Q&A with Japanese blues woman, Nacomi Tanaka - deep and natural voice, laid-back guitar, and warm personality

"That means Blues has more impact to express your feeling to people. Blues is delivery. Easy to dance, easy to clap, easy to make noise, it is the music for everyone. I want Blues to tie all people together. It could be a common language all over the world."

Nacomi Tanaka: The Blues of Rising Sun

Nacomi Tanaka is a Japanese leading blues woman, singer and guitarist. Studied under the late Shinji Shiotsugu, a blues guitar legend. The roots of all-American music, the Blues, became her music roots, and her love and respect for the music from the South made her start a charitable fundraiser after the hurricane Katrina disasters hit Texas and Louisiana in 2005. Her contributions can be seen on Musicares., and her works were heard throughout Japan. She has been covered often by Japanese media, in print, and on Air. Nacomi has played at many Blues Festivals in Japan, Taiwan, China and in the US. She played at Little Walter Music Festival in Alexandria, LA in 2014, 2015, and 2016. She appeared on the TV program for a local TV station in Alexandria for those 3 years. She often visits the US and sits in her friends' gigs. She is happy to call many legendary artists her friends, including Cyril Neville, Elvin Bishop, Leroy Hodges, June Yamagishi, and many others.                Nacomi Tanaka / Photo by S. Andre Yoder Harris

2005: Started fundraising for Hurricane Katrina disasters. 2007: Released her debut album" Grabbed my heart". 2010: Released her second album " Swampie the goldfish". 2014: Played at Little Walter Music Festival. Released her third album "Nacomi sings Little Walter". 2017: She played at "Women in Blues showcase" in Memphis, TN as the first Japanese blues singer for the show. 2018: Released her fourth album " Bluesy Pop". 2019: Played at the Chicago Blues Festival and some other venues. Nacomi currently lives in Kobe, Japan. Her fans love her soft, deep and natural voice, her laid-back style guitar, and her warm personality.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music from outside of Japan expanded my vision of the world, which was something I couldn’t get from history classes in high school. Learning lyrics of musicians outside of Japan gave me a better understanding and appreciation of music and a world I knew very little about. Learning about the musicians and the music they played provided me with knowledge into different cultures and problems, such as racism and discrimination.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My father was a big fan of Country music and Dixieland Jazz music. He had lots of vinyl and I listened to that kind of music often when I was four or five. When I was twelve, I found a portable radio on the shelf and I started to listen to a midnight radio show which was spinning American and British pop and rock. I was addicted to the music; this has made my music foundation. After being a rock’n’ roll girl, I met Soul, R&B and Blues, I was 18 then. My sound is mixture of all this music and is a large part of my creative drive. Things I’ve experienced and seen through my travels abroad continue to inspire. My music journey is still continues…

"I would like to go to see some of Music Festivals in 60’s and 70’s in US, such as Woodstock, Monterey Pop Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Chicago Blues Festival…and more. Of course, to see many of music legends!" (Nacomi Tanaka / Photo by Yuki Maguire, All Rights Reserved)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Shinji Shiotsugu, who is a blues guitar legend in Japan and was my blues guitar instructor, once told me “When you stand in front of the microphone with your guitar, your posture brings out all of you to the audience. Playing guitar well might be better as a guitarist but it’s not a whole thing. It’s not only a technical thing but also being yourself is the most important thing. If you have great spirit in your mind, you can show yourself to the audience. Don’t rely on your guitar technic” Meeting him as my mentor has been one of the most important experiences and his words always inspire me when I feel anxious as a musician.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The first time I played at a venue in the US. My friend took me to a venue, in Oakland CA. The band was playing blues. There were a large audience enjoying music and drinking. The owner was a black lady.  When I was about to sit in the band some of the audience stood up to go home, but when I start singing and playing the guitar they suddenly turned around and came back to the stage, enjoyed my music and put their money in the tip jar. I was so happy to see it and after that the owner hugged me and said “Welcome and thank you for playing blues!“ Many of her friends came to me to say hi. At that moment I knew playing Blues in Japan was the right thing for me.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Many of venues supported blues music and blues musicians are closed. Young people who loves blues music are less than before. That makes my fear for the future of blues. And I myself, hope to appear at Blues Festivals all over the world and show our love for the Blues. I want to show that fact that Asians love the blues music. You know, blues beyond the boarder, it lives in Asia, not only in the US and Europe. And I want more great blues musicians from abroad to be invited to Japan. Cross culture is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Blues.                  (Photo: Nacomi & The Blues Temple, All Rights Reserved)

"My sound is mixture of all this music and is a large part of my creative drive. Things I’ve experienced and seen through my travels abroad continue to inspire. My music journey is still continues…"

Make an account of the case of the blues in Japan. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Blues came to Japan in the 1970s, many great blues bands and musicians appeared during that period. The golden age of Japanese Blues! Now many of those artists are in their sixties and seventies and sad to say, some of them have passed away. Listening to their old recordings or watching their past performances on You Tube, I feel there was much more energy filling the venues, from both the musicians and audience 

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Well, I would have to say there still are outdated gender stereotypes. When I started playing after being away from the music scene for a long time, may be 20 years, my two kids were still young and I was often asked how they were at home or if my husband complained. It made me so annoyed. Some of male audiences only love a good-looking female musician in a sexy outfit. Do we really need to appear on stage that way??

What is the impact of the Blues music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Blues music has simple chord progression and there are bunch of blues songs in same key, but once you hear the guitar playing, harmonica blowing, of course singing voice, you can identify who the musician is. That means Blues has more impact to express your feeling to people. Blues is delivery. Easy to dance, easy to clap, easy to make noise, it is the music for everyone. I want Blues to tie all people together. It could be a common language all over the world.

"Music from outside of Japan expanded my vision of the world, which was something I couldn’t get from history classes in high school. Learning lyrics of musicians outside of Japan gave me a better understanding and appreciation of music and a world I knew very little about. Learning about the musicians and the music they played provided me with knowledge into different cultures and problems, such as racism and discrimination." (Nacomi Tanaka / Photo by Yuki Maguire, All Rights Reserved)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to go to see some of Music Festivals in 60’s and 70’s in US, such as Woodstock, Monterey Pop Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Chicago Blues Festival…and more. Of course, to see many of music legends!

How started the thought of charitable fundraiser after the hurricane Katrina hit? what touched (emotionally) you?

In 2005, one of my Japanese friends who lived in NOLA came back to Japan to see her parents and while she was in Japan, Katrina hit there. She could not go back to New Orleans and I asked her what I could do to help. She said “Anything you can, especially for musicians.” Then I thought “Many of musicians lost their homes and instruments…they need money.” It was the hardest time for me, my mom had been suffering from depression and I was also suffering from panic syndrome that was caused by a failed surgery.

I wasn’t sure if I could do it under that circumstances… but something pushed me forward, yes it might be love and respect for the places where the blues was born, I mean, the deep south. So, I started charitable fundraiser.

Nacomi Tanaka - Home

(Nacomi Tanaka / Photo by Yuki Tanabe, All Rights Reserved)

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