Having met and started collaborating with Kai at a festival in South Korea in 2014, The Idea of North have been working with Kai whenever the opportunity arises, as well as inviting Kai out to Australia as many times a year as is feasible. Although at this stage TION is still just four singers, you can expect to see more and more of Kai as these two artists join forces more and more frequently.
Kai is Japan's best-known vocal percussionist, having been singing and beatboxing in groups for over 15 years. He is arguably also the world's best jazz specialist in vocal percussion. An early member of Japan's most famous a cappella jazz ensemble 'Try-Tone', he joined this group after a stint with the Waseda University a cappella club 'Street Corner Symphony', where he cut his teeth in the art form.
Kai eventually wanted to know more about what he was doing from a musically technical perspective, so he decided to study jazz drumming. Six years later, after learning the drums from scratch, he then moved back to honing his own brand of vocal percussion, and developed a unique style, focussing mainly on the jazz genre. In spite of the increase profile of a cappella over the last 10 years, Kai is still one of the only vocal percussionists in the world today who specialises in jazz music (however when he plays pop, you’d swear that was his specialty as well). Having studied and learnt to play the 'actual' drums is one thing that sets him apart from the vast majority of beatboxers and vocal percussionists, and when you hear him perform, his musicality in this regard is delightfully evident.
Kai is currently the Japanese representative of 'Vocal Asia' – an Asia-wide a cappella association, and organises many international a cappella events, as well as being invited frequently to festivals and gatherings as an educator and vocal percussion clinician.
Kai has his own jazz quartet in Japan (piano, bass, vocals, percussion), in which he is the sole percussionist or, if you will, jazz vocal drummer. This is another thing that sets him apart - very few vocal percussionists work outside of the world of a cappella and vocal music to accompany instrumentalists. His musicality will astound and his skill will amaze – jaws simply drop at every performance.
Who or what inspired you to sing? I think my father is one of my big influence. He listened his collection of Jazz records and I started to imitate the sound of Drums. Also, during university I met lots of talented singers in 'Street Corner Symphony'. And I have to mention the member of 'TRY-TONE' are also a big foundation of my music ability. They taught me a lot.
If you weren't a singer in The Idea of North, what would you be doing? Commercial Pilot or driver in the public bus transport. I am really interested in how to transport passengers in safe and comfort.
Most exciting moments on stage? When audience give me applause when they see or listen to me play. Especially doing it in overseas countries. I am very proud of my talents that lead me to the new world. If I was working only in Japan, I would never go outside of Japan and meet people around the world.
Any on-tour shenanigans you wish to share? Once, when I entered the dressing room and closed the door, my team-mates suddenly shut down the light and sung 'Happy Birthday' for me. It was so great.
How do you prepare for a gig? I go for swimming almost every day to keep my breathing control. Sleep well before the show, not to drink alcohol too much. I don't eat any sweets after 30mins before a show, and so on....
Top 5 favorite singers: Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Mika Shinno, Tony Bennett, Yongwoo Kim (Korean Folk Singer)
Top 5 favourite bands: Buddy Rich Orchesstra, TOTO, Shakatak, Doobie Brothers, Horace Silver
Top 5 favorite albums (in no particular order): Song for my Father (Horace Silver), The Roar of '74 (Buddy Rich), Heart of Mine (Bobby Caldwell), This Time (Al Jarrau), Take 6 (Take 6)
Top 5 favorite vocal groups (in no particular order): Take6, The Real Group, The Idea of North, Naturally7, The Solists
If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, it would be? It would be Natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) and Kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage).
Favourite types of TION gigs? Gigs in large halls with enthusiastic audience.
Favourite or most memorable TION gig(s) so far? Brisbane Powerhouse in 2016.
Best part of this job? My voice turn to be part of the harmony, melting into the ensemble. Just amazing. What were you like in High School? I was Chairperson of our Student association, but there were lots of conflicts in the group. That was hard experience. I learned then that everyone has a different personality.
What do you love about the other TION members specifically and individually, musically and also on a personal level? First of all, all members have deep knowledge of the music. And remarkable song writing. Not only singing, I am learning the music itself and life from the members.
What is your ideal holiday (including what you wouldn't like to happen or do)? One that has a swimming pool! I always go to the swimming pool and keep my body more strong. It is also great for my breath control.
Who does your hair, make-up? Any secrets? I have my hair designer 'Yukio' in Shibuya,Tokyo. She is really great. But if I move to Australia, that's a big issue – I’ll have to find a substitute!