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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