Yoshiki Sakurai is as unassuming in person as he is on stage. He would be the last to tell you he is one of Japan’s most talented guitarists. He is used to being in the background, playing a variety of styles with different musicians. He stands expressionless as he lets fly with complicated riffs and rhythms, and like anyone who’s really good at something he makes it look easy. I’ve seen him play African guitar with Mandinka, avant-garde world mixtures with Strada and Cicala Mvta, Hawaiian guitar with Sandii and tango with Ryota Komatsu. He’s also played on several of my favorite Okinawan albums, including by Tetsuhiro Daiku and Tsuha Koutoku.
Sakurai is also leader of his own band, Lonesome Strings, a quartet of all stringed instrument players. The other three are similarly highly proficient musicians used to backing others up. Contrabass player Takayoshi Matsunga, who unexpectedly passed away in 2012 was best known as a former member of Japanese dub pioneers Mute Beat. He has been replaced by Manabu Chigasaki. Genichi Tamura who plays Hawaiian, pedal steel and National steel guitar has worked with Calypso/dub outfit Little Tempo, while Satoshi Hara has being playing banjo with Japan’s Tsugaru shamisen wonderkids, Yoshida Kyodai.
“We originally got together at the beginning of last year to record an album” said Sakurai in 2001, ”the basic idea being simply to record string instruments together.” He says he was influenced by “nobody in particular”, but when pressed his answers to his own favourite guitarists give some clue to their sound, John Fahey and Bill Frisell. Like much of Frisell’s music “New High Lonesome Sound” would make a great soundtrack with it’s atmospherics and change of moods. “I suppose the root of the music is American folk, but a lot of it just came together in the studio or at rehearsals” says Sakurai. Bluegrass, African, Hawaiian, blues and klezmer are just some of the elements swimming around in the mix.
Sakurai admitted to difficulty in adjusting to leading a band for the first time. “You have to worry about so many things. Yes, it’s difficult.” he says resignedly. Fortunately, he’s not talking about musical matters. That comes naturally.
The band have gone on to release several studio and live albums and regularly play in Tokyo, often with a guest vocalist, most notably Mari Nakamura, who they have also recorded two albums with.
Find Lonesome Strings CDs here