I would inspire a massive global monthly meditation movement. Every sports stadium, temple, and all the major buildings around the globe would be filled with people meditating on peace, love, and unity. This would happen on one designated day each month, twelve times a year. Celebrities would be involved and promoting this movement and if people were unable to physically attend, they could meditate at their homes or wherever they’re at. It would be called the “We are Peace Movement”.
I had the pleasure to interview Kiyoshi. As a visionary inspirational vocalist, musician, and songwriter, Kiyoshi has a deep passion for empowering humanity. He is a purpose driven wordsman whose fusion of upbeat hip-hop and soulful sounds sends lightning bolts of conscious energy and thought into audiences around the globe. His rhythms and rhymes are rooted in social, spiritual, and political awareness to provoke the world to listen and feel what is true. Kiyoshi and his band engage audiences worldwide with a highly interactive and authentic stage performance, getting the crowd dancing and moving like no other. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Kiyoshi received his first introduction to the world of harmony and sound-healing from his music teaching father. Blending styles from his Pacific Island and African American lineage, he built his reputation as one of Metro Detroit’s most creative and talented artists when he relocated to Ann Arbor. Talent shows, poetry slams, open mics, and the underground hiphop scenes in the Midwest nurtured his ability to command an audience on demand. Kiyoshi currently resides in Southern California, where he performs, rap coaches, curates events, and teaches yoga in his free time. He’s performed and collaborated with a plethora of talented musicians and producers including the Beats Antique Orchestra, The Polish Ambassador, Luminaries Crew, and many more. Kiyoshi has been featured on countless media outlets including Fox, MTV, VH1, NBC, URB, and opened up for notable acts such as Zap Mamma, Aloe Blacc, Xavier Rudd, Mayer Hawthorne, Everlast, and Slum Village. He was recently featured on the “Ready to Live” Health & Wellness mixtape executive produced by Stic of the legendary hiphop duo Dead Prez amongst other rap heavyweights including Nas, KRS-One, Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss, Styles P, and others repping a healthy lifestyle through hip hop culture. Today, with many years of creating rhythms and rhymes, he tours internationally to perform at socially conscious events, festivals, and venues, bringing soul and swagger to the masses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, I grew up in a very musical family. My father was teaching music to students before I was born. My father was a marching band director as well as a music teacher for the local schools. We had instruments in different rooms all throughout our home.
In the late 1980’s-1990s, the high school jazz band my dad led, competed nationally for Jazz music. That made him a local hero in our town. During this time, we attended church every Sunday. This was where I performed in front a crowd of people for the first time. At the tender age of 5 years old, I sung “Jesus Loves Me.” I was nervous and scared but rose to the occasion and rocked it during our church holiday Christmas celebration in the late 80’s.
When I was 8 years old, my first music lessons were playing acoustic guitar. As a kid, I would sing around the house. According to my parents, I displayed the earliest signs of rhythm and swagger out of my other siblings and even as a toddler.
Background on my name: My mother is Pacific Islander. She was born in the Marshall Islands. Her adopted mother was half Japanese. My mother met my father (a black man) at Defiance College in the early 1970’s. My mom gave me and my siblings Japanese names in honor of her heritage and her Asian-influenced cultural upbringing.
As a young child, I grew up listening to classic Motown (we lived close enough to Detroit, Michigan), Christian/Gospel, R&B Soul, and some Country and Rock.
As a young kid, my teenage brother Akira (who later became my music producer) introduced me to rap music. He’d break dance around the house and compete with his friends at roller rinks and other nearby venues. He would also play cassette tapes with famous rappers like Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Sugar Hill Gang, Fat Boys etc. We also watched a lot of Yo MTV Raps around this time. During these years, my mother would play music from her Pacific Island home. The cultures use of vocal harmonies and guitar introduced me to harmony: melodies or vocal parts stacked on top of each other below or above each other simultaneously, creating a bigger, beautiful group sound.
When I was 7 and my oldest brother Akira was only 14, he became a professional jazz musician. He was performing everywhere. He later started making beats in his 20’s (1990’s) producing a bulk of my now released music.
As you can see, I was heavily influenced by my African American father, Pacific Island mother, church, brother Akira, and MTV/BET/TV/Radio.
Around the time I started writing poetry, raps, and songs at 14, my father wanted me to switch to bass guitar. He felt the way I played the acoustic was more like how a bass player plays a bass. I became pretty descent and played in my father’s steel drum band the following year (1997). We even traveled to Jamaica and performed there that year and again in 2000 right after I graduated high school.
My poetry writing began in English class. It progressed to writing raps which later led to me performing my own rap songs on stage at church.
I entered several poetry slams in high school, competing nationally my senior year. These opportunities allowed me to get more comfortable on stage. So in 2000, I made the 7-person Ann Arbor, Michigan team out of 70+ high schoolers that competed that year. This was the first time I traveled to California (San Francisco) and performed at the Brave New Voices National Youth Poetry Slam Invitationals. The following year, I joined the Ypsilanti Youth Poetry Slam team and competed nationally in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
I attended Eastern Michigan University in the fall of 2000, where I later joined the EMU Poetry Society. During college (2000–2005), I competed and won a lot of college talent shows and also joined a hip hop/funk band with my college buddies. We were called “Open Mic Affiliates.” I played bass and rapped in the group.
I took to rapping more seriously in the 2000’s and released my first music album in 2004.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ever since I was a child, I knew in my heart that I was destined for greatness. I knew I would be a music entertainer or musician of some kind. It became clear to me as a young teenager when I would watch poets perform their pieces on TV. Or when I would listen to pastors deliver their sermons on Sundays at church. I’d get chills in my spine, knowing that I had the gift to do what they did… and I had a deeper knowing that I had something to say to the people…that I had the gift of using my voice to inspire.
I remember performing my poem “The Risen Son Cometh” when I was 17 and received a standing ovation when I performed during a poetry slam in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The response and feedback afterwards confirmed what I felt, music and performing to inspire through my words and my music was my life purpose.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One interesting story: Last year I met some fans of mine at Eve Encinitas, a local restaurant in North County San Diego. They asked me what my actual real name was and I told them that it’s Kiyoshi. They were surprised as they thought it was just my stage name and not my actual name. Around the same time, I met some other friends who know me in the local San Diego yoga scene, and they wanted to know my actual real name. I responded with “Kiyoshi” and they thought that was my just spiritual name and not my actual legal name. So during this year, people would think “Kiyoshi” was either my stage name or spiritual name. And I’m always like “It’s all three: my birth name, spiritual name, and stage name” lol.
The origin of my name is usually a cool icebreaker when I meet new people. Some people think: “How in the world did this black guy get a Japanese name?”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In college, when I was 21 or 22, I believe it was my last year at EMU. My bandmates and I attended a small poetry night at University of Michigan. It was a Valentine’s Day themed night so everyone was reciting love poems and things of that nature. An hour before we arrived, we smoked some really strong weed at my friend’s house. I got so high that I thought somehow my silly ass would recite a poem while in that state of mind.
I performed a sensual love piece called “A Plunge into Passion” and it was hands down, my worst performance ever. I didn’t even have the poem memorized. I read it from paper (or at least tried to) and was still stuttering. After I would recite a couple lines, I would laugh. My friends were like “Yosh, what was that!?” That was the moment I knew that I would never smoke weed before a live performance. I have stuck with that decision to this day.
I take performing seriously and have to be in top shape with the right, high level mindstate to do what I do. I learned that I have to be on my A-game when it comes to performing live.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My most exciting project is my Rap Coaching Business. I teach and coach people how to activate their voices and soul gifts, using rap as a tool for personal development. They learn the basics of rap from learning how to count bars, to learning how to freestyle, write, perform, and find their voices. It’s rapping they are learning, but it’s so much more than that. I assist others in overcoming fears, sparking creativity, learning to be more confident on stage, writing songs, becoming more of an overall embodied and expressed person.
I have a 5 step pillar process we go through during my rap coaching sessions and we usually work together on a multiple week program depending on my clients’ goals and what they are looking to accomplish whether it’s learning how to create a song, improve a song, or just get stage ready and feel more confident in front of others. It’s a lot of fun.
I’m excited about another big project we’re doing with my team Buddha Music Group on November 11, 2019. We’re performing an amazing theatrical production at the World Beat Center alongside my musical comrade DTO.
It’s a stage show, interweaving our music while telling the story of a war veteran who experiences a life crisis and his struggles during the military. He then finds love and yoga. It’s awesome. Our motto is: “Raising the vibrations of the planet through art and music.” The audience will witness this during this highly anticipated show.
I am also working on a new music EP I plan to release sometime next year. I’m really bringing it lyrically on this new project. I have one song called “Zombies” (it’s about the masses in our current society aimlessly walking around like mindless zombies glued to our cell phones/digital gadgets) It’s a fun, funky song. I plan on going into the deeper parts of my soul and shadow-sides to expand on topics I haven’t dove into much like depression and thriving in a cluttered world. It’s a work in progress but what I have so far is exciting.
This fall/winter, I plan to release a 4 song remix EP that will be targeted more for the yoga crowd. Soothing, euphoric soundscapes, healing the mind, body, and soul on deep levels with powerful affirmations and intricate rhyme patterning and instrumentation. I’m collaborating with different musician friends such as Eric “Open Optics” Poline, Makhana, and Dru “Hyphen Select” Ruggeri.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
As a mixed man of Black and Pacific Island ancestry in America, I feel this is super vital and necessary to have diversity represented in film and television.
Most of the superheroes in Hollywood and in the movies are white. Most of the people in the world, are not.
I grew up in a diverse setting, with friends of all races and backgrounds. Seeing whites portrayed over and over as positive heroes and blacks and latinos portrayed over and over as negative enemies/villains/criminals is very problematic. It’s not reality and this causes the viewers to associate people of color in real life as the “bad guy”.
This all ties in to the 1940’s landmark doll test where 5–10 year old children were sat in front of black and white dolls and asked who the good and bad dolls were, and the majority of them pointed to the black dolls as being “bad” and the white dolls as being “good.”
The historic negative portrayals of people of color in film and TV only reinforce this.
In 2016, Moana was released. That was the first time I remember Disney ever portraying and representing the Pacific Islands the way it was illustrated in the film. It was beautiful. It reminded me of the stories my mother would tell me as a kid. It feels good to see people in that animated film that look more like relatives from my mother’s side. My little sister (who sings and dances) was getting a bunch of gigs during that time performing as Moana.
Just last year, Black Panther came out. It was my father’s (African American) side being represented and this time in a positive light. My friends and I were super hyped up. We were tired of seeing blacks portrayed as criminals, thieves, and robbers. All over the world, black people celebrated together. Finally, one half of my race is being shown respect in the cinema world. The opening weekend it came out, my friend and I dressed up in daishikis and African garb. Gary brought his djembe drum and we sang and danced our way to the movie theatre. People were taking pictures of us and with us. We were so happy to see our cultural pride. That was the first time we ever did that. African culture and color was truly being represented in a positive way, and I feel this was altering the perception of black people around the globe beautifully. This was a HUGE step.
So to answer your original question, 3 reasons why diversity represented in film and TV is important is:
1. It gives people more of an open mind. We can all learn about other races this way. This leads to less judgement, allowing viewers to see how we are truly all one.
2. It can make people feel more represented and bring a sense of pride to people of color. We all want to feel like we belong and seeing people that look like us in film and TV is a good thing.
3. It’s relatable. Stories from a larger pool of people can be shown that wider audiences can relate to. This encourages creative story ideas to be introduced to the masses. It’s a win-win.
All of this can only bring our culture more together and create more opportunities for more people in film and TV.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Spend more time on learning how to monetize your music.
I spent more time creating music and learning how to rap and perform and not enough time learning how to make money from this. I wish someone told me how challenging it would be to make a living and have sustainability. During my teens and early 20’s, I thought I would be signed to a major label and get the big bucks. I had to take matters into my own hands and learn how to book and throw my own shows. I also had to learn how to sell and market CDs, network, etc. It’s a whole other job learning the business side to music. I spent a lot of time barely making it, check by check and barely able to pay bills sometimes because I wasn’t business and financially savvy. I would have invested in a financial advisor, attended finance seminars, and also started my YouTube channel during college when it first came out.
2. Spend less time chasing girls.
I spent a lot of money on alcohol, partying, and going to the club when that money could have been directed towards my music business. It was a lot of fun, although I learned later that it’s better to make smart investments in my future rather than temporary joy.
3. Learn a trade or skill, instead of earning a college degree.
I’m very grateful for my college degree but if I could it over again, I would learn a specific trade or skill. I would have saved tons of money and I would have better paying jobs leading up to this point.
4. Don’t get any student loans.
I’m still paying student loans. I could have spent more years getting my degree, paying less overtime. I was a different person in college in a very different state of mind. I am very grateful for my degree, but I would have saved a lot of money and could have used it to put towards my music career.
5. Go to school for music production.
I would have learned how to produce my own music/beats today. I would have been ahead of the curve and not relying on others to produce music for me to rap and sing over. I don’t regret it as I can always further my music production skills.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend finding time to meditate daily. Self care is huge on my list: balanced diet, 7–8 hours of sleep, finding time in nature, movement like dance or a walk in the park. Also, surround yourself with mentors and positive, supporting individuals who support your life goals/mission.
I’d also recommend decluttering, meaning balancing life schedule obligations and prioritizing them. I highly recommend a social media fast. I’m actually doing one right now. It’s been amazing to take a step away from the digital world and regain more focus and clarity.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire a massive global monthly meditation movement. Every sports stadium, temple, and all the major buildings around the globe would be filled with people meditating on peace, love, and unity. This would happen on one designated day each month, twelve times a year.
Celebrities would be involved and promoting this movement and if people were unable to physically attend, they could meditate at their homes or wherever they’re at. It would be called the “We are Peace Movement”.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, my music manager Marc Devoe has helped me tons! Since we met in 2013, he’s been a huge supporter of my music and my vision. I met him through my singing and writing partner Krista Richards after one of our shows. He’s given me great advice and has been an amazing friend, mentor, and music manager. He has believed and invested in the power of my music and message more than almost anyone I’ve ever known. I am truly grateful for him and our collective label which he founded, Buddha Music Group.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Live today as if it were your last.”
In 2014, I experienced the most serious car accident and scariest event of my life. It was truly a moment of awakening for me. I was driving my friends van on the way to my music video shoot and the brakes went out. My friend was in the passenger seat. The van was totaled and ended up on its side. Luckily, we were injury free and blessed to survive. This gave me a deep sense of gratitude for life and was a clear example that the gift of life can easily be taken away from anyone of us at any moment. I use that experience as a reference point and reminder that I need to give it all in every moment in my life, no holding back, giving my all in everything I do 100%: my music, relationships, activities, peeps…everything. It also reminded me to regularly tell those close to me how much I appreciate and love them.
So since then, this life lesson quote has been resonant in my life purpose.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes, absolutely. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is super fun, charismatic, a mixed Pacific Islander and Black like myself, funny, and he’s a badass in wrestling and film. Everything he makes is awesome. The Rock is a big inspiration for me and everything I see him do is highly entertaining. His consistency in delivering high quality material is mind-blowing. I’d love to eat and chat it up with him. I already know we’d be great buddies.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Instagram: @KiyoshiMusic
And visit my website at: www.kiyoshimusic.com