Music and social activism have a long and storied history together. With the right message and delivery, songs have the power to inspire and drive the actions behind monumental change. For the leader of Rock of Asia, Nikki Matsumoto, fusing the message of peace and understanding with music has become his calling in life, and he is committed to creating and delivering his vision worldwide.
Tragedies and conflicts across the globe have weirdly coincided with key developmental dates for Rock of Asia. For example, the band released their first album on March 11, 2011—the same day the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit, and upon starting a tour in the Middle East in 2012, Israel began a new bombing campaign in Gaza. These strange pairings have led Matsumoto to believe that “destiny” is at work.
Musically, Rock of Asia is an intercultural fusion of Western instruments like the guitar and violin and a multiplicity of sounds from throughout Asia, including traditional Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi. Matsumoto spent 15 years in LA honing his craft, forming Rock of Asia in 2010 and digging into touring over the following years. This new release is a greatest hits collection in commemoration of the release of their first album ten years ago, and the selection covers the full array of Rock of Asia’s vibrant sound.
The tribal antics and wide selection of wind instruments on ‘Lal Dhaga’ kick things off on the record. The melodically sophisticated piece bounces along on Eastern scales with intricately layered sounds, constantly adding to its captivating essence. After the arrival of the harmonized vocals, the energy ebbs and flows in a highly fluid fashion. Next, the more poignant and saccharine ‘Solitary Friend’ takes hold with its subdued yet powerful vocals and ever-growing strings and wind instruments.
Elsewhere, you’ve got ‘Mikoto’, which dances on exotic, proggy textures and hints of folk. The softer ‘Kojo No Tsuki’ carries hints of the lighter side of old-school ’80s prog giants like Queensrÿche through gentle colours and drifting, melancholic atmospheres.
Matsumoto’s political musings are to the fore on tracks like ‘The Son’, inspired by a book about the struggle growing up under the Palestinian political group, Hamas. Similarly, the album’s final track, ‘The Daughter’ reflects the messages from an infamous documentary film on student revolutions in Germany and Japan in 1968 titled Children of the Revolution. The tender and compassionate tones on this one serve to emphasize the band’s overarching messages of peace and tolerance.
Rock of Asia garner attention via their compelling acoustic arrangements and enchanting vocals as well as their noble and heartfelt political aspirations. It’s a winning formula, as evidenced by the large international crowds that Rock of Asia draws all over the world. As Matsumoto said:
“…music is a great tool to make people unite, and Rock of Asia can prove it.”