Last November, Japan’s Hotei dropped his new collaborative album, Soul to Soul, featuring a roster of international artists who joined the veteran rocker remotely from their respective locations to work together on the project.
The impressive list includes Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick of Incognito (U.K.), Zucchero (Italy), Nate Smith (U.S.A.), Calogero (France), Marc Lavoine (France), Carlinhos Brown (Brazil), and Yang Kun (China), plus top acts from Hotei’s home country, namely Kazuya Yoshii of THE YELLOW MONKEY, GLIM SPANKY, Kobukuro, and Kiyoshi Hikawa.
Produced via virtual sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Soul to Soul is an album geared towards the times that brings the world together through music.
Hotei is celebrating 40 years in music in 2021. His career began in 1981 in the emerging Japanese punk/new wave scene as the guitarist for BOØWY, a legendary rock band that rocketed to stardom and enjoyed a huge following throughout the ‘80s. At a time when domestic rock music was still a form of counterculture, the influential group catapulted the genre into the mainstream. Their popularity was such that when they dropped their final album Psychopath in 1987, it ruled the Japan album chart while holding Michael Jackson’s Bad, released around the same time, at bay — a significant achievement considering Jackson’s ubiquitous global presence at the time.
After disbanding, Hotei broke new ground by singing all-English songs on his debut solo project Guitarhythm (1988), now a series that continues to this day with the most recent sixth installment released in 2019. He has collaborated on numerous projects with artists of varying genres throughout his illustrious career, for example, he was invited by Michael Kamen to perform at the closing ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, which greatly elevated his profile outside of Japan. In 2003, his instrumental track “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s feature film Kill Bill, becoming one of his best-known tunes worldwide.
The iconic guitarist has performed around the world and has often commented that he is a “live artist” first and foremost. But the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the live rock music scene everywhere. Soul to Soul, released last November, was created during such times as Hotei’s new endeavor to collaborate with artists based around the world through remote online sessions. The evolution of technology helped to bring this diverse group of people together for a colorful album that can be described as being like a sonic world’s fair.
One of the highlights of the album is “Find A Way” featuring Incognito All Stars, which Maunick co-wrote with Hotei and also produced. Two accomplished singers from Japan — the soulful singer-songwriter Yu Sakai and songstress Miho Fukuhara — joins Hotei to add fresh, colorful layers to the vocals in this uplifting pop number with a danceable groove.
“Lotus Flower” is an epic rock ballad featuring Italian icon Zucchero, who has collaborated with Hotei a number of times on projects and concert performances in the past. Hotei shares: “I don’t care if people call it ‘old style.’ I love Zucchero’s shout, where he lays his soul and emotions bare. I was inspired by his singing and was able to play a great guitar solo. This song is a miracle that we created together.”
The music video, though shot remotely, captures the two friends’ mellow, soulful exchange through the majestic music they perform.
The album also includes two new renditions of “Battle Without Honor or Humanity,” the instrumental track that made Hotei globally famous. The future-jazz infused “Solid Groove” version features the sought-after drummer Nate Smith, who lays down a tight beat that Hotei accompanies with an acoustic guitar from his home studio. The result is an addictive groove that makes you want to listen to over and over.
The “Battle Samba” version featuring Carlinhos Brown is an aptly titled track with a festive, speedy samba beat and four-on-the-floor rhythm, giving the familiar number a sporty groove. The original version is often used to accompany sports broadcasts, and this new rendition could become a welcome addition to such usage.
The collaboration with Calogero and Marc Lavoine from France, “Live On,” is a glittery, catchy pop tune featuring poetry reading-like deep vocals over warm, feel-good chords. “BoomBoomBoom,” the collab with China’s Yang Kun, is an upbeat track incorporating Hotei’s signature rock guitar, playfully mashing up “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” like a sample in the powerfully uplifting performance.
As mentioned earlier, several artists from Hotei’s home country have contributed to this album. “Dangerous” is a track featuring Kazuya Yoshii, frontman of the veteran rock band THE YELLOW MONKEY. The two artists have in common a deep respect for David Bowie, and their collaboration is a glamorous number reminiscent of the late Bowie’s beat tunes. Other collaborators include artists from various genres — the male-female rock duo GLIM SPANKY, veteran pop-folk duo Kobukuro, and the enka superstar Kiyoshi Hikawa — who brought some unexpected and refreshing touches to their new tracks with the iconic rocker.
2021 marks the 40th year since Hotei first stood on the stage of the historic Tokyo club Shinjuku LOFT. The veteran artist will kick off his anniversary year with two headlining concerts at the prestigious Nippon Budokan on Jan. 30 and 31. Reflecting this age of “new normals,” the shows will be held with no audiences and livestreamed in an endeavor to virtually connect the world.
The theme of the concert on Jan. 30 is “Memories” and will feature Hotei’s reinterpretations of his early works as a guitarist and music producer in BOØWY and COMPLEX.
“Adventures” is the theme of Day 2 on Jan. 31, with Hotei selecting a set that expresses his long journey as a solo artist.
As the pandemic continues to cast a shadow over many people’s lives, music is a presence that connects people to each other, and Hotei’s rock ’n’ roll dream brings hope like a ray of light cutting through the clouds. Although his milestone Budokan concerts will be held virtually without an audience, the two days will be a don’t-miss opportunity to look back over the rock guitarist’s 40-year history and take part in his anniversary celebration.
Hotei’s 40th anniversary concert “Message from Budokan” Day 1 (Memories) will be livestreamed from 5 p.m. JST on Saturday, Jan. 30. The show will be archived for a week until 11:59 p.m. Feb. 6. Day 2 (Adventures) will be livestreamed from 5 p.m. JST on Sunday, Jan. 31, and will be archived for a week until 11:59 p.m. Feb. 7. Tickets to access the stream are 4,000 yen, and are available through Hikari TV, Lawson Ticket Live Streaming, PIA Live Stream, and Streaming+. Fans outside of Japan can purchase tickets through ZAIKO.