Usually this blog introduces people who are related to Indies music in Tokyo, but as a special episode I interviewed George Kamikawa who is a busker in Melbourne. George and I went to the same junior high school so we were able to have a good casual chat.
–So first of all, how was today’s live show?
George: It was really lively today. I didn’t expect so many people to come. Normally, we are invited to festivals in different states and play less live shows in Melbourne. So I was surprised to have such a lively show.
–You performed as George＆Noriko today, but normally you perform alone as a busker, don’t you? How was your recent style of music formed?
George: In the beginning I started by just playing guitar and singing, after a while I incorporated the harmonica. About 10 years ago I also started to play the stompbox with my left leg. From 2 years ago I started playing parts of the drums (snare and cymbals) with my right leg.
–Did anybody teach you how to play this way?
George: Not really. Many people already play the stompbox, so also decided to do it myself.
–George you are a foreigner in Australia, so is there any advantage or disadvantage in playing music as a foreigner in Australia?
George: At first, people looked at me skeptically, like can this Asian really play music? But once I start playing music they become interested and stop to watch my performance. In a way, this is a kind of advantage as well.
The disadvantage is that if people have never listened to my music, they don’t let me play the event even if I ask and explain my style of music to them. The people who have already known or have seen me play, usually gives me a good response though. Now also I think people often see us playing on youtube or busking on the road and then offer us to play live shows. Other Australian band probably can get to play live shows by directly appealing to organizers but we have to wait for offers. Recently we have become well known so our offers are increasing. Although for festivals, if we don’t apply we won’t get offers to perform, so we often have to apply for to play in festivals.
–How’s the feedback in Australia?
George: With the kind of live show that I did today, the response is almost always the same. Australians enjoy drinking, getting drunk and singing together, not only in Melbourne. They like laughing at the jokes and singing songs together by call and response. I feel that the guests seem like they strongly want to enjoy themselves and intermingle together.
–I heard you used to play music in Japan. Are you planning on playing in Japan or other countries in the future?
George: I have about two festivals offers in New Zealand at the moment. I hope to expand what I do from there. It’s hard going overseas because I have to bring so much equipment, also its hard getting visas.
–During the live show today you guys were selling CD’s, when you busk do you also sell many CD’s?
George: Yes, we don’t sell our CDs in store or via web site so we usually sell our CDs ourselves at our shows. For our next album we are planning on selling our music through iTunes though, I like buying CDs so I prefer to sell our music via CD.
–However it`s said that, “the sales of CDs are dropping nowadays in the Japanese music industry”.
George: That’s right. Downloading music is also popular in Australia.
–So people listen to you busking and if they like your music they buy it on the spot, right?
George: Oh yes, that’s why our CDs become basic necessities. These days, there are buskers that sell a card for downloading instead which is a bit cheaper though.
–To me your music sounds like catchy blues, is this music popular in Australia?
George: It’s not as popular as it is in America but all sorts of people listen and buy our music. In Japan for example it’s rare for older people to listen to music like the stones and the Beatles, but in Australia it natural for people from all walks of life to listen to this style of music and the blues.
–Do you make songs in English?
George: I’m getting better at writing songs which sound more natural, but of course Sara (George’s Australian wife) gives my writing’s grammar and the words pronunciation a final check though.
–Are you going to continue busking?
George: In a way, I want to keep doing it, because Melbourne city accepts busking. However, recently there are too many buskers which make it hard to find a place to busk.
–What’s do you find fascinating about Melbourne?
George: People often play music on the street and at bars, like where I played today which is a great environment for playing music. This is not only a good place for music, but it’s also good for art and so on. Sydney on the other hand is a busy city so people regard Melbourne as a cultural city.
–Today you played as George&Noriko as you often do. Noriko is a Tsugaru-Jamisen (Traditional Japanese instrument) player, was it easy to incorporate this style instrument with blues music.
George: No, as I thought it didn’t go well at first. Noriko didn’t know anything about blues at all, and I also didn’t listen to Japanese folk songs. So we both had to study each one. Japanese folk songs have a rhythm which is hard for Australians to follow so we mainly use a blues rhythm.
–You were able to match the styles well, how did you do that?
George: There is a saying “Shamisen Tsugaru-jamisen”, the Tsugaru-Jamisen has a sound of sadness and harshness. So it has a lot in common with blues.
–I see. So, your main activity is busking and playing with Noriko, have you ever considered playing music in a band again?
George: I’m doing well with Noriko now and we have lots of live performance offers, so I’m focused on continuing busking as George＆Noriko.
–To conclude, what are your plans for the future?
George: I want to take part in more festivals.
George＆Noriko were successful in the Australia Audition competition program’s “Australia’s Got Talent” final in 2012. They are widely well known in Australia and are hopeful to succeed. When you go to Melbourne, I recommend that you check them out live and enjoy their soulful songs. They busk on Bourke Street Mall about for three times a week. He’s a friendly person so feel free to talk to him after watching his show.