“Why fear world music?”: Kikagaku Moyo on breaking through the westernised mainstream

“Why fear world music?”: Kikagaku Moyo on breaking through the westernised mainstream

Words by Jakeb Smith

Formed in 2012, Japan’s globetrotting psychedelic quintet, Kikagaku Moyo, are returning to Australia stronger and more worldly than ever.

The band came up in a Tokyo music scene where bands literally have to pay money to play at live venues. It seems an unlikely place to flourish for a group of long-haired hippies living in a communal house, but the band’s incredible work ethic has always seen them through.

Instead of playing extortionist clubs, they would busk outside train stations, neatly ending cosmic stoner jams to say “thank you” every time someone threw change in one of their guitar cases. 

Since those humble days, the band have released four studio albums, toured the world multiple times, and found themselves universally well-liked for their mix of trad folk, krautrock and Indian raga. Founding members Go Kurosawa and Tomo Katsurada have even relocated to Amsterdam, where their label, Guruguru Brain, helps other Asian bands tour and release records in Europe. 

Kurosawa couldn’t sound more positive as he talks up the ‘Venice of the north’ over a scratchy phone line. “It’s pretty cool … very international. You can tour around the UK, and France and Germany – it’s the centre of Europe. It’s nice to have a hub here.”

The band understand the stresses of touring the west from Japan – imagine trying to book, promote and get paid for shows through a language barrier, on top of worrying about day-to-day travel and accommodation. It’s those hardships, however, that inspired Kurosawa to relocate and establish the label.

“When we started touring we had a rocky experience. Not many Asian bands tour in Europe or the US. It’s hard because we don’t speak English and we don’t know the culture. I wanted to help that community.”

You’d think that having two members move 9000 kilometres away would be difficult for a band that thrive on improvisation, but Kikagaku Moyo don’t spend much time at home anyway. 

“We tour a lot,” Kurosawa says earnestly. “We played more than 100 shows last year. So we see each other pretty much all the time.”

That relentless touring has meant the band have started to break through in western markets. This is no small feat, the western music industry has had a reputation of shunning anything exotic as ‘world music’ in the past. Despite his uneasiness with that term, Kurosawa is resolute that it “could change if the mainstream media changes”. 

“Now more festivals are booking female artists compared to 20 years ago. People couldn’t say that we should have more female artists then. It was too radical or something. Now it’s happened and I hope it comes to the same realisation. There are too many white male bands.

“It’s to do with history and the fact that they created the culture but now it’s time to realise, ‘Do we really like this music or did the media tell us to like this music?’. I think now we’re more educated.”

Kurosawa points to the universality of the musical experience. It’s supposed to be the one thing that binds us together, a kind of shared instinct that’s a nod to our common ancestry.

“Why fear world music? If people like cool music they really don’t care where the music is coming from. You like the sound and you can connect.

“If there’s nobody around you and the music makes your body move, then that’s primitive. Nobody told you how to do that. That’s the part that I like, feeling the roots of humanity as a species. And it doesn’t matter where you’re from or which culture you’re from, you can connect.”

Because all music is ‘world music’, right? “Exactly,” Kurosawa laughs. “There you go!”.

Kikagaku Moyo hit WOMADelaide on Friday March 6. Check out womadelaide.com.au for the full program and tickets. They also play The Croxton on Wednesday March 4 (sold out) and Northcote Social Club the following night (sold out).