Interview: Kishi Bashi

By Anjali DasSarma

Kaoru Ishibashi, known musically as Kishi Bashi, has always made eclectic soundscapes, fusing intense strokes of the violin with beautiful singing, yet on new album “Omoiyari” he takes his music to a new level of social awareness, achieving a long-term goal in the process. Since starting Suzuki violin at age 7, Ishibashi went on to explore orchestral and chamber music in high school, then jazz violin music before starting to write songs in college. After that though, as he says, “the rest is a mystery.”

Since beginning his musical career, he has released several albums, with Omoiyari as his crowning achievement. The Japanese word, “Omoiyari,” has no direct translation to English, but can be explained as an “idea of creating compassion towards other people by thinking about them.”

In “Omoiyari,” Ishibashi draws a comparison of the bitter American political spectrum to another historical tragedy: Japanese internment camps, while retaining universal understanding by honing in on shared experiences. After learning more about himself and the world around him, he created a masterpiece in “Omoiyari” to encapsulate lessons learned and the value of history.

There’s a deeper significance to your beautiful music. Can you walk me through exactly what kind of cultural significance you feel Omoiyari holds?

For me personally, it’s an attempt at mixing scholarship and music, where I insert the what I’ve learned into my songs in a way that I’ve never done before. I hope that some people will look deeper into the songs and follow me through what I’ve learned myself over the past two years.

Could you talk a little bit about how you combine culture with music?

It was especially challenging for me because it’s difficult to relate to history sometimes, but I chose universal themes, like love, loss, and desire as things that everybody in any generation would have had and will have.

What’s the significance of the album art?

The album cover is an incredible photo from “The Art of Gaman” by Delphine Hirasuna. The bird pins were created by camp incarcerates. It helps me to understand how people can find humanity in adversity, and also how powerful art is in attracting us to an event or reminding us of something significant.

Could you talk a little bit about the current political state and the relationship that you have with it? You’ve mentioned in other interviews about how this album was critical of the xenophobia that occurred with Japanese internment camps and the xenophobia that America has begun embracing once again. Could you elaborate on that a little more?

I am, like many progressive people, disappointed with the current administration, however I am thankful in a way, to see through the complacency that we might have felt had we not seen how bitterly divided this country still is. When this kind of racism showed its teeth, it pushed me into action to understand my rights and my position in this country. I am, however, very optimistic that I think that America is undergoing a dramatic paradigm shift towards a more tolerant society, and that what we’re seeing is really the last gasping breath of white supremacy.

What’s your favourite song off the album?

I like playing Violin Tsunami live, because it’s a pretty exciting piece to pull off.

What’s your favourite part about performing?

I love to see people happy and I love to hear their reactions. I try and stay honest, and I keep with my gut as an entertainer. [I’m] very grateful that they’ve chosen to spend their evening with me.

How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from your last album?

I am 200% more woke than I was 2 years ago. I looked into all aspects of my privilege, and I began to see that I have been given an innate talent to connect musically with people that is not something that I have necessarily worked to achieve. Music and performing come easy to me often, and I try and find humility in that fact.

What’s a creative endeavour you’re looking forward to? Do you make art in any other medium?

I am extremely excited to finish this movie of the same name “Omoiyari.” It will summarize all that I have learned and follows my travels as I made this album and movie.

Omoiyari is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings

UK TOUR DATES

24 November BRIGHTON Hope & Ruin

25 November LONDON Omeara

26 November BRISTOL Hy Brasil

27 November GLASGOW Nice N Sleazy

28 November MANCHESTER Yes

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