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Japanese trio Zahatorte's expectation of their first trip Down Under

Kyoto-based trio Zahatorte are a delightful contradiction. They’re as much a product of their immediate surroundings as they are an amalgamation of worldly influences. 

They’re equal parts free-flowing gypsy jazz party, and serious, laser-focused musicians with the Japanese penchant for artful perfectionism. Zahatorte is an unclassifiable beast, and one that’s preparing to both confuse and delight audiences across Australia early this month as they embark on their debut Australian tour. 

“We really want to eat Kangaroo for the first time”, exclaims Uecco, the band’s bespeckled and bowtied guitarist, when asked what he’s looking forward to most about his first visit to Australia. It seems a little left-of-centre, but not surprising for a group who named themselves after the Austrian chocolate cake sachertorte (zahatorte being the Japanese pronunciation). The cake namesake Uecco explains was born because “we just really wanted to play in cafes. Plus, our accordionist used to eat the cake three times a day, so it just made sense at the time.”

The band’s origin story is a pretty straightforward one. “We met in university,” says Uecco, as he reflects back on Zahatorte’s 15-year long history. “We were all members of the world music club, and we played in the same circles.” No wild rock’n’roll party stories here; just a bunch of wholesome, music and food obsessives. Perhaps it’s this passion for eating good and playing hard that’s granted the European cafe music ensemble the stamina to stay fresh during such a long, illustrious career. 

It also doesn’t hurt that their home city, Kyoto, is packed with independent music venues. “Kyoto is a smaller city,” says Uecco, “but we’re lucky enough to have a lot of live houses [music venues] and universities.” Creatively, Kyoto’s smaller population is a big plus in the band’s opinion. “Many of the major commercial bands usually skip past Kyoto to play in Osaka. This means that local people really enjoy and appreciate [bands], and have time to foster unique independent music.”

If you do make it to Kyoto, Yousuke, the band’s cello player recommends checking out Cafe Sarasa, one of the group’s favourite hangouts. “What makes this place extra special is that it was once a bathhouse, but reopened as a cafe. We have a regular live show here every single month.” Sarasa is their second home and they’ve been playing here since the band’s inception. 

Since forming, they’ve clocked at least 100 shows each year, including appearances at Summer Sonic (Japan), and Le Grand Soufflet Festival (France). When quizzed about the trio’s hardworking mentality, Uecco responds modestly. “We actually don’t think it’s that many. If you play a gig every Saturday and Sunday, it quickly adds up.” 

For most groups, hitting the stage so many nights a week would have to take its toll. But to the band, it’s playing live, or not existing at all. “The stage is like an experimental field for us,” Uecco says. “We probably meet each other more on stage than in the rehearsal studio… It’s live where we’ll often rearrange songs, this makes it very real and exciting for us.”

In preparation for the impending six-date Australian tour, which will see the band play Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, and a headline slot at Northcote Social Club in Melbourne, the group have added something new to their repertoire. “We have prepared a little banter in English in between songs,” mentions Uecco. 

“We like to talk, but our English isn’t so good,” Explains Uecco. “In Japanese, we say ‘ganbatte mi masu’. It means we’re going to try our best. We’re looking forward to seeing the reaction of the audience, second to after eating kangaroo.”

By Lucy Dayman

Zahatorte play the Northcote Social Club on Tuesday February 12. Head to the venue website for tickets.