Birthday: June 8th
Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan
Hometown: Miyazaki, Japan
Current home: Auckland, NZ
Blood type: O
Nonde ma SKA song sample
Furusato song sample
Queenstown Jazz Festival
Postcards to Your Bed (2009)
1 - That Major Song
2 - Be My Girl
3 - Nonde ma SKA
4 - Traveller
5 - Furusato
6 - Call Girl
7 - Song for Okinawa
8 - Piss Off (such a loser!)
9 - Simple Song
10 - Ballade 20
Traveling Bugs and Talking Shoes (2009)
1. Round Two
2. Piss Off
3. Someone Extra
5. Better Model
7. Be My Girl
The Traveller by Miho Wada & CHIQ (2009)
2. Song for Okinawa
3. The Traveller
5. Haru no Umi
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Miho Wada Interview
"Complete magic... When we connect with the audience and we are all feeling the beat together -- it's just magic -- there is no other feeling as special as that." - Miho Wada
A Japanese family living in New Zealand once hired a piano teacher for their daughter. When it turned out that he was actually a flute instructor, young Miho Wada began a musical journey that would eventually take her around the world. With influences ranging from Anime theme songs, traditional Japanese music and Cuban salsa, Miho Wada has crafted a unique international sound around her passionate flute playing.
Now joined by her bandmates Colin Hunter, John McNab and Tala 'Ofamo'oni, she is following up the release of "The Traveller" and "Traveling Bugs and Talking Shoes" early this year with their first Japanese Punk Jazz album "Postcards to Your Bed" and plans to perform at next year's SXSW in Austin, Texas.
So come take a listen to the music and story of Miho Wada and learn the answer to a most curious riddle: What animal once tried to steal her hat on the way to school?On November 27, 2009 Miho Wada was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Miho Wada.
Let's start from the beginning. Can you tell us about your original hometown of Miyazaki, Japan, and what it was like there growing up?
Miyazaki is such a beautiful place, right by the sea surrounded by palm trees... I went back to visit a few years ago and I was totally shocked by how beautiful the place still is. I had forgotten how colorful it was. I have never yet been to anywhere else in the world so colorful. The green of plantation is the greenest I have ever known and the blue sky, sea and big yellow and red flowers make the place almost like a paradise.
People usually think of Japan as a busy place like Tokyo and Osaka, but the countryside living of Miyazaki is very different to that of the city life. The pace of living is so much slower and the local dialect (people from outside Kyushu wouldn't really understand) is very unique, strong and musical. After school we used to go to the beach, biking along the little passageways between the rice fields and strawberry farms as short cuts and spending all afternoon playing or swimming.
Do you have one or two other memories that stand out from those days?
My primary school was located on a small hill in an area called Kibana. There were 3 wild monkeys living on that hill in the bush and it was actually quite scary going to school everyday because monkeys really liked the hats that children wore to school. They would jump down from the trees onto our backpacks (randoseru) and try to take away our hats. It was compulsory to go to and from school in groups so that if the monkeys come and attacked we could try and scare them away!
How did you first get into music?
I started having music lessons at the Yamaha School of Music at age four, but I started singing my own songs as soon as I could speak. I used to sit on the toilet every morning and sing my own "made up" songs until… you know? So that's probably as young as 2 years old or so. My songs apparently were really terrible but very funny. Cousins used to listen to me outside the bathroom door and giggle. So I suppose it was always in me to write music and sing songs.
Your life took a major change when your family moved to New Zealand. Tell us about that change and how it affected your life.
It all happened very quickly. In 1995 throughout the season my father was watching the yacht race called America's Cup. He was so impressed with this country with such a small population (compared to Japan!) that won the cup title against the big team from America. Team New Zealand had ran out of the money before the final race and the team captain Sir Peter Blake had to fly home to fundraise by selling red socks. On the team's return to New Zealand there was a big parade where everyone was wearing these red socks they had bought to support team New Zealand and show their support by wearing these socks on the parade. My father was so moved by the whole event, people, the victory, Sir Peter Blake, everything -- he really wanted to be part of them.
So moving to New Zealand seemed the natural thing to do. My father wanted to become part of the people in the other part of the world, so I suppose it is scary for some people to move and start a new life, but for me it was so exciting to meet these people who shared the same love that my father had. I still remember my father telling me about his ideas and plans floating in the sea in Miyazaki while we were body-boarding waiting for the waves.
Were you always being raised in a bilingual household?
Not at all. I didn't speak any English when my father thought of moving to New Zealand. In fact none of us spoke more than "high school book" English. First year of living in New Zealand was a bit hard, trying to communicate and trying to make friends in a country where people spoke a different language. Though the best thing about this was that my family was bonded so strongly through trying to help each other in the new country, we became a much tighter unit than while we were in Japan going about our usual business.
Your globetrotting would continue when you made the decision to move to London to attend the Trinity College of Music. Tell us about that decision.
I was actually looking for a piano teacher when I arrived in New Zealand and found a teacher through an advertisement in the newspaper. Though when he turned up at our house, he happened to be a flute teacher. There was a moment of awkwardness, but my father had a flute that he had tried to learn many years ago. So I had my first flute lesson on an old flute, in broken English, with an amazing teacher called Tony Ferner. I started playing the flute purely by accident but fell in love with it immediately so that I couldn't stop playing all day all night.
After a few years of learning the flute, there was a guest performer and teacher from London, a principal flute player from the London Symphony Orchestra. Through my teacher's recommendation I was able to have lessons with Paul Edmund Davies and he was so encouraging and enthusiastic about my playing that it inspired me to go and study with him in London.
What type of music were you developing during your college years?
I have always loved Latin music and Japanese music. At the Trinity College of Music in London I met a guitarist called Noel Billingsley, who was half Japanese and spoke with an Osakan accent. We started a flute and guitar duo and we used to play all the Japanese hit songs we sung as kids and also spent afternoons jamming Bossa Nova, Brazilian songs, Tango, Latin standards etc… We became the most "booked" function band in the whole college and we played at many castles, palaces, headquarters of companies and so on. It was amazing to find someone who had a similar cultural background as mine, being lost in the big city London, then playing music together in these old historical English buildings.
Tell us about the first year you began writing and performing music as a professional.
This year is actually the first time I am performing my songs in public! I have always had melodies in my head and I would play that during a background gig or during solos, but I never thought I could do this – performing my own songs worldwide!!
Nigel Kennedy actually spotted me playing my tunes on flute and he was very encouraging about it that I had thought about starting my own band and playing my music in 2003, though I was still too young and lacked confidence. I needed to go and play for many bands and polish my skills first.
Before the end of college I had a professional job playing for the National Orchestra of Malta in Valletta. I was so proud of myself for achieving the goals of becoming a professional orchestral player, though within a few months I had realized that was not what I was destined to do! It was so terrible losing directions and I was not so sure what to do next. I naturally went back to Trinity College of Music to finish my studies (which I am so grateful for them being so flexible) and taught music lessons until I finally found the Cuban rhythm.
At this point I don't think our readers will be surprised to learn that you again made a major move in your life in 2008. Can you tell us the story of how you discovered "the Cuban rhythm" and why you decided to travel to Havana?
Going to Cuba was definitely the most significant trip that I have ever made. One day I was watching TV in London and saw the Buena Vista Social Club film. I was in tears. I was in love. I had to go to Cuba and learn their songs. I bought all the recording of the Buena Vista Social Club I could find and learnt to play all the trumpet solos.
A few months later I flew from London to Havana to join a summer school in Havana. As soon as I arrived in Havana I was overwhelmed with all the music coming from all corners of the city. I had coaching from the Sierra Maestra and Buena Vista Social Club players. The whole experience was just so amazing and I was totally in love with Cuban music that I had to go back to spend a longer time living within their music.
Six months later, I left my teaching jobs, session work, all the bands I had been playing for, my flat in London, everything... and arrived in Santiago de Cuba with an intention to learn it all.
What memories stand out from your studies in Cuba?
I thought I was going to die on the streets of Santiago de Cuba. As soon as I arrived, 5 cyclones came to hit us within 3 weeks. I had grown up in Miyazaki with many typhoons every summer so I did not think I would be scared of cyclones, but you are not safe in Cuban homes in the way you would be in Miyazaki homes. The rain went through the roofs, wind blew away homes, people were evacuated and the streets flooded with water. It was so seriously dangerous.
But at the same time it was the most beautiful event ever. Without electricity, telephone, television, facing danger and possible death, all you have is your friends and families. We all gathered under the strongest roofs and played music and sang songs in the candlelight. I will never forget the happiness and warmth in my heart from those days in the middle of 5 cyclones.
2009 would be another eventful year as you toured with Ska Cubano. Tell us about that group and some of your highlights on tour.
After I went back to London from Cuba, I was suddenly busy playing in Cuban music groups. I could now speak their language and knew all their songs. I was "that Japanese girl" playing with Cubans. I met some of the Ska Cubano players through playing in Cuban Salsa bands and they invited me to tour with them. My first ever Ska Cubano gig was in front of 30,000 people!
In 2009 you also started your own group. Can you tell us how you first met Colin Hunter, John McNab and Tala 'Ofamo'oni?
The WOMAD tour with Ska Cubano ended in Taranaki, New Zealand – and I suddenly found myself being brought back home. It just seemed like a perfect place to grow roots and be more creative. I feel freer and more inspired in New Zealand with the sunshine and fresh air.
I had briefly met Colin Hunter (bassist) before I moved to London and he was the only musician I knew in Auckland when I said goodbyes to Ska Cubano at the Auckland airport. So I called him and asked him to be my bassist... it was just that, really!
He had a guitarist friend whom he thought very highly of, John McNab, so I called him and asked to play with me. It was like being back at the kindergarten, asking, "Do you want to play with me?" :)
Finding the right drummer took 4 more months. Well, Colin was actually trying to bring in Tala 'Ofamo'oni for all this time but he was always busy I think. Finding a drummer is like finding your heartbeat. I wanted to play with someone who made it feel right. Tala is from Tonga and he came with this down to earth yet breathy pacific feel. I hadn't played with musicians from Tonga before but it was perfect for the unique mixture of world music sounds that I was trying to create.
What about them made you want to work with them as a group?
When the music feels right – it just is right!
Also everyone is extremely hard working and we work very hard and very well together. We listen well to each other and have such a strong team spirit. Being Japanese, I highly value team spirit and peaceful harmonious environment. I can feel the band is at one and that they will support me all the way.
Let's talk a little about your music creation. Do you have a process or is each song unique?
Usually I have a catchy bit of a song and work on writing a song from there. Then I would show it to the band and we work out the rest – feel, groove, riffs, structures, all the rest we do as a band. We try different styles and work out how to bring the best of it. Go team Miho!
What type of things inspire you musically?
Listening to great musicians really inspires me. I have also worked with some of the best musicians in the world. I have been really, really lucky.
Who would you say have been the biggest musical influences or inspirations in your life?
I can thing of an endless list of people who have influenced me greatly and have been my inspiration. At the beginning of my life it was always theme songs from Japanese Anime, especially music by Jo Hisaishi. Then throughout my life many people have inspired me and helped me musically and personally along the way. One of them has been Dr Sleepy of Ska Cubano. He is the most inspiring musician I have ever worked with. His drumbeats reminded me what life was all about. Also recording with Iggy Pop was absolutely amazing. He is so encouraging and inspiring.
Your music covers a wide range of styles. Can you tell us what songs you think best shows off your sound?
My songs have J-Pop air of catchy-ness, melodies are very Japanese, and then my improvisation is totally Cuban. Plus the Pacific beats of Tonga, funky bass lines and Jazz guitar improvisation. I don't think there is anyone else that sounds like us!Furusato
Nonde ma SKA
Piss Off (such a loser!)
Tell us more about your version of the nostalgic song, Furusato.
It is a very, very famous traditional song that we arranged and perform in a very different style, though every time we performed in front of Japanese audiences they told me they just wanted to burst into tears and went home to call their mums back home in Japan. Not a sad song, but a lot of your readers would know the theme we used and they will be brought back home hearing the track too.
You have a new album coming out soon with your new band?
Yes, I finally have THE band I have always wanted. Since I started performing my music in April this year I have recorded "The Traveller" and "Traveling Bugs and Talking Shoes." Both of the EPs had some songs with parts over-dubbed and put together later, which is normal for recording process, though I really wanted more live feeling. This new recording is all recorded live by my new complete band members, Colin Hunter, Tala 'Ofamo'oni and John McNab. I believe my music is delivered the best live. I felt that my recordings were nowhere nearly as good as my live performances. I really wanted to record the band live so that people could enjoy our live performance at home too.
Tell us about the music on your new album. What will fans get to hear?
They will finally get to hear what I was trying to create all along!! I wanted world music to be more accessible to a wider audience and Jazz to be happy. Also I have mixed my poppy songs (1 in Japanese and 3 in English), together with Jazz tunes all in one album. I imagined my music as postcards from around the world that had beautiful pictures together with personal messages. Not saying that my lyrics are like postcard messages, but I wanted my album to have messages and sceneries.
Tell us about recording the music. Who all worked on it with you, and what was a typical recording day like?
We recorded the whole album in 4 days. We were working our day jobs while recording so we were recording from 9 am to 2 pm, teach a few students, then come back for the next session of recording from 7 pm to 11 pm. Plus on the last day of the recording session we had a live performance on breakfast radio show at 8 am then straight back to recording. On top of that on day three I wrote a new song, Nonde ma SKA and asked my band to play it for the recording. I really wanted a Japanese song but the one we were planning on doing didn't quite fit in with other songs, so I wrote a Ska tune in Japanese. It only took me about 10 minutes to write, the band took two takes to record, and then the following morning the song was played live on national radio!
We also had a producer Ollivier Ballester come to help us record the whole session. It was my first time working with a producer and I am happy to announce that he has now brought my band to a higher level. He was very good at guiding us to find our sounds and encouraging creativity. It was amazing having such a supportive producer to work with.
How would you say its music compares to your earlier work?
Some of the songs were also in the previous EPs. You can really hear the change of happiness level in my playing. I am so grateful for having found such an amazing bunch of musicians for my band.
Speaking of playing, how do you prepare for a show? Do you have any rituals you do?
Costume making and hair coloring! No rituals or anything, and we obviously work hard to play the best we can, but to me the visual is also very important. We want to have the aura of quirkiness! I have bits of pieces of toys and accessories I stick on our clothes and stripy socks and big hairdo with colored bits etc… we don't want to look boring!
Can you describe the feeling you get when you are performing and everything is going perfectly?
Complete magic. We play so much improvisation and all our songs are very organic. Each performance is different from the last so we naturally take in all the aspects of the stage and environment. When we connect with the audience and we are all feeling the beat together -- it's just magic – there is no other feeling as special as that.
Life as a musician can of course be a challenge. What helps you get through the tough times?
I am very close to my parents and they have been the biggest support throughout my life. They are always there for me while I have all my ups and downs. They are so good at giving me advice.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a musician?
Being on stage and moving the crowd. It is really rewarding connecting with people through music. At our last performance at the garden festival there was an elderly man in his 70s or 80s coming to talk to me saying that our music had put a beat back in his old heart. I wanted to cry there and then.
I also love that each day I am free to be who I am and free to be who I want to be. Sure my life is not always very stable, but I can be creative and play my heart out to people through music and that is just so rewarding!!
Next March you'll be performing in Austin, Texas at SXSW. What are you looking forward to the most?
It will be the biggest chance for us to promote the band and let the world know that we exist!! We are also hoping to network with other musicians and people in the industry as well as learning more about the trade and prepare ourselves for the next level.
What else do you have planned for the rest of this year and next?
We have just finished our first album as a Japanese Punk Jazz band this week. We are going to hit the world with this and approach festivals around the world and say pleeeeeease let us move their crowd! We are playing a very stylish unique world music sound. I would really love to deliver our sound to the world next year.
Outside of music, what type of things do you do for fun and relaxation?
I love to paint, make clothes and costumes, and go to the beach... I am not a good gardener but recently a friend of mine has given me a tree called "Miho" – it's a mandarin tree! I might have to get into gardening to try and look after Miho!
I also love sleeping, eating and hanging out like everyone else!
Can we a peak into the romantic life of Miho Wada? What type of things do you like to do on a romantic date?
I actually like to stay in. I am out so much with music and it is more of a treasure time to stay at home and do nothing!
Any thoughts on marriage or kids in the future?
I would really like to give 100% of my love and attention when I have children. At the moment I have a dream and I am following it with all my heart. I shouldn't be greedy and wait a little longer!
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?
Here comes the deadly little Miho and this is Japanese Punk Jazz!! (Note: deadly little Miho is a girl from the comic Sin City – isn't it such a cool name?)
Do you have a final message to all your fans?Keep on going – the best is yet to come!
For more info checkout Miho Wada's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments