Reconstructing the Norm

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Grammy winners Hiroshima, from left: Danny Yamamoto, Dean Cortez, Shoji Kameda, Dan Kuramoto, June Kuramoto and Kimo Cornwell. (Photo by Ken Fong)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Entertainment Editor

It’s not unusual to find Dan Kuramoto cooking at home on any afternoon he has free from work. He’s especially adept at slow-cooking a nice stew or chili, which I have had the pleasure to sample on more than one occasion.

But on Tuesday (Sept. 18), the co-founder of the jazz fusion pioneering band Hiroshima had some unsavory obstacles added to the day’s recipe.

“I’m afraid it is what it is,” he conceded, grumbling about the ongoing – and seemingly never-ending – remodeling project that has taken over his Monterey Park home.

“Fortunately, when it’s done at the end of the month, we’ll have plenty of space to rehearse and hopefully for a new family member or two,” he said.

Kuramoto is spending a fair amount of time out of the house, as a busy string of appearances for Hiroshima commenced Wednesday (Sept. 20) with a flight to New Orleans, where the band had two shows over the weekend. The following weekend, they were in Northern California for Palo Alto Buddhist Church’s 100th anniversary on Sept. 29, and the band performs Oct. 7 at the Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches benefit concert at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Kuramoto said he is particularly proud to be involved with the communities of both of those upcoming events.

“For years after we first started, out entire career outside of L.A. was supported by the Buddhist Churches of America,” he explained. “They would welcome us, up and down the coast. We would drive up, crash in the rec room and they would feed us bento. We were very fortunate to have them at that time, when we were a bunch of musicians struggling to make it.

“What they do is so vitally important, maintaining the culture through hosting Obon festivals and pounding mochi for New Year’s, so I always felt very connected.”

Kuramoto said that fellow Hiroshima co-founder June Kuramoto still tours what he called the “teriyaki chicken” circuit, performing at local festivals and community events.

Joining Hiroshima in Palo Alto was Kenny Endo, the drumming virtuoso whom Kuramoto credits with much of the popularity that has emerged for taiko music in the United States.

“He is fantastic, and his influence reaches father than anyone can imagine,” Kuramoto said. “Really, it’s a great honor for us to play with him.”

Endo will also join the show in Cerritos, which will be the 15th annual event to benefit A3M, the organization dedicated to serving African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, mixed-race and other minority patients who suffer from leukemia and related blood illnesses that can potentially be cured by a bone marrow transplant. A3M works out of Little Tokyo to assist patients around the globe, by establishing a database of potential bone marrow donors.

Kuramoto described his enthusiasm of years ago, when he was first asked to be screened as a possible donor.

“What an opportunity, to be in a position to save a life,” he explained. “All I could say was, ‘I’m in!’”

Kuramoto said his band is only too happy to play at Cerritos, a relatively small and intimate venue, all for the cause of moving A3M forward.

Hiroshima has made steps this year to move their own musical cause forward as well, taking what is becoming a more common strategy for long-established artists. After their Grammy-nominated “Legacy” earned them some bonuses and negotiation leeway, the band decided to leave their record company, opting to take full control of their music and products.

“It was a typical Hiroshima thing to do,” Kuramoto said of their first independent release, “Departure.”

“With the state of the record industry, and if this is the way things are going to be, we thought we’d jump in and hopefully we can do it in a way that lets the artist have more of a voice.”

Kuramoto said the model that has existed for years for the record industry is one that relies on exploitation of artists, and that the goal of Hiroshima’s new direction – one that includes involving up-and-coming musicians – is to allow more diversity in music and to allow artists an opportunity to establish sustaining careers in music.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the talent that’s out there and within ourselves,” Kuramoto said. “We’re older, but we’re really energized by this. By doing it this way, everything becomes our responsibility. If this ends up ruining our careers, that’s the way it goes, but we feel compelled to share the gift.”

Kuramoto added that in spite of the move over the past several years toward digitally transmitted music, Hiroshima have actually seen a rise in sales of their physical compact discs.

“It’s curious to see how our stock has gone up, with radio not really being a factor like it used to be and no record stores around,” he said.

He added that increased sales have been accompanied by more invitations to play, notably from groups and organizations other than those within the Asian American community.

“That’s really gratifying, because we have always believed that this is a way cultures get tied together,” he explained.

As for his hope that his newly remodeled home might have some additions to the family, Kuramoto said he’s trying not to put too much pressure on his daughter, recently married in June.

“I try not to make it too obvious, but what could be more cool than that?” he beamed.

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The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is located at 12700 Center Court Drive North in Cerritos. Tickets for the Oct. 7 benefit range from $47 to $87. A special VIP package, including reception, dinner by Maison Akira and the concert, is $180. For more information, call (800) 300-4345 or visit www.CerritosCenter.com.

More about Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches can be found at www.a3mHOPE.org, or call (888) A3M-HOPE.

For music and tour dates, visit at www.hiroshimamusic.com.

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