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Shigeto: Semi-Circle EP

img  Tobias Fischer

Truth can take time. As a retaliation measure for the attack on Pearl Harbour, over 100.000 Japanese immigrants in the USA were stripped off their civilian rights and mercilessly placed in concentration camps, occasionally under appaling conditions. One of them was Zach Saginaw's grandmother. Debranched and displaced, she was part of a generation, which would be forced to continually catch up on the rest of the country after World War II and whose pains were habitually swept under the rug of history for decades. It took until 1978 for the Japanese American Citizens League to file a catalogue of lawsuits and yet more years for the American government to offer compensation payments and an offical apology. While this public denouncement of the decree has put an end to the political part of that sad chapter, the psychological and economic effects can still be felt today. And as one of the internees' descendants, to whom these horrors are not just a textbook article, Saginaw no longer wants to keep quiet.

Using music as an expressive tool, he has decided to take on his Japanese second name as his artistic alias and to dedicate his first EP and upcoming full-length debut („Full Circle) to his grandmother's story and struggle. Accordingly, the first two tracks on the „Semi-Circle EP“ feature narrative episodes dealing with the hardships facing his ancestors as well as the painful realisation that a vibrant community had been torn apart and needed to start all over again: „It's sad and it's tragic“, a voice recounts on „There is always hope“, „Ever since that rebellion, I was waiting for that neighbourhood to come back, for those stores to reopen. But they did never did.“ Instead, the Nisei (as they now call themselves to set themselves apart from the first wave of emigrants, the Issei) burnt all bridges, made it their plight to secure a new and different future for themselves and burried their old lives for good.

With these introductory words, Shigeto leaves the rest of the story to the listener's imagination. „Semi-Circle“ has consequently neither turned into an analytical concept-album nor a cross-over project between ethnic traditions and urban beats. Rather, it makes highly selective use of both aspects to evoke vivid images and a sense of cinematic intensity. It doesn't take too much effort to see the traditional drums and chants on „Eternal Life“ and the field recordings of chatting voices and chinking glasses on closer „Embrace the Cold“ as part of an effort to recreate those neighbourhoods and reopening those stores in one's mind. Then again, they may just as well merely be useful elements in creating an associative sound beyond clear genre delineations and stylistic confinements: Effortlessly jumping from one corner of the musical spectrum to the next, the work organically touches upon smooth, slow-motion Fusion-Jazz, Ambient Soundscapes and stuttering IDM, always inspired by an ambitious HipHop-aesthetic extending far beyond complex yet chillingly sagging grooves: On „Bakers Blunt Basics“, a rhythmical loop is slowed up and down to great dramaturgical effect, as Saginaw adds and subtracts digital Dub-Basses and shimmering melodic ornamentations.

Considering the seriousness of the issue discussed here, one would expect the tone to be spiteful and acerbic. In fact, „Semi-Circle“ has turned out mellow, musical and spacey, a sentimental trip down memory lane rather than an angry accusal. Surprisingly, this may actually constitute a far more effective tactic than launching a reckless sonic assault. By bearing his soul and allowing listeners to identify with his hurt, the music stands a far greater chance of triggering some kind of emotional response in the audience in response to a subject they may formerly not even have been aware of. For Shigeto, collecting these accounts and memories doesn't constitute an effort of putting blame on someone or rewriting the past. Rather, they're an ongoing personal effort of finding some sort truth. With a full-length already in the making, he's come one first step closer to attaining that goal.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Shigeto
Homepage: Ghostly International Records

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