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Kaz gets Grammy fever - Long-time producer and music enthusiast excited about nomination

Published:Sunday | February 13, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Grammy nominees Rory Baker and Kazuhiki 'Kaz' Asonuma at the One Pop Studio recently. - Photo by Krista Henry

Krista Henry, Staff Reporter

It is quiet determination and a love for reggae music that have led former Japanese diplomat-now-turned-producer Kazuhiki 'Kaz' Asonuma from Japan to Jamaica, and now to the doors of the 53rd Grammy Awards.

Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner at the One Pop Studio on Red Hills Road on Wednesday, hours before boarding his flight to Los Angeles in anticipation of the most-coveted award show in music, Kaz discussed the journey that has led him to what could be his first hold on a Grammy.

Kaz's journey is the focus of the documentary Ex-Diplomat Seeking Grammy from Japanese powerhouse station Wowow. Wowow will be at the musician's side come tonight at the Staples Center to see if Kaz will achieve his goal in the 'Best Reggae Album' category for his work on the One Pop Reggae album from Sly & Robbie and the Family Taxi. Sly & Robbie, Kaz, and Rory Baker are the nominees behind One Pop Reggae, which is the second album for the 'riddim twins' nominated this year, having also earned the nod with Made In Jamaica with Bob Sinclair.

Lover of music

While this will be Kaz's third trip to the Grammy awards, for the producer, this could be his most significant one.

Though he grew up a lover of music, playing bass for years non-professionally, Kaz's travels to Jamaica had nothing to do with music. According to Kaz, he came to Jamaica in 1984 as a diplomat working at the Japanese Embassy.

"I remember when I came here. At the time there was only one diplomat at the embassy and I had to do everything. At the time, I was in control of the visas and my first customer was Peter Tosh. He came with such a quiet attitude and after that me and him became friends. That was my first reggae experience," Kaz explained.

His second reggae experience came that year when the 'Best Reggae Album' category was added to the Grammys, which went to Black Uhuru for the album Anthem.

Sly & Robbie were part of the Black Uhuru win and Kaz contacted the two for a meeting. They would become lifelong friends.

That liaison was to be put on hold, however, as Kaz soon returned to Japan. He spent three years in the country of his birth working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before he went to Miami as the consul general for another three years.

He would later return to Jamaica permanently, a decision which he says was not easy to make. But there have been moments.

One of those moments came when Kaz had his first brush with the Grammys. He worked with the Rolling Stone's Mick Jagger, (who he met in 1982), and Keith Richards for the remake of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction which was featured on Sly & Robbie's Friends album, which copped the 1999 Reggae Grammy.

This was the last win for the duo, who have since received numerous nominations. While Kaz assisted with both major projects, he wasn't officially listed as a nominee to gain the golden gramophone.

It was after the Friends album that Kaz quit his job at the embassy and moved into music full time, producing and doing business for Taxi Records.

His next Grammy encounter was working with American rock group No Doubt.

"No Doubt recorded at the One Pop Studio, which at the time was at my house in Barbican. They recorded Hey Baby (with Bounty Killer) and Underneath It All (with Lady Saw) there," he said, adding, "after Gwen Stefani saw Lady Saw performing there at the house, she felt like doing the song (Underneath It All) over. She voiced the song twice."

Selling reggae

Hey Baby and Underneath It All won the award for 'Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals', the first winning in 2003, and the second, the following year.

For Kaz, there is still one major worry.

"As the years go by, it's getting hard and harder to sell reggae music. Last year was the last year for reggae. It's not selling in Japan again. People just don't buy CDs anymore. They download, and mostly illegally."

While the industry has got harder, Kaz earned recognition last year with his 2011 nomination. Wowow documented his journey last year August, filming in Jamaica, Japan, and New York. The documentary has already been broadcast in Japan and they will be doing a follow-up at the Grammys tonight when the results are out. Kaz was also featured in this month's Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one of the largest media corporations in Japan that specialises in publishing financial, business, and industry news.

Kaz plans to live up his Grammy experience this weekend. He explained last week that he would be attending the nominees party, which took place yesterday, saying he would love to meet Eminem, Lady Gaga, Drake, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Antebellum.

"The Grammy show is something special, the show is really nice. Anybody working in the music industry better go and see the show, the organisation, performance, everything. It's totally different entertainment," he said.

His expectations are high, and though Kaz acknowledges that the competition is stiff, not winning, he says, will be a great disappointment. Besides the Grammy excitement, Kaz is hoping for a brighter future for reggae.

"Sly & Robbie are doing proper reggae, but who will be the next Sly & Robbie in Jamaica? I can't see any yet," he said.

Though he is nowhere near to the end of his journey in music, Kaz is already looking back, and says, so far, his time has been well spent.

When asked if he had any regrets about leaving the diplomatic service of his country to work in music, Kaz's response, or so he says, is constant.

"People always ask this and the answer is not yet."