Remo Rocks with Taku Hirano
Taku Hirano is a very interesting person. If you were to meet him, you would find him to be a gentle soul. His playing is so detailed and rhythmic. Taku has done many gigs, tours, movie sessions and everything else. His credits include performances with Stevie Wonder, Don Henley, P. Diddy, LeAnn Rimes, Patti Labelle, Chaka Khan, Joe Zawinul, Mary J. Blige, and countless others. Taku has toured with Fleetwood Mac, Bette Midler, Stevie Nicks, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Isaac Hayes, Lindsey Buckingham, and Tevin Campbell. You can hear Taku’s percussion work on movie soundtracks such as Biker Boyz (Dreamworks), Dr. Dolittle (Atlantic), Good Burger (Capitol), and numerous other projects for Sony, Dreamworks, HBO, Showtime, and PBS. His enthusiasm about percussion is incredible. Taku can easily go from Afro-Cuban to Brazilian to Middle Eastern and Classical with ease and perfection. Read on to find out about Taku Hirano.
Remo: Taku……Bro, How are you?
Taku: Fine Chris… Haven’t seen you in a while!
Remo: Bro…I am fine just busy. So Thank You for taking time to do this interview with me. I know you been busy working with Bette Midler on a 2-1/2 year run.
Taku: Yeah….it’s been crazy!
Remo: So let’s get this started…..How long have you been playing?
Taku: I have been playing since the age of 9, in the 5th grade. I studied privately on marimba, timpani, and drum set with Brenda Myers, a great percussionist and teacher in Fresno, California. I participated in the school band as well as the city/county and state honor bands and orchestras up through high school.
Remo: So what about the classical interest?
Taku: In the midst of growing up in Fresno, I spent four years in Hong Kong because of my father’s business transfer. While I was there, I became very serious in classical percussion and studied intensively with Krtistan Phillips, the principal timpanist with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra at the time. This was from 7th through 10th grade.
Remo: Cool…..and your Afro Cuban interest?
Taku: . I returned to Fresno to finish off my last two years of high school at Roosevelt School of the Arts and became really interested (or obsessed) with Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussion. They had a Latin-jazz ensemble at the school, and it was there that I first really got into playing congas, timbales, bongos, and various small percussion instruments used in Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music.
Remo: So after High School you went on to Berklee College of Music?
Taku: Yes, I was accepted into Berklee College of Music. I was initially a jazz drum set major and studied privately with jazz drumming legend Alan Dawson in addition to the Berklee faculty. By my second semester, though, conga master Giovanni Hidalgo came to teach at the school. I refocused all of my time to study intensively with him for a full four years. In my second year at Berklee, my second most influential teacher, Jamey Haddad, became a faculty member. With Jamey, I was introduced to the instruments, techniques, and concepts of North Indian, South Indian, and Middle Eastern percussion. I graduated from Berklee as one of their first hand percussion majors in 1995 and moved to L.A. to pursue a Master’s Degree in World Percussion Performance with an emphasis in Indian and West African percussion at CalArts. This was cut short, though, as I began to get calls to go on the road with various artists.
Remo: Now, this is amazing because I remember when you came to Los Angeles and you were about to pursue your masters and before you know it, you start getting tour offers and gigs. I was so happy for you when you start getting offers.
Taku: Thanks, Chris, Thank You!
Remo: So, you were doing all this work with so many different artists. What stands out to be your most memorable gig?
Taku: I have many of them but the one that stands out the most is with Whitney Houston during her 1999 European Tour.
Taku: Yeah…… We were in Mannheim, Germany in a castle courtyard. She was bathed in blue light and was singing “I Will Always Love You” flawlessly. As far as the eye could see, within the amber-lit walls of the castle, were people holding up lighters. At that moment, I knew that I had reached another level in the gigs that I was doing.
Other times, both onstage and off, include performing in Johannesburg for Nelson Mandela for his 80th birthday, playing the Apollo Theater with Stevie Wonder, hanging out with Bill Clinton on the tarmac when his jet was parked to Fleetwood Mac’s, performing for President Obama with Bette Midler, and getting to hang out with Jimmy Page backstage in London at Earl’s Court on the Fleetwood Mac tour.
Remo: Cool. I know you have played many of our products and I know you are currently working with Bette Midler… So what are you using now in your set-up?
Taku: Well with Bette, I currently use NuSkyn tucked conga heads for my 11” Quinto, 11-3/4” conga, 12-1/2” tumbadora, and Fiberskyn 3 aluminum channel heads on my bongos. I also use 14” and 15” Black Suede Ambassador heads for my timbales. Apart from the Midler gig, I also perform with 2-time Academy Award winning composer, A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”). With him I primarily play taiko, so I use the Nagado drum on the gig. I also use the taiko on sessions and production work, including remixes for Kanye West.
Remo: I hope the products are holding up to your expectations!
Taku: Are you kidding? Remo drumheads never let me down. They are road worthy and the sound is just incredible. Also the conga heads last a ridiculously long time with minimal wear and tear because the tunings hold. I literally did the 18 months on tour with Fleetwood Mac using the same conga heads, and only had to do minor adjustments in tuning from day to day.
Remo: My objective of this interview is to give more of a personal insight of our artists. I want the reader to know that you are a Remo artists, but I want them to know a personal side that along with drums that can attach them self with…..you know what I mean?
Taku: Yeah….I know and I can dig were you coming from
Remo: So without me getting too personal, I do have some more questions for you?
Remo: So…..what are you listening you listening to nowadays?
Taku: I have been doing a good deal of production and remixes with my production team, Tao Of Sound. We do quite a bit of stuff with more of an electronica feel, so lately I have been checking out guys in that genre. Groups like Thievery Corporation and Bitter: Sweet. On the flip side, I listen to a lot of stuff ranging from Afro-Cuban and World, to rock and pop.
Remo: I know it’s corny, but your top 5 drummers of all time?
Taku: Art Blakey, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones, Ndugu Chancler, Abe Laboriel, Jr.
Remo: How about your top 5 Percussionists?
Taku: The top 5 percussionists that have influenced me in my musical growth as a percussionist are (in no particular order): Giovanni Hidalgo (my Afro-Cuban percussion teacher), Jamey Haddad (my Indian and Middle Eastern percussion teacher), Airto Moreira (my original inspiration to begin studying world percussion), Trilok Gurtu (the person who opened my eyes to thinking “out of the box” in regards to creating colors and textures with percussion instruments), and Bashiri Johnson as he is the pioneer who really was one of the first guys to integrate electronics into a multi-percussion rig, especially in a live pop setting. Others, by way of being my teachers, are definitely Changuito and Roberto Vizcaino.
Remo: Do you want to make a difference between percussionist and hand drummers?
Taku: Actually, I do. My top 5 hand drummers would be Jamey Haddad, Glen Velez, Trichy Sankaran, Giovanni Hidalgo, and Zakir Hussain.
Remo: Your list is amazing, I am digging it.
Taku: There are so many players that I admire and respect, but the guys mentioned really played a part in the development of me as a percussionist/musician.
Remo: Ok….I give you time to think about this one, your top 5 albums of all time.
Taku: Man……great questions. I would say…… Blue Trane- John Coltrane; Abraxas- Santana; Kind Of Blue- Miles Davis; Secret Story- Pat Metheny, Reach For It- George Duke. Also, anything by Eddie Palmieri, Batacumbele, Sting, The Neville Brothers, and The Meters.
Remo: Yeah…..you mention some great albums!
Remo: So Taku, what inspires you to play? What gets you up and makes you want to play?
Taku: Seeing other musicians exhibiting a genuine joy for the music that they are creating. There is nothing like seeing someone absolutely kicking butt, whether it is playing a solo, flawlessly sight-reading, or just laying down a sick pocket. When I see someone really making it happen with their God-given talent, I feel inspired to reach that higher plane in my playing where the connection between artistic creation, instinct, and that Zen-like calmness happens all at once.
Remo: So check this out……If you were on an island alone and you have one CD you can play, what would be that CD?
Taku: I’m really not sure about this one. Perhaps something by the Neville Brothers or The Meters since they are my in-laws. It would make me feel close to family and my adopted home of New Orleans.