Monthly Archives: October 2016

Celebrating the Life of a Music Legend

If you haven’t had the chance to check it out yet, today (October 14) is the final day of the “Legacy of Reggae History ‘Rico Rodriguez’ Photo Exhibition” in Seoul. The exhibition features images by Koichi Hanfusa, an extremely talented music journalist, all-around awesome guy, and a person whose friendship has had a huge impact on my life. To say that my life would be very, very different had I never met Koichi is a major understatement.

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Koichi and Rico (Photo by Koichi Hanafusa/SmashingMag.com)

Koichi lives in Tokyo but is in Seoul this week to share his photos of the legendary Rodriguez at Gold Star in Hongdae. His first exhibition happened at the end of last year in Tokyo, and this year has seen him take it to several places throughout Japan. His Korean exhibition started on Wednesday – and the opening party featured performances from Kingston Rudieska and NST &The Soul Sauce – and runs today from 5 pm until midnight. The exhibition is free to attend, so do your best to stop by, see some great images, learn about a fantastic musician, and chat with an acclaimed journalist while you’re out in Hongdae tonight.

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A pioneering trombonist, Rodriguez passed away last year at the age of 80. During his storied career, he played trombone for a number of musical greats including The Specials and released music on his own as well. In 2007, he was appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to the British music industry. And in 2012, he was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal in recognition of his many contributions to Jamaican music.

Koichi answered some questions for us about his relationship with Rodriguez and his photo exhibition at Gold Star.

How did the idea for your Rico Rodriguez photo exhibition come about?

I visited Rico on June 22 last year and asked him to come to Japan for a tribute show for him. I knew he might not be capable of playing trombone at that stage, but I wanted to do something to thank him for his influence on the ska scene in Japan. If there was a chance, I wanted to do a photo exhibition of Rico along with it. When I got back to Japan, I spoke with a promoter who has been organizing Rico’s Japan tours for a long time about the idea. He said he was thinking the same thing and had already booked a venue for the end of the year. About two months after that, I heard the sad news of Rico passing away. I didn’t want to do anything but mourn for 49 days, which is a very Japanese thing to do. While I was in mourning, I started thinking of starting my personal tribute to this amazing talent of Jamaican music by organizing a photo exhibition mainly featuring the photos I shot for his “Wonderful World” album and some shots I had taken during his tours in Japan. It was like a promise I made with Rico and I was talking to him.

When were the photos in your exhibition taken?

I’m not a photographer. I’m a music photo journalist who takes photos needed to make articles with. I’ve been taking photos for a long time at gigs, but up until the time of Rico’s “Wonderful World” album, I had never done a studio session.

I had heard that Rico was recording an album for himself and I had a meeting with him in London and suggested he record a vocal track of “Wonderful World” along with some covers like “Over the Rainbow,” “Stardust Melody,” and “Work Song.” I was not expecting him to do them all, but he did. Later, I interviewed him while he was making the album. I asked him if he recorded those tracks and he replied yes. But at that stage he hadn’t add vocals to “Wonderful World” so I begged him to do so.

When I heard the completed recording, it made me happy to discover he recorded his vocals on that track and I heard he really enjoyed doing it from one of the guys involved in the project. Then I had the idea for the album’s photos. I imagined him smiling in a formal suit with a trombone. Japan was going to be the first place to release the album, so I approached the record label and asked them to let me take the photos. Luckily they said yes, and I was set to shoot my first ever proper studio session. This was in 1995, I think. Rico didn’t like smiling portraits and there had never been any shots of him smiling if you check his promo images or album covers. But I wanted Rico’s smile, and I did the best I could during the session to get lovely smiles from him. Afterwards, he said “You made me happy and I love it.”

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The session took a place in London. I rented the studio from 1 pm – 6 pm, but Rico was really late arriving as he had a problem. The actual session started around 4 or 5 pm. The shooting was done in almost an hour and I got 800 pictures from it.

When did you first meet Rico? What are some of the qualities you loved best about him as a person?

I first spoke to him in 1991 at a Bad Manners show in Japan. He was a member of the horn section. The supporting act for the show was The Ska Flames. He was standing at the side of the stage listening to the band and was smiling and saying, “Closing my eyes, I hear the Skatalites.” I asked him if he wanted to play with the band and he said yes. But the guys were already playing and there was no way to communicate with them. I was trying to send a message with hand gestures and while doing that, Rico started wailing away and then made a surprise guest appearance and a great jam session was born.

He was a teacher to younger musicians. When a band played with him, everyone in the group learned how to play. He didn’t just show them what to do through rehearsals. He taught them that you have to respond with your musical instrument and improvise. Musicianship was the most important thing to him. Not only to play good, but to play good with spirit.

What made you want to bring your exhibition to Seoul?

It was nice to find out about NST &The Soul Sauce and how they made a tribute to Rico and his music. We didn’t talk a lot, but by sharing a love for Rico through music, we had no problem communicating. I just gave them an idea – if you love Rico, why not bring my photos to Seoul and celebrate his life with my photos and your music? I always want to share some time with those loving his music and I feel like this is my mission to talk about Rico and let people know about his music. His music can add something to your life if you really listen to it.

Aside from seeing the photos at Gold Star, will you have stories to share during the exhibition with everyone who visits about the pictures, your friendship with Rico, and his music?

Yes, definitely. I’m ready to share all of the stories of me and Rico and tell about the “Wonderful World” album. After that album was released, Rico told me “You are my producer. That album was a turning point of my career.” After that recording, whenever he played, his vocals on that song became the highlight of the show. But to get back to the question, I am ready to give all I have. If you know the things behind the music, the music sounds even better and takes on much greater meaning.

Once again I urge everyone to take this opportunity to go out and meet Koichi. He’s a fascinating person to speak with. If you love music, having a drink together while talking about music and learning about Rodriguez will be a definite high point of your night.

“Legacy of Reggae History ‘Rico Rodriguez’ Photo Exhibition” finishes today at Gold Star in Hongdae. The event runs from 5 pm until 12 am (midnight) and is free. For more information, check out the Facebook event page here.

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Guten Birds, Welcome to their Planet!

“Things what may happen on your planet” is the first full-length offering from enigmatic Seoul trio Guten Birds and is sure to delight new and old fans alike. Each track on the record is tight with driving rhythms, complex layers of guitars, and just the right blend of Mohho’s hauntingly moving vocals. Seo Hyeon drives the bass lines as Mui, one of my top five drummers on the planet, merges a kit into the music like no other. Guten Birds are often described as melodic grunge, and as a child of the grunge era, I can certainly understand the reference. However, with this record, Guten Birds have defined their unique sound on an entirely new level.

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The building instrumentals in opener “어디선가 어딘가에서” seduce your ears while simultaneously creating a drive that follows in many ways throughout the album. The vocals come home in the next song, “가나다 별곡,” as the pace quickens. This track, along with “밤신호,” seem to show a new direction for the band, and it is done so well that it is hard to believe this is actually their first full release. Having only had the album for about a week, my Korean isn’t strong enough to truly understand everything on these cuts, but Mohho’s voice still carries that power and urgency I’m so familiar with and both tracks inspire me as a painting I don’t need to understand does.

The first half of the album contains three instrumental songs, while the second half begins with an eight-and-a-half minute English track which may remind listeners of things we’ve left behind, for better or worse. The music on this song, “Sailing Out,” approaches the psychadelic, though to me, it’s without a specific genre as it builds from a soft haunting din into an aggressive yet rhythmic rock offering. The vocals continue to play a major role throughout the album’s back half, most notably on “킬빌 혹은 우울한 달,” a darker song featuring little more than light guitars and melancholy voicing. I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite amongst the 10 gems presented, but this track along with “Rolling in the Air” will certainly forever remain on my short list. But all 10 are perfect. Trust me.

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The recording was done at Tomato Studio and they have done some amazing work on this album as every aspect of each song comes shining through in impeccable sound. Find a good seat, some great headphones and immerse yourself in “Things what may happen on your planet” as you would in a gallery or poetry reading while the songs carry you on a journey of happiness, sadness, love, loss, emptiness and more.

Pick up your copy of one of the best records of the year at the special release showcase Friday October 14th at Works Hall in Hongdae. A must-have album and a must-see show. Friday’s release gig starts at 8 pm and tickets are 25,000 won at the door.  For more information, check out the Facebook event page here.

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Rock from around the world heads to Daegu!

Adam Sullivan and the Trees from the US along with Hays from Russia have been performing around Korea for the past week and are bringing their powerful music to Club Heavy in Daegu tonight as part of the RoK Around the World 2016 series hosted by RoK Gi Yeon Promotions.

Adam Sullivan has returned to Korea bringing with him his unique songwriting style mixed with emotional and often humorous lyrics. Filled with keys, guitar, ukulele, and even some a cappella singing, each set is a warm, heartfelt experience for all in attendance. Tonight’s show in Daegu will be Adam Sullivan and the Trees’ first time to the city.

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My favorite song to watch out for? “Cool Kids”, with its thought-provoking chorus, “I just want to love you forever… You’re so selfish, and cool.”

Adam Sullivan and the Trees will be opening the show tonight promptly at 8 pm.

Following Adam will be the always amazing Blue Turtle Land out of Seoul. From the moment frontman Hong hits that first key, you’ll be blown away and taken back to the time of hippies, free love, and spine-tingling rock ‘n’ roll. Enjoy their takes on Hendrix and plenty of originals and jams throughout their set.

First timers to Daegu, as well as Korea, are the Russian band Hays out of Vladivostok.

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They have been wowing Korean audiences since their debut show at Club Sharp in Seoul last Friday. With influences stemming from the golden days of grunge, the guys have incredible passion on stage and bring a powerful energy that every crowd has latched onto immediately. After putting on an amazing show Tuesday in Jeonju, the crowd rushed for CDs, autographs and photos of one of their new favorite bands. Expect people tonight to jump and scream during “Breathe” and sing along to the beautifully crafted ballad “Same Way to You.” The band has truly enjoyed their tour, seeing Korea, eating everything, rocking hard and partying and are stoked for their one-night-only gig in Daegu before heading down to Busan!

The closing act for tonight will be Hongdae locals Project: Impair. A relatively new hard-rocking duo that features members Jun (of WhoWho) and Eun-Ho (who has been playing with Space Papa and Igloo Bay). Their energy on stage is raw and powerful and Jun’s speedy, aggressive guitar playing matches well with Eun-Ho’s fast-paced drumming. Look forward to being blown away by the sound coming from these two as you add a new Korean favorite to your list!

It all happens tonight (October 6) at Club Heavy from 8 pm until late and tickets are only 10,000 won. Don’t miss out on any of these acts who so rarely, if ever, have found their way to Daegu. For more information, check out the Facebook event page here.

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The Dizzy Brains and Ko Ko Mo live in HBC!

Anyone paying attention to the buzz at Zandari Festa this past weekend should already know the names The Dizzy Brains and Ko Ko Mo. And luckily for music lovers in Seoul, there’s one more chance to see them before they leave Korea as the bands are teaming up for a bill at Thunderhorse Tavern tonight (October 5).

Musicians and fest-goers alike have been talking nonstop about both acts since their first Zandari performances. And trust me, the praise is well warranted. Hailing from Madagascar, The Dizzy Brains lit the stage on fire during each of their three sets at the festival. France’s Ko Ko Mo were equally entertaining, giving the roaring crowd a bit of retro flair mixed with raw talent and seemingly limitless energy.

I caught up with  Ko Ko Mo to chat about what their Korean tour has been like thus far, and why everyone should head to the Itaewon area to see them tonight. When asked about the highlight of their Korean tour so far, guitarist and vocalist Warren Mutton said, “As of right now, it has been the French Spirit Night because the crowd was really happy  and crazy as well!”

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The passion that Mutton brings to the stage as well as his far-reaching vocals definitely left the crowd in awe during Ko Ko Mo’s Zandari gigs. And the special French showcase was a brilliant example of what they feed into each performance. Because of their impressive stage presence, I wondered how the duo felt about the reactions of Zandari audiences.

“We hope our music helped bring everyone together and made them feel united,” says drummer K20. “We also hoped they felt the energy and the rock ‘n’ roll vibe we were trying to give them.”

Finally, I wanted to know what new fans should expect from Ko Ko Mo in general as well as what everyone should look forward to at Thunderhorse tonight.

“Fans should know that we are so happy to be here in Korea, and that we love these awesome audiences,” said Mutton. “And in addition to coming to see us tonight, they should check out our first album when it is released in February!”

Ko Ko Mo and The Dizzy Brains play tonight at Thunderhorse Tavern.  The show starts at 8 pm and 57 is the opener.  Tickets are only 10,000 won.  Below are the set times for the concert, and for more information please check out the Facebook event page here.

8:00 pm 57
8:45 pm Ko Ko Mo
9:45 pm The Dizzy Brains

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