After living in Kochi for some time, a person can forget the uniqueness of this place, beyond a mountain range on an island, off an island out in the North Pacific Ocean. While convenience store attendants still echo the less desirable aspects of Japanese culture, the local ramen master means いらしやい when he says it and when he hands you a crisp Kirin and says サビス… this is Kochi. When you step outside, especially when the summer’s unmistakably arrived, you feel the gentle pace of place in no hurry for change. Turtles still bobble about the streams here, while hawks cruise the thermals above, watching you as you walk along some narrow crumbling path by a lime green rice field – this is Kochi. While the future runs head long into itself elsewhere on the planet, farmers plod along and tend to their forefathers rice fields. You’ll find the refinements that exist elsewhere in Japan, but where, fish, fire, salt and citrus comprise the local dish, an almost primeval cuisine, you find a place that has kept things the way it likes it. This isolation and connection with nature lost elsewhere in Japan, combines with a people who are proud of there own traditions, yet evermore intrigued by what new things may appear from strange lands far from these shores.
As foreigners we are lucky to experience this Japan.
When the relentless downpours of the rainy season have finally dissipated and that lonely heat with no sunshine comes to end, Kochi’s summer rolls in with full force. For many of us not from here, it reminds us of the time when we arrived, as it signals the time when we must leave; both the あ and the ん. For the rest of us, it just means that it’s bloody hot and bloody humid and the most sensible of all options, is to find a place to chill out, kick back and embrace this welcome but relentless heat. It’s a most conducive circumstance to take in music. It is this context, where people have the time, patience and mood to listen, where much is unchanged, where the uncommon is always stark, usually fascinating and frequently embraced to the fullest, that I have so enjoyed the experience of playing the didgeridoo. Only in Kochi, could I have had the good fortune and privilege to be able to do this in such a way.
To play to an audience in Kochi is a pleasure. In a big city, people are spoiled for choice and more swayed by this month’s trends; hopes of exposure for a musician can easily be swallowed up and drown. Music events stand out in Kochi and there is lack of exclusivity. If outdoors, there are always families, if in a Live House, there is no threatening vibe, no cliques of cynics, no hecklers or yobbo’s (An Australian word for obnoxious loud person prone to farting and fighting). People listen here, there is warmth, curiosity and reserved intrigue. For me, in mid exit to the generous applause of the crowd, this intrigue often also leads to ambush where interested locals wish to probe and touch this strangely painted instrument from the mysterious land of the kangaroo. Some remain baffled as to how this lump of wood makes that sound, others liken it to a horn from Tibet and for some it reconnects them to a time where they themselves took that long journey south to discover the strangeness of that sparse and endless continent with a big orange rock in the middle of it. Again it has been a privilege to be the purveyor of this intrigue.
While it was always enjoyable to appear before a crowd to reveal the unknown or at least the unexpected, it has been in my involvement with our band Windbeat that I have been the most fortunate experience. The name “Windbeat” refers quite simply to the fact that in the beginning the band consisted of didgeridoo and shakuhachi (wind) and percussion instruments (beat (s) ). Wind-beaten places are also lonely and desolate places and some of our earliest workings (with didgeridoo and shakuhachi) evoked such kind of emotion. Another influence, was the fact that in the beginning, we also practiced at the top of a bar called Kazemachi – which translates more or less to Waiting For The Wind – as ships in port would do, in hope for opportunity. We have had many.
To play with a group of such richly talented people has been a real privilege. To form such a combination has been a privilege because you can’t go looking for it. Only fate can deliver you to a situation where you might meet them and see what you can work with. They have been patient and accommodating of my lack of musical knowledge and there guidance has helped me to incorporate my most unconventional of instruments into our songs. Each person in our group has different qualities as musicians, but more importantly as people that I appreciate and admire. In time I will miss the shared experience of playing with them. Soon I will leave Kochi, but it is at a time where I can see the steady improvement in the quality of music that Windbeat is producing, so there will be only good things to come. As I pack my bags and rid my self of most of 4 years of accumulated crap, I’ll leave to the airport carrying my didge and not much more, bearing much the same items as I when I arrived, knowing that I shared in something special.
Windbeat have played all over Kochi city now, from the intimate setting of Kazemachi, to the wide open space of Cul-port, to the cherry blossomed grounds of Josei Koen and at numerous functions where liquid enjoyment was had and the buffets rolled on. More recently we played at B Station, where we recorded out first CD last year and at the live house that belongs to a bloke named Harry. It will be here at Harry’s House, that I will play my last gig with Windbeat.
It’s been a journey no less than great.