Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: email@example.com
(Born in Tokyo and raised in Paris)
We enjoyed talking with Maia, a musician who has both a French and Japanese cultural background. She sings and plays many kinds of instruments, such as flute, sax, pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) and so on.
Maia has been really familiar with many kinds of music since she was a child. It’s because of her unique environment. Actually her music life started at age 6, when she started to play the piano. But not only that. You’ll see how her surroundings are and you would be surprised.
*Interview in Shinjuku Golden Gai
My dad, a great musician.
I’ve heard a lot of really, really good music since I was a baby. My dad is Pierre Barouh. He is a producer, filmmaker and an actor. He wrote a lot of songs including “A Man and A Woman”. Thanks to him, I could grow up with good music because there were always people at home. Musicians, actors, comedians, Brazilians, Africans, Japanese and French… All kinds of people there. I think all of these experiences, all of these people and all of the music I have met could be used to my advantage later in some way.
I am really thankful to my band and to having all of these things. Then it becomes my own power. I have a brother and a sister but every person who has grown up in such an environment can’t be a musicians. You have to find a certain goal and go for it if you have something you want to do.
A big turning point.
I didn’t think of playing music because it was natural and normal for me to listen to good music.
When I was in high school, I went to canada to learn English. I went to Vancouver. I joined a big band there. There were 55 young guys playing trumpets, trombones and saxes. And I had played the flute for just half a year until then so I didn’t really know how to play it. But I got into a big band and it was really hard. A guy put me a part of ensemble of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. It was really hard.
“It’s not possible! I can’t do it! I want to stop this!” I called my mom and she said, “OK, stop it.” My mom knows me that I will do it if she says “Don’t do it”. I got fired up and I practiced a lot. Then I caught up with them. I have played in a big band for one year.
It was really fun to make sound with 55 instruments because when you play the flute on the first line of a big band, you hear all the sound from behind. At that time I really felt how fun it was to make sound, to play music with people. I think that was a big turning point. I decided to work on music seriously. Then I went back to Japan and I quit high school. I’ve just decided to work on music.
I went to Brazil and I heard the sound of flute there. Then I really wanted to start to play the flute. I started it when I was 16. I started to play classical music as I took the lesson.
Then I met a wonderful band “Kabocha Shokai” (It literally means: “Pumpkin & Co.”), which played music called “Neo-chindon”.
“Chindon’ ya” is a Japanese traditional street music. They used to be musicians but they were not in a good situation. They always wore white makeup and they played instruments saying “Irasshai-mase, irasshai-mase!” (Welcome) and get people to come to the commercial places. They seemed to be miserable. They used to be old and poor. We retained its tradition and style, but on the other hand, we were changing music in our way. That’s “Neo-Chindon”.
Kabocha Shokai was the first band which started this kind of music. That band doesn’t exist any more but they had played for 15 years.
My musical career has started.
I started to be a musician from when I met them. It was when I was between 17 and 18. I felt the God was saying to me, “You have to play with these people!” It was a big shock to me.
I didn’t really know Japanese music because I grew up in France and I didn’t really live in Japan. So when I saw this chindon band, I felt all kinds of emotion, like happiness and sadness at the same time. Maybe it is very similar to a circus, Federico Fellini or all kinds of European music and movies.
Chindon is a really traditional music but when you hear its sound, you would find it’s really similar to French music. Everything is connected so it’s natural for me.
I talked to them and they said, “OK, come and play with us”. But they said that I had to play saxophone because they played street music. So I started to play the sax. I practiced it like crazy everyday.
One month and a half later, I joined their tour in France. I have never stopped to play chindon since then. Now I am 23 so I’ve been playing it for 6 years.
Then I met the band called “Chindon Brass Kingyo”. One of its member is a chanson singer and I play sax and flute. We are composing and mixing chindon, chanson, jazz and so on. I think we are the only band in this kind of music so it’s really interesting.
You can feel how you want to feel. That’s music.
Rhythm of “Jinta” (a kind of chindon band which plays music to attract movie-goers or circus audiences) and rhythm of waltz are the same. Waltz has European roots. Its mood, like coexistence of happiness and sadness is similar to chindon.
I don’t want to tell anybody, “You have to feel like this”. I want each person to feel how they want to feel. When I play chindon music, some people say, “It sounds happy!” but other people may feel sadness rather than happiness. That’s really important. You can feel how you want to feel. That’s music. That’s why I am telling you it’s difficult to say which kind of music I play because music categorizing is only for marketing. I think it doesn’t mean anything.
Each people can feel about my music differently.
Also I’m a singer. I sing in Japanese and French because both are my languages. And I play pandeiro, a Brazilian instrument like a tambourine. I sometimes play with electric bass and piano, too. I really want to mix both of my roots, France and Japan.
It’s really hard for me to explain what kind of music I play because each people can feel differently. I like some African sounds and Brazilian sounds. Also I like Japanese chindon style music. I like French things like circus and waltz. I like all and it’s normal for me. My goal is to mix both of my roots and my cultural backgrounds and create one sound.
Now I know why I am doing this and why I cannot stop doing this. Because everything is connected in my soul, I think.
I’m happy to be educated at a Japanese school.
I was born in Tokyo. But my mom took me to France really fast and I grew up in Paris. I went to a Japanese school there so all the education I took was in Japanese. That’s why I don’t have any problem with being in Japan or being in France. That’s really big for me and it has been very important to be comfortable in both cultures. If I didn’t learn Japanese first, it would’ve been really hard. So they decided to put me in a Japanese school.
It was a real Japanese school. Once you stepped in there, it was Japan. So they taught us to respect others, creative activities in a group and about communication in a group. It was a real Japanese education. In French education, they teach students to be one by one or to be individuals. You have to say what you think. That’s good but I am happy to be educated at a Japanese school. It was really fun and I really liked it.
Music changed me.
When I came here to live six years ago, after Canada, I felt different. I had French point of view more. I was like, “Why can’t Japanese say what they want to say? Why are they so shy?”.
When I was in Paris, I was not that much French there. But when I came back to Japan, I felt I was really French more. However suddenly I didn’t mind all the points, like “Why Japanese don’t…?”
For sure music changed me. I didn’ t want to start musical activities that much but once I started, it became natural for me.
Every time my dad had a concert, he invited me to the stage. I really hated it so I was hiding under the table. My dad called me, “Maia, Maia, come and sing!”. I was running around the room and hiding because I was so shy. But now I love the stage.
Japanese have power to change their history.
Tokyo is a mixture of old things and new things. You can see a big building beside a hundreds-year-old small temple. That’s very unique.
It’s the same as Japanese people. They really keep their tradition but they are not conscious about that. Japanese people don’t know how much they keep their tradition. But once you go out of Japan and come back, you would feel like that. My dad always says that Japanese people’s feet are standing on their roots and their heads are facing toward the 23rd century. You have to be proud of Japanese culture more.
But it’s changing. Japanese people are changing because many Japanese go abroad and they see how different Japan and other countries are and they feel how good Japan is. I think Japan is really special.
European people are saving old cities, their culture, the history of music and old theaters. But their histories are too deep and too heavy. Japanese have their own long history, too, but they have power to change it.
I have my own project to make a bridge between France and Japan. I bring Japanese interesting artists with me to France. Actually I will bring three artists there at the end of October. I will go on tour in France. Then we have concerts called “Cabaret Shinjuku”. I’ve seen the French music scene in Paris and there was no new thing and no original thing.
Its culture has a long history and is too heavy. Artists in France seemed to be bound by their history. But in Tokyo, people have positive power. I don’t feel that Japanese history binds them.
And many artists here are trying to mix their roots and new things. It’s really powerful, very positive and really fun. It’s very inventive and creative. That’s what I don’t feel in France.
It seems that French culture is a kind of dying. It’s not fun. So I think it’s good timing to bring really good power to France. And I think it’s something I can do. and I have to do because I’m a person who has both cultural backgrounds.
It’s important for me to know where I’m from.
Japan seems to be a huge country from a musical point of view. Actually it’s a small country but when you hear the sound of Okinawan and Amami (the southernmost islands of Japan) folk songs and Ainu (Aborigine in northern Japan) songs, you will find great diversity of music. Each island has its own tradition. Each has its own language and own instruments. They save their traditions. Amami songs, Ainu songs, chindon band and crazy musicians in Tokyo.
I mixed all these kinds of music and I will release a compilation included all this music in October, in France. When I hear about other musicians and if I really like them, I want other people to listen to their music. That’s what my dad has been doing in his life. I didn’t want to do that but I am doing the same thing. Now I realized that.
For my music life, I will continue to be in Japan more, in Tokyo. And both French and Japanese countries and culture are important for me.
I’m not Japanese, I’m not French. I’m not both. I’m not anything. I am myself! I think that’s the way all of us should think. But it’s important for me to know where I’m from and where my roots is.
But I am myself. My dad is French but his family is Jewish from Turkey. So that doesn’t mean anything. And maybe my mom’s ancestors might be Korean. Nobody knows. So it doesn’t mean anything for me, whichever Japanese or French.
I grew up in France and Japan with French culture and Japanese culture. I really appreciate it and I like both countries and cultures.
*Photos by Masa Takemori
What is Tokyo is to you?
Tokyo is like my second big house that I always come back to get energy!