Nakamoto's musical spirit takes off via collaboration


POSTED: Monday, October 27, 2008

LOS ANGELES » “;You're the first person I've met that thinks like me.”;









That was the reaction Angolan singer-songwriter Waldemar Bastos had when Derek Nakamoto agreed to work with the world musician on his latest album.

At Firehouse Recording Studios, located in the older part of Pasadena, Calif., Nakamoto keeps the spirit of Bastos' music in mind as he lays piano and string section overdubs onto a couple of the songs that were recorded by the musician from Central Africa.

Nakamoto first seats himself in front of a baby grand, his body rocking back and forth, as he finds the right moments to gently insert the appropriate note or chord in the mix of Bastos' voice and the percussion and bass tracks.

Working in tandem with engineer Milton Gutierrez, Nakamoto then goes through some string arrangements with a quartet of veteran players.

  It's all part of a process in which Nakamoto has found his niche since his move to Los Angeles 27 years ago from his home of Hawaii. While he regularly returns to visit family in Manoa with his wife and two children, he's happy with life in SoCal, which continues to focus on his spiritual roots.

“;In 1999 I started to work with the World Festival of Sacred Music that's held here every three years. The festival was organized in response to a suggestion from the Dalai Lama that the occasion of the new millennium should be a call to people around the world to strive for peace and unity through music,”; Nakamoto said.

“;I helped coordinate the recording of the festival's concerts that year, that later became a CD to help document the event.”;

Nakamoto has since become a member of the festival's music committee, helping choose the acts from both near and far.

In a private moment with the Dalai Lama during a visit to an ashram in India, Nakamoto once again expressed his interest in pursuing a spiritual life apart from music. “;He told me that while it was easy to be holy in a sacred space like this, and even though it's tougher going in the real world, I'm really doing what I'm supposed to be doing and that my tool is music.”;

Nakamoto has come to develop that tool to show others in a better light.

He brings that life philosophy into his latest business project, Nakamoto Music Group, by working with sympathetic artists like Bastos and Yoko Fujimoto, better known as a singer with the Japanese drum group Kodo.

Their recent collaborative project, “;Morisa Komorisa,”; is a lovely and sensitive collection of traditional Japanese lullabies.

“;Working with Yoko, I knew I had to build the album around her vocal in its purest element, and I have the skill to put the appropriate musical frame around it,”; he said.

That confidence was rewarded recently when he learned that his orchestral arrangement for one of her songs will be performed by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in December and broadcast live throughout the country.

“;I find it helps to be global-minded and know the interdependence we all share. Music has allowed me, to some extent, to have diplomatic immunity.”;

  And now Nakamoto is helping Bastos, a respected, cosmopolitan artist living in exile from his war-wracked home country.

“;With Waldemar it helps me to listen to such painful yet hopeful songs of his, because it puts my own life in perspective. But I have the experience to help complete the vision of someone like Waldemar—to see his God-like nature and expand on it.”;


Writer Gary C.W. Chun was a classmate of Nakamoto's at Saint Louis School.