Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project on experimenting and collaborating for Mapping Melbourne

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Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project on experimenting and collaborating for Mapping Melbourne


The Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project celebrates the innovative and ever-fluid nature of both genres, while presenting a unique and electrifying collaborative project in one of Melbourne’s best music venues.


“I grew up where hip hop was the extension of jazz. It took the attitude of jazz and the improvisation; it was also the most cutting-edge area of black music, which is what jazz was. For me, they’re not just part of the same family tree – they are brother and sister. There is such a close connection there.”

Joel Ma, Music Program Officer for Multicultural Arts Victoria, anticipates some of the best Asian art on display here in Melbourne, as the Mapping Melbourne festival series amps up for a stellar start this December. A highlight event of the festival is the Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project, an exclusive insight into the collaborative efforts of celebrated jazz pianist Aaron Choulai and renowned Japanese hip hop MC, Koichiro “Kojoe” Sakata.

With two shows lined up for Melbourne crowds, The Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project will have Choulai and Kojoe working with a stellar band of Melbourne jazz musicians on material that celebrates the explorative and experimental styles of both genres.

 “For a lot of the jazz players who are really good musicians, they understand the feel and the phrasing in a way that can also come from listening to a lot of hip hop, when the ‘Dilla’ aesthetic, if you will, has entered into the lexicon,” Ma says. “People are like, ‘We don’t care if you can play a thousand notes a second, it’s about how you make it sit on the beat and how you make a groove.’ The band is brilliant and I think it will be an exciting mix.”

Bringing both Choulai and Kojoe together for Mapping Melbourne was an easy decision for Ma and the Multicultural Arts Victoria team to settle on.

I’ve been really good friends with Aaron Choulai for a long time and he’s been living in Tokyo, working in the jazz and hip hop scene. It made sense to bring him out to work on showcasing the hip hop stuff he’s been doing with Japanese rappers. Kojoe is a legend MC and he just put out a record; he’s a big deal in the States and in Japan. It’s a no-brainer.”

Choulai shares Ma’s enthusiasm when it comes to exploring music in this particular format as part of Mapping Melbourne.

“The artistic community here is so talented and everyone is doing this amazing stuff; to be part of the festival in this way, to be on the same bill as all of these dudes who are doing super creative things is an honour. To be able to connect with a local Japanese community of musicians in Melbourne, as well as some jazz guys out here who I have been playing with for a while, to connect that with what I’ve been doing in Tokyo is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.”

Ma notes the significance of having such bright music brains working together as the Kaiju Hip Hop Jazz Project has proven to display. Shows like this break cultural, as well as musical, boundaries.

“In Japan, there is a deep respect for jazz music. A lot of old classic jazz only got issued in Japan, so there’s an incredible record market over there and also the greats have been touring Japan since the ‘50s. There’s an amazing Japanese jazz scene too. I felt like there was an approach to hip hop in the same way; there’s a reverence for the history and the form and the studying of what makes that style what it is, as well as an ownership.

“Rap and hip hop still tends to be dominated by an American persona or image,” he says. “There’s so much hip hop from around the world that is embracing its culture; finding a voice that doesn’t just perpetuate that cookie cutter American hip hop idea. I think a great way to do that is by fusing language. If language is your instrument, why would you not use all of the languages of the world at some point?”