1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Takuya “Taku” Hirano ; Percussionist (touring and session musician); Recording artist (Ropeadope Records)
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? Japanese national; Permanent Resident of the US; Born in Osaka, Japan and emigrated at 3 months of age.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My mother was an amateur pianist, and I grew up with a piano in our home. I studied piano from age 7 and percussion (Classical percussion and drum set) from age 9. My family transferred to Hong Kong when I was in middle school and I studied with the principal percussionist and principal timpanist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. I graduated from a school of the arts in California and entered Berklee College of Music at age 17 as a jazz drum set major, graduating at age 21 as the college’s first Hand Percussion principal with a Bachelor’s of Music degree.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I moved to the U.S. from my birthplace of Osaka, Japan when I was only 3 months old. My father worked in the textiles trade as a cotton broker for a major Japanese trading company, and our family was transferred to the Central Valley of California for him to be the regional manager, covering Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield. I primarily grew up in Fresno, which at the time was even more of a “hick town” than it is today. In the 70’s and 80’s , there were very few Japanese expats apart from our family and no “Saturday School” for me to formally learn Japanese (written and spoken language) as it was such a small town in comparison to San Francisco or Los Angeles. What Japanese I use to this day is in conversation with my mother. My father, brother and I speak English to each other. [* My brother did minor in Japanese literature at Yale for his undergrad, and went on to work summers in Tokyo, so his handling of the language is far more advanced than mine.]
That being said, we did eventually connect with the local Japanese American community when my brother and I took up kendo through the Fresno Kendo Dojo, which was founded by a master swordsman from Osaka. Many of the nissei and sansei we befriended were of Okinawan descent, whose families established themselves through farming California’s Central Valley. At the age 10, the Japanese company my father worked for decided to pull the plug on their U.S. operation. Rather than move our family back to Japan (remember, I had little Japanese schooling and would’ve either had to attend an English-based school or be held back quite a few years), my father took a job with an American competitor in the cotton trade. That had a profound impact, as it was at that age when I took up percussion. Had that not have happened, I likely would be a Japan-based salaryman and not have been blessed with a career in music, much less met my American wife, or even have my current identity. Our entire family was granted Permanent Resident status (i.e. green cards) at that time.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in suburban California, attending public school, and usually being one of a few Asian kids was interesting in hindsight. There was definitely some energy on my part put towards assimilating with others. Did I get picked on? Sometimes. And there was definitely comments made by other students that would be clearly racist and non-PC by today’s standards. One vivd memory was going to a new school for one year in the third grade - it was out of district, and I specifically attended for testing reasons to get into a nearby school’s program for the fourth grade. The teacher that year never made an effort to learn how to pronounce my name. Subsequently, I went the entire year with not only her, but the kids in the class mispronouncing my name. Between that, and being bullied that year, I remember many times having my stress take on physical manifestations - everything from daily nausea on the way to school to the skin from my fingertips flaking and peeling away. During the period of my 7th-10th grade, my father was transferred to Hong Kong to become V.P. in charge of the Pacific Rim. My brother and I attended Hong Kong International School, and I learned what it meant to be a third culture kid. The entire student body was made up of 3ck’s of every sort: Caucasian Americans who had never lived in America and only grew up going to international schools across Asia; International and biracial kids who straddled life in America and Asia, with extended family in both; Children of diplomats and CIA ops (no kidding) who moved to different countries ever few years... It ran the gamut. To this day, that shared experience of not belonging anywhere specific has cemented friendships that I have had since the 7th grade. When my family returned to Fresno, I was profoundly different. At that point, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music and knew that no hometown city, school, or group of friends would define me. I was fairly detached from my surroundings, gave up any non-musical extracurricular activities by my senior year, and was in the business of pursuing the goal of attending a music institution for college and then transitioning to a career in the
music industry. That didn’t fit within the confines of anything around me my last two years of high school, so I was just focused on “getting out.”
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel quite connected to my heritage, albeit being a third culture kid. Apart from my older brother, my entire family resides in Japan. My parents moved back to Asia when I was in college.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? *Please see my answer to question 3.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I decided around 11th grade that I wanted to be a professional musician. My father’s reaction was that if I was going to go through with it, that I had to be the best. If I wasn’t practicing, a competitor would be. My parents fully support my music career with interest and pride.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? I’m very proud that I have risen to become one of the top-call percussionists on the touring and recording circuit across all commercial genres of music, and that for every project I am usually the only person representing the Asian artist community. I have recorded on GRAMMY-winning albums such as Dr. Dre’s seminal “2001” and Ziggy Marley’s “Fly Rasta,” and for iconic artists like Whitney Houston and The Temptations. I have toured with Fleetwood Mac, Whitney Houston, John Mayer, Bette Midler and Stevie Nicks. I have also performed live with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, and Herbie Hancock.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
I am currently the touring percussionist for the iconic rock band Fleetwood Mac, most recently completing their 2018-2019 world tour. I have also acted as a consultant to Trent Reznor for a Nine Inch Nail world tour, have been featured in national ads for Guitar Center, performed twice for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and twice for President Barack Obama at the White House.
Endorsements: Meinl Percussion, Zildjian Cymbals, REMO Drumheads, Vater Drumsticks, DW Drums and Hardware, Roland Electronics, and JH Audio in-ear monitors.
8. Describe to me your dream project. Releasing a jazz fusion album (becoming a reality in 2021, with a release on Ropeadope Records); Dream gig: Working with Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel, or Sting.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? In the music world, being an Asian - usually the only one - has been a double-edged sword. Since so much of the entertainment industry is about casting, it has definitely worked against me at times. Even though I am well-versed in Afro-Caribbean percussion and have studied with master percussionists and conducted research trips to Cuba, there are just some opportunities that I will be passed over because my ethnicity doesn’t “match” either the genre of music or the instruments that I am playing onstage. One instance, I was auditioning for a major Latin Pop artist. My good friend, who was the drummer, got me an audition for the upcoming world tour. In hindsight, I was the most prepared for the audition, but the person who got the job was not only Latino, but had credentials in the Latin Pop scene working with other artists. I was hugely disappointed, but totally understood as he was recommended by and was friends with the musical director. Had that rejection not have happened, I wouldn’t have gotten the call less than a year later for Fleetwood Mac, an account that I have proudly been associated with for the last 18 years. Playing Afro-Caribbean percussion, I’m used to having doubt cast on my abilities from certain Latinos. That has been happening since college. There was even an instance when a classmate at Berklee from the Dominican Republic invited me to sit in on his congas on a local gig while he took a break. A Puerto Rican friend of his told me to get off the stage, threatened me, and then sat down on the congas - and he wasn’t even a percussionist! (My classmate came back and was totally confused). Mind you, the master percussionists from Puerto Rico and Cuba that I studied with were genuinely excited and supportive that a Japanese kid would be so devoted to not only the discipline and craft, but the cultural history of their music. On the flip side, I got the call for Lionel Richie because he was looking to revamp his band with a multi-cultural “cast.” I had the skills, credentials, and being Asian was an added plus to the overall onstage “look.” That led to a four-year stint of touring with Lionel. On some other major gigs, I was specifically called in to play Asian
instruments, such as Japanese taiko drums. Some of the artists or their managers don’t even realize that I can play an array of world percussion instruments, or have a diverse client list ranging every commercial music genre. Outside of music, I think the general sentiment is that I feel underestimated or overlooked.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? One great musician and dear friend that I look up to is Filipino-American drummer Curt Bisquera. Growing up and seeing Curt in drum magazines was hugely inspiring. He has played for everyone from Elton John to Mick Jagger to Seal. He is one of the top-call studio drummers, and his most recent tours have been backing Sarah McLachlan. Curt began his career as the drummer for Morris Day & The Time, which ought to tell you just how funky of a drummer he can be in addition to his rock and pop credentials!
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? As a person who makes a living as a hired gun in the commercial/pop music realm, I would like to encourage more AAPI musicians to throw their hat in the ring. Traditionally, many AAPI musicians’ training is in Classical instruments (strings, piano), so it is usually only those musicians and instruments that I see in the pop realm backing major artists. There are some really amazing and soulful drummers, bassists, guitarists, and percussionists in the pop field overseas... it would be great to see more of Asian Americans as well, here Stateside, getting the major calls.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? The advice I would give to my younger self is to enjoy the ride, and not be so strict with sticking to “the rules.” While being studious and diligent paid off, I still have to remind myself to be patient, and to go with the flow at times. Especially in the world of the arts, everything is subjective, there is no one “correct” way of doing something, and it is the people who can think outside of the box that make an impact.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I am currently working on my first recording project as a solo artist, fronting my own band. I am definitely excited to step out of the arena of being a hired gun and into a more creative role. The project should release later this year.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. Being a percussionist, my job can be very physical. In addition to being prepared mentally and physically on my craft, I also have to stay in shape. I would say that the most consistent thing that I do, even more than practicing on instruments, is working out and trying to be in tune with my body. Apart from that, the last year has been about slowing down, and enjoying home life with my wife and dogs. Being a news junkie is a given as my wife is a national news anchor, so I am caught up on all current events at all times. I think that on top of that, I really key into any news involving the AAPI community. At one point, I had started a blog called “Team Yellow.” Keeping the actual blog site current proved to be challenging with my touring schedule, but I still make a point of sharing tons of articles and information on the Team Yellow Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/teamyellow).
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? Final thoughts: I feel like a movement is finally happening - an awakening and coalescing off the greater AAPI community - which makes me very hopeful.
Jammcard: Taku Hirano
Photos provided by Taku Hirano