Throughout her 30-year career on stages worldwide, Yukiko Matsuyama has mastered the ability to blend the sounds of the harp-like Japanese koto with nearly every kind of instrument imaginable. She’ll be showcasing that skill Friday night when she headlines the East/West Fundraising Concert at the South Pasadena Public Library’s historic Carnegie Stage, on a double bill with the Los Angeles country rock band Wildwood Highway.
The show is a benefit for that city’s ninth annual Eclectic Music Festival on May 5, and the evening’s disparate acts serve as a perfect example of the fest’s ability to bring together artists from such diverse genres as bluegrass, calypso, zydeco, folk and indie rock. It also serves as an example of Matsuyama’s belief that music is an international language that can overcome geographical limitations.
“Although my shows are often billed as East meets West, which is true when you mix the koto with Western instruments, I like to think of them as much more,” says Matsuyama. “I prefer the term world music, as we try to bring a little bit of many cultures into the concert. I love infusing Japanese flavors into the music while celebrating rhythm and groove.”
A native of Osaka, Japan, Matsuyama started studying the koto, which dates back to the 7th century and is regarded as Japan’s national instrument, at age 9. Her mother taught classes on conducting traditional tea ceremonies, during which soothing music featuring the koto is played, and hoped to instill a love for its tones in her as well.
Her own passion for playing developed over the next decade, as she found inspiration in the fact that the koto features movable bridges beneath the strings, allowing the orientation of notes to shift and create constantly new ideas for riffs. She earned her professional certificate in 1986 and moved to Los Angeles seven years later, seeking to broaden her horizons by collaborating with artists worldwide in the musical mecca.
“When I moved to California I wanted to share some of my culture so I started playing at coffee houses, restaurants and wherever I could,” recalls Matsuyama. “I met many musicians and was drawn to the rhythms of Latin and African music. I also wanted to collaborate with Western style instruments and began to compose my own music. The journey has been and continues to be fantastic.”
Her efforts have paid off with six of her own acclaimed albums, including the best-selling jazz CD “Crème Brulee,” as well as teaming with the Paul Winter Consort on the Grammy-winning New Age album “Miho: Journey to the Mountain.” She accepted the Grammy on Consort’s behalf in 2010, which delighted her mother by making her a media sensation in her hometown, and also backed Colombian superstar Shakira at the 2011 Latin Grammys.
She’s excited about calling the shots with her own band Friday night, teaming with longtime friends Diana Dentino on keyboards, Becky Gebhardt on bass and sitar, Mona Tavakoli on drums and an array of percussion instruments, with Andrea Hammond on violin and vocals. In addition to her own original compositions, she will offer up an interpretation of the traditional Japanese song “Sakura” and even a take on the 1980s Taste of Honey pop hit “Sukiyaki.”
“Where else can you see a Persian percussionist playing a Peruvian Cajon with an Indian sitar and a Japanese koto?” asks Matsuyama. “Having musicians of this caliber with such diverse backgrounds is very inspiring and having them all in town at one time to be able to put this show together is amazing.”
Meanwhile, Wildwood Highway will bring a downhome energy to the show with an unplugged set of country rock, mixing originals from their own six-song EP with a slate of covers from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Led by the husband and wife team of Brad Stanfield on lead guitar and vocals and Periel Stanfield on vocals and harmonica, the group also features Deanna Hurst on guitar and vocals, Colin Mitchell on bass guitar, and Ron Pak on drums and percussion. The band specializes in both rotating lead singers and blending three-part harmonies in the tradition of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The Wildwood members each earn their living as backing musicians or recording engineers, which has enabled them to collaborate with some of their favorite artists on their own recordings. Keyboardist Bill Payne of the classic band Little Feat played throughout their EP, which led to the band scoring a trip to Austin to record a classic Little Feat song on a tribute CD to that group’s lead singer, Lowell George, which also featured the Allman Brothers.
Following a rousing electric set that wowed the crowd at the library’s end-of-summer concert last year, they’re looking forward to the chance to bring the focus even further to their harmonies with the indoor confines of the Carnegie Room.
“We can’t be too loud in the library, so the first song we’re gonna do is called ‘Shhh,’” jokes Brad Stanfield. “A lot of bands have a lead singer and nobody else singing much at all, or token harmonies that are not very good, but we like to have our vocal levels really shine together, and the sound guys at the library really catch our vibe and make it perfect.”
The East-West Fundraising Concert featuring Yukiko Matsuyama & Friends and Wildwood Highway starts at 8 p.m. Friday at the Carnegie Stage of the South Pasadena Public Library, 1100 Oxley St., South Pasadena. Tickets are $25. Visit Southpasadenaeclecticfriendslibraryconcert.eventbrite.com