I spent an entire day with Kitaro recently. You know, the legendary long-haired Japanese born musician and composer who’s been prolific for the last three decades creating New Age music and whose distinctive synthesiser sound had provided soundtracks to many a film, not to mention becoming the background sound of many of us who had lived through the eighties. Even those who’ve never heard of Kitaro would have heard and recognised his distinctive music, which by the way, is great listening especially when you want to meditate and contemplate about the Universe.
And what a nice fellow he is too. Even though he’s lived in the United States for the past thirty years, most of it in the freezing mountains of Colorado, he still retains a strong Japanese accent and assumes the deference and diffidence of his native country. Being around him and his humble manner, his soft voice and his reverence for other people, I could not help feel that compared to him most of us seem rather rude and imposing. It’s not just the bowing and the hand clasping, but there is something within him that is definitely Zen, that gives a sparkle in his eye and a radiance to his affable smile.
I asked Kitaro about music and how he started his musical career. Actually he wanted to be a tennis player. He never had a musical education. One day his friends asked him to muck around with some instruments and he found that he could play music. And he could play any instrument. Once, when the band’s guitarist was sick he picked up the guitar and started to play. It was the same with other instruments. Just like that? Without anyone teaching him? When I watched him at his concert, he was certainly the busiest out of the group, playing the guitar, the keyboard, the wind instruments, the drums with an energy that belies his age.
So where did the music come from? He must have picked it up from other bands that he used to listen to, or other musical influence? Not at all. He didn’t really listen to other people’s music. Some classical perhaps. But he finds his music from nature. From the falling snow, the sound of a leaf falling from the tree. I didn’t know that a leaf falling could make a sound, but nature is the origin of Kitaro’s music. That’s why he loves the mountain and the open air. Not only does nature inspire him, it provides a whole musical score for him.
His music then, does not spring from within, but from without, from the natural world around him that finds its voice within the harmonious synthesis of the composer’s musical arrangement. Kitaro’s compositions indeed are nature’s expression synthesised and made accessible to the human ear. The titles of his work include ‘Heaven and Earth’, ‘Silver Cloud,’ ‘Gaia,’ ‘Spiritual Garden’, ‘Full Moon Story,’ ‘Astral Trip’ and ‘Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai.’ Little wonder his aura is calm and meditative. When nature gives birth to music through you, I suppose you can’t be anything other than Zen.
So, over three decades later since his first album, Kitaro still performs and composes his unique sound of New Age music; a constant in this era of fickle musical tastes. His is an oasis of repose and meditation in our world of cacophony and in life’s continual journey full of distractions. He is a believer in nature as a healer. Man could only destroy. The recent Tsunamis and earthquakes in Japan showed the power of Nature. But with them came the possibility of healing and rebirth. Nuclear power according to him, however, is manmade at it will prove a bigger destruction to people than any afforded by Nature’s force. Listening to Kitaro speak I feel as if he is voicing the concerns of Mother Nature herself.
I often hear people of great talent, when asked about how they developed their skills and who taught them and so on, would say that the music or the art or the urge to create came from around or above (pointing to an invisible Deity) and they were merely vessels to express something which was already there. For a lot of people struggling through hours of trying to pound some melodious notes out of the piano keys or squeeze a recognisable tune out of the strings of their violin, the ‘natural’ talents that some people have might seem painful. The pain that Italian composer and music teacher Salieri might have had perhaps when having to witness the effortless virtuosity of the young and precocious Mozart.
But then there is a reason why such talent is called a ‘gift’ I suppose. Everybody is put on this earth for a purpose, though for most people that purpose is yet to be discovered and remains the Universe’s secret, but some individuals’ purposes are clearer than others obviously. And when that purpose is made manifest, that gift could only be expressed and in so doing, shared with the rest of the world, the way it was intended. What Kitaro shares with us through his gift is a reminder that the world is so much bigger than our petty problems and woes. And that Nature is infinitely strong and beautiful.
(Desi Anwar: first published in The Jakarta Globe)