- Astral Voyage , Geffen, 1978.
- Millenia , Geffen, 1978.
- From the Full Moon Story , Zen, 1979.
- Ki , Gramavision, 1979.
- Oasis , Gramavision, 1979.
- In Person Digital , Gramavision, 1980.
- Tunhuang , Gramavision, 1980.
- Silk Road, Volumes 1 & 2 , Gramavision, 1982.
- India , Geffen, 1983.
- Silver Cloud , Geffen, 1985.
- Silk Road, Vols. 1 & 2 , Gramavision, 1986.
- Toward the West , Geffen, 1986.
- Tenku , Geffen, 1986.
- The Light of the Spirit , Geffen, 1988.
- Kojiki , Geffen, 1990.
- Dream , Geffen, 1992.
- Heaven & Earth (soundtrack), Geffen, 1993.
- Mandala , Domo, 1995.
- Peace on Earth , Domo, 1996.
- The World of Kitaro (compilation), Domo, 1996.
- Cirque Ingenieux , Domo, 1997.
- The Best of Kitaro , Vol. 1, Domo, 1997.
- Gaia , Domo, 1998.
- Thinking of You , Domo, 1999.
- The Best of Kitaro , Vol. 2, Domo, 1999.
- Ancient , Domo, 2001.
- An Ancient Journey , Domo, 2001.
- With the Far East Family Band
- Nipponjin , Vertigo, 1975.
- Parallel World , Mu Land, 1976.
- Audio, September 1986; January 1987; July 1988.
- Down Beat, September, 1982; January 1988.
- Rolling Stone, December 18, 1986.
- USA Today, January 1988.
- "Kitaro," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=B0q6htr39kl5x (February 4, 2002).
- "Kitaro," Domo Records, http://www.domo.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/index2.html?E+scstore (February 4, 2002).
- "Kitaro Biography," VH-1.com, http://artists.vh1.com/vh1/artists/ai_bio.jhtml?ai_id=503237 (February 4, 2002).
- "Kitaro Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=1348766 (February 4, 2002).