With a six-generation family history of mastery of the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, it may seem surprising that singer and flutist Hanz Araki has built his career around traditional Celtic music.
Having a Japanese father and an Irish mother, however, created a household where Araki had a wide range of musical influences growing up.
Araki will perform his mix of traditional Irish, Scottish and English music at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at The Playwright Public House, 258 A St., Ashland.
The Araki family lineage with the shakuhachi is famous. His father is shakuhachi grandmaster Tatsuya Kodo Araki, the fifth generation to receive the Kodo title that is an important name in traditional Japanese music. His family's legacy in the instrument extends further to Kodo II — Araki's great-great grandfather, Hanzaburo — who created the improved notation still used in shakuhachi music today.
Even with his family history, Araki's practice of the shakuhachi was not entirely rooted in the music of Japan.
"When you're practicing for hours each day, you try to play things from memory," Araki says. "I was listening to a lot of music growing up. Some of those slower Irish songs sounded really good on the shakuhachi."
Araki moved to Japan from his hometown of Seattle in 1988 to begin an apprenticeship with his father. The 18-year-old made his professional debut in August of that year, which also happened to be his first performance ever.
"It was terrifying," Araki says. "It took me about three to four months to get over the stage fright, but it went really well."
After four years performing and studying under his father, Araki moved back to Seattle and stumbled into his career of performing Celtic music.
"My friends and I put together an Irish band for St. Patrick's Day," Araki says. "It really happened on a whim."
From there, Araki shifted his focus to the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and England. Even with his family's deep and famous roots in traditional Japanese music, Araki says that his father supported his decision.
"He was just glad that I was playing music," Araki says. "The (shakuhachi) community at large urged me to keep playing, but no one was really disappointed."
Araki, now based in Portland, has toured the world with his music and has released three albums of traditional Celtic music: "6 of One, 5 of the Other" in 2004, "Little Fires" in 2008 and "Wind and Rain" in 2011. Araki also collaborated with Portland singer-songwriter Kathryn Claire in 2012 to release a series of albums around the theme of the four seasons. He is set to record his fourth album this spring.
Araki still plays the shakuhachi, making sure to perform once or twice each year. In 2009, Araki's father conferred the title of Kodo VI onto him in a private ceremony in Tokyo.
For Sunday's show, Araki will be joined by Joseph Carmichael on guitar and Colleen Raney on backing vocals and bodhran, a traditional Irish drum.
"We play a lively collection of Celtic traditional music," Raney says. "It's not the punk style, but it's lively. It's really a good night out."