One of the true greats of modern music, Ryuichi Sakamoto, has sadly passed away. Mr Sakamoto was the co-founder of Japan's legendary Yellow Magic Orchestra alongside Hauomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. Mr Sakamoto, originally from Japan, was born on January 17th 1952.
The early sounds of YMO were a massive influcence on many and you can hear their sound in early hip hop through to proto Detroit sounds. They were also clearly having a lot of fun en route. Whether taking 'Tighten Up' and turning it inside out or starring in Japanese TV commercials dressed as monks...
Sakamoto wrote many of YMO's most famous melodies and songs and here we get to what is really the true genius of his music for me. You can take a Sakomoto melody and place it in many different settings, from solo piano, of which he was very fond, through to ambient electronics or a full electronic synth band, and it will shine.
Let's take 'Tong Poo' as an example, firstly as heard with YMO and secondly in a traditional trio format with the piano at the core.
As someone pointed out, what you are listening to when you go through the Sakamoto discography are the sounds of a man that refused to be pinned down. He worked with who he wanted, when he wanted. He made avant garde music, ambient, soundtracks, pure piano melodic pieces, electronics - just whatever he wanted. And within all of this there was this just pure incredible talent for melody. I mean really really special melody.
Mr Sakamoto's life was always interesting... Take this story about him being in one of his favourite restaurants and disliking the music so much he made a playlist of suitable music. “I found their BGM so bad, so bad,” Mr. Sakamoto said, using the industry term for background music. (“BGM” was also the title of a Yellow Magic Orchestra record from 1981.) He sucked his teeth. “Really bad.” What was it? “It was a mixture of terrible Brazilian pop music and some old American folk music,” he said, “and some jazz, like Miles Davis.” He went back when the new playlist was playing and found it too dark in places then reworked it to be perfect for the space. As the piece says, "He came to the restaurant and listened carefully as he ate. He and his wife agreed that the music was much too dark in mood." Here's the playlist...
I sometimes ponder the fact that we are very lucky to live in the times that we do. So close to the birth of modern music and jazz through to rock and roll, soul, reggae, disco and acid house but also to witness and be close to true masters of modern music such as Prince and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Sakamoto was truly one of the special ones. A don. x.