As minimalism and ambient music grew and developed from the subtle piano of Erik Satie to the more avant garde work of Terry Riley and John Cage, moving from the fringes to mainstream respectability or at least airport lounges, the best known names have been mostly male, and mainly from the west.
Midori Takada, a composer and percussionist in Japan who released a string of mindblowing records beginning in the 1980s, challenges that order. Many call her work minimalism; her interlocking patterns bring to mind Steve Reich, in particular. Her layers of rich textures and atmospheres are sometimes reminiscent of Brian Eno’s classic ambient work. Through it all, she created a sound that is uniquely her own.
Takada was part of the Mkwaju Ensemble, a short-lived Japanese group comprised of Takada and fellow Japanese musicians Joe Hisaishi, Yoji Sadanari, Junko Arase and Hideki Matsutake, which released two dynamite records, Mkwaju and Ki-Motion, on the Better Days label in Japan in 1981. Their hypnotic music feels inspired by Reich and Terry Riley, and by various forms of African drumming (the word “mkwaju” comes from Swahili). At times, their music sounds like early techno, possibly due to the involvement of Matsutake, better known for his work in Logic System and as a “secret member” of Yellow Magic Orchestra. (The first Mkwaju Ensemble album would not be out of place mixed into a DJ set today.)