Kishi Bashi released a new album ‘Omoiyari’ via Joyful Noise Recordings (Deerhoof, Why?, Tim Kinsella) on May 31, 2019. The fourth album from Athens, Georgia native K Ishibashi, it follows acclaimed previous releases ‘151a’, ‘Lighgt’ and 2016’s ‘Sonderlust’. The release of ‘Omoiyari’ will be accompanied by soon-to-be-announced UK live shows from Kishi, with a companion documentary film of the same title also due for release in 2020.
Imagine being forced from your home. Imagine being sent to a prison camp with no trial, and no promise of release. Imagine all this happened simply because of the language you speak, the colour of your skin, or the roots of your family tree. For over 120,000 Japanese-Americans this became a terrifying reality during World War II, when – in the wake of the Pearl Harbour attack – President Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority to deprive all citizens of Japanese descent of their possessions and land, taking them into enforced custody in internment camps sited across California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Kansas for the duration of the conflict.
It is this deeply unsettling reality that Kishi Bashi now reckons with across his upcoming album, ‘Omoiyari’. Taking its title from a Japanese word whose meaning equates to cultivating a sense of empathy and compassion towards others, the record intersects with an equally disturbing present tense for Ishibashi, whose Japanese parents originally came to the USA as first generation immigrants in the wake of WWII. “I was shocked when I saw white supremacy really starting to show its teeth again recently in America,” says Kishi. “As a minority I felt very insecure for the first time in my adult life in this country. I think that was the real trigger for this project.”
Sensing parallels between the current U.S. administration’s poisonous policy talk on walls and flight bans, and the xenophobic anxieties that led to the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during wartime, Kishi immersed himself in that tract of his country’s history. So began an undertaking – with Kishi accompanied by the film crew who have since created the upcoming, crowd-funded documentary ‘Omoiyari: A Songfilm’ – to visit the sites of the former prisons, listening to first-hand accounts from survivors and developing the musical concepts which honour these experiences along the way.
These strong conceptual elements of ‘Omoiyari’ are driven by Kishi Bashi’s captivating musical score. Stepping away from the loop-based production model of previous albums, he embraced a more collaborative approach whilst recording, including for the first time contributions from other musicians, here including Mike Savino (aka Tall Tall Trees) on banjo and bass, and Nick Ogawa (aka Takenobu) on cello. The spectacular trademark violin soundscapes with which Kishi originally turned heads are still an essential component of his sound, but the focus of ‘Omoiyari’ is centred squarely on its songs. The result is his most potent and poignant collection of music to date.
Urgent lead-off single ‘Summer of ’42’ – which bursts into life atop a wall of violin sound – documents a determination amongst internment inmates to exercise the few human rights left to them whilst under custody, tracing the arc of a tale of lost love within the camp’s perimeter. In other parts of ‘Omoiyari’ the allusion is more intuitive – the shimmering, bittersweet ‘Marigolds’ puts Kishi’s dextrous violin playing to work solely in service of a rolling, emotionally resonant track which advocates for a greater cross-generational empathy.
‘F Delano’ lands it blow directly, from the Roosevelt-referencing title to the rattling melody which couches unsettling first-hand recollections from internment survivors – ‘Out in the desert where no-one should live / It wasn’t our home / In the winter our hands with frost were stiff to the bone’. The violin whose single line which builds into a cinematic wall of sound on febrile ‘Violin Tsunami’ was actually made by a Brazilian-Japanese luthier friend of Kishi’s, who had worked on the instrument whilst the Fukushima Nuclear disaster of 2011 was unfolding. He reflects; “This song is about the chaos that nature can create, and also about the healing and rebuilding that the human spirit is capable of.” Fittingly, the album artwork for ‘Omoiyari’ depicts hand carved and painted bird pins ,which were created using scrap wood by Japanese-American artists whilst in captivity.
Whilst the roots of ‘Omoiyari’ originate in the hard-learned lessons of the past – with also Kishi performing last month at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History event – its message resonates with urgency in the here & now. Says Kishi Bashi; “Part of the Omoiyari project is saying that if you’re a minority there’s potentially still a lot to look forward to in this country. I believe there’s a paradigm shift coming, especially for minorities and those who have felt oppression. America is changing. If you’re privileged you need to understand that this country is for everybody, and we have to make that space for all people.”