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[HERALD INTERVIEW]Korean-Japanese duo transcends differences

2006/08/14 Source

With Kangta & Vanness, a duo composed of former HOT member Kangta and F4 member Vanness Wu, constantly making headlines, another cross-national duo is seeking a greater measure of exposure.

They are Hachi & TJ, a collaboration of a 52-year-old Japanese Kasuga Hirohumi (Hachi) and a 27-year-old Korean Cho Tae-joon (TJ). In fact, the two men - who seem to share almost nothing but their passion for music - are among the biggest stars of the country's underground music scene.

Their first album "Haengbok (Happiness)", characterized by light acoustic guitar sound and simple lyrics about everyday life, was released on May 2, but the title song of the album, "Jangsahaja", (which translates loosely to "Let's Get Rich") had become a smash hit earlier than that, as the song was introduced online first in the form of a flash animated music video clip.

Hachi & TJ
The comic flash animation, starring animated characters of such comedy stars as Kim C, No Hong-chul and Park Hui-soon (better known as Yook Bong-dal from KBS's "Gag Concert"), generated more than a million clicks in a week. "The song is about making money, the essential issue of the capitalistic world", said Kasuga in fluent Korean in an interview with The Korea Herald last week. Born and raised in Tokyo, Kasuga was a popular guitarist in Japan during the 1970s, playing lead guitar as a member of psychedelic rock band Carmen Maki & OZ until 1977. Although he has a nice house with a view in Tokyo, he lives in a small inn near Hongik University, western Seoul, just because he likes Korea.

"I enjoy soju, and recently I started to drink makkoli (milky rice wine) too", added the guitarist whose favorite Korean dish is "ganjang-gejang" (crab marinated in soy sauce). Since the late 80s, Kasuga has collaborated with quite a few Korean pop musicians, including Kang San-eh and Jun In-kwon, both as a producer and a session man.

It was during a rehearsal of Jun's concert two years ago that the duo first got together. "I was there to study sound systems, and somehow I had to sing a song during a break, and after the song, Kasuga came to me and gave me his phone number", Cho said.

The middle-aged Japanese musician, however, hadn't always been interested in Korean culture. "When I was young, the only source from which I could get information about Korea was my Japanese friends serving in U.S. armed forces, who told me stuff like 'Korean barbeque is delicious' after they had been to Seoul", he said.

It was the traditional Korean percussion quartet (samulnori) led by Kim Duk-soo that inspired him to develop his passion for Korea. "I was overwhelmed by the sound they created. It was shocking to realize that such a masterful performance was possible almost exclusively with percussions", he continued, looking back on the moment he saw the performance for the first time in Tokyo in 1985.

Teamed up with a Korean much younger than himself, he might be expected to have a hard time getting over both cultural differences and the generation gap at the same time, but he says that the age difference has not been as much a problem as the cultural one. "I feel comfortable despite the age difference. Age doesn't matter but personality does", Kasuga said.

A native of Busan, Cho visited Japan last year. It was his first overseas experience and taught him a lot. "I felt that Japanese people have a better sense of privacy than Koreans", Cho said.

Kasuga, however, likes the more caring social environment of Korea. "At the beginning, I didn't feel totally comfortable hanging out with my Korean friends acting as if they were my brothers", he said. "These days, though, I feel uncomfortable to be with typical, more self-oriented Japanese people".

The duo gives their first concerts at Theater Jungmiso in Daehangno, downtown Seoul, this weekend, featuring Kang San-eh (Aug. 18) and female rock band Moomba Trap (Aug. 19) as guests. "We plan to have concerts in Japan sometime next year. But now we are obsessed with the upcoming concerts", Cho said.

For the concerts, the duo will not only present songs from their first album, but also some Hachi & TJ takes on classical pop repertoires. Tickets are 33,000 won. For more information, call (02) 1544-1555.

By Lee Yong-sung

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