Toshi began to search for soul music on vinyl. As a young teenager, he came across an offer on a soda bottle in his father’s store. In exchange for dozens of bottle tops, he would receive a free album. “I don’t know if my father ever found out,” says Toshi with a smile. “But there were a lot of opened soda cans with no tops in that store!” His reward was a vinyl album from The States with an English title that he couldn’t even read. “There were five black men with Afros standing there. And all I could read was ‘Stylistics.’ And it took me three years after that to finally get a record player so I could hear it!”
By then, Toshi had also been introduced to Stevie Wonder and the album that changed his life. “Songs In The Key of Life was the first album I actually bought,” says Toshi. “And it changed everything for me. His voice, his songs, everything was different from anything I had ever heard before.” Don’t bother asking Toshi how or why his definitive obsession for soul music came about because there is no earthly reason. But understand this when Toshi opens his mouth in songnothing but bonafide soul spills out.
“I can’t explain it,” he says with a sigh. “It’s just always been this way. I love soul music and that’s what I was meant to do. I knew that very early in my life.”
By junior high, Toshi had his own band. But he was frustrated. “I wanted to sing a specific kind of music. But my band couldn’t play it. It’s different, especially for Japanese people. They loved it but they couldn’t play it. Toshi went to Tokyo to study economics after high school. But he spent more time performing in various clubs than hitting the books. And the process was very humbling. “One night, there’d be one person in the audience,” he says. “The next night, maybe three people. The next week, maybe ten people that would be a good night.”
His tenacity paid off. On one of those sparse nights, a major record label representative was in the house. He introduced Toshi to a jazz musician who was looking for a vocalist for his upcoming jazz album. “I went to the studio and performed one song and that was my first experience in the studio. I was so nervous! But the music was well received and that song became one of my demo tracks.” Since the release of his vocals on that jazz album, which was an instrumental part in getting his solo career off the ground, Toshi has never played to a small audience again. In a career that has seen Toshi work with the crème de la crème of the modern soul world, from Raphael Saddiq, to The Roots’ Ahmir Thompson, and Angie Stone, Toshi has enjoyed an incredible career, selling over ten million records worldwide and gaining the respect of soul music’s most respected artists.
“It is quite an amazing feeling when someone I admire like Ahmir from The Roots tells me that I could change the way people think about soul music,” says Toshi in a soft voice. “It means so much to me to be respected by the people who love and understand the same music that I do.”
Official Website:
Sony Music: