Japanese record award-winning Producer / Drummer
Marty Bracey was raised in Chicago, Illinois. He has toured and appeared at numerous venues with such well known musicians as The Chi-lites, and Tyson Davis. He got many awards, participated in numerous concert tours and recording sessions with musicians from many genres.
In the span of his 30 year career, Marty Bracey has produced and performed with his band on countless projects such as Japan Record Award and Kohaku Uta Gassen - an annual television singing competition among professional performers held during New Years Eve. He recently released his album, Yasuke and he is here today to discuss his work and his passion for music.
Can you talk about your music career?
Martin’s first taste in music started early. He recalls that he was always surrounded by instruments due to his father being an advent music lover. He himself wanted to become a professional musician, but instead decided to focus on raising his family. Martin started playing the drums in Jr. High School which led him to starting a band later in his school life. He originally played the bass, however, during a talent show he was asked to play the drums instead. Being a talented drummer helped the band take first prize. What cemented his decision to focus on the drums was a girl he had a crush on. She came up to him enthusiastically complimenting his skills and told him to keep playing and like any love-smitten boy, that was enough to convince himself to keep playing the drums.
What are some of your musician achievements you are most proud of?
Martin’s career expands over 30 years, so obviously he has many musical achievements under his belt, but one that he vividly remembers is when he was awarded the Stevie Wonder award by the legend himself at the annual international music show in Tokyo. “I’m a die-hard fan of his, so to actually meet him, talk to him and actually receive something from him was like a dream come true” he said with a huge smile on his face.
What was the most exciting moment you had on stage?
After thinking it over, Martin opted to share one of his embarrassing moments he experienced on stage. He went to perform with his band in Asahikawa, Hokkaido a while back. Back then, he wasn’t fluent in Japanese so his bandmates decided to play a little trick on him. They told him when it’s time to talk to the audience, make sure to say “Heppe” because it means “Are you happy?” in Japanese. Little did he know, that world actual meant having sex among the Hokkaido natives so when he yelled that word passionately on stage… you guessed it, he was welcomed with a complete silence. The lead vocalist ran out to stop him but it was a little too late. With his bandmates laughing hysterically behind him, Martin knew something was wrong. “I was so mad, I didn’t talk to my bandmates until the next morning” Martin recalls, but he also said that incident motivated him to learn the language so in a way, he was thankful that happened.
Now we like to talk about your new album.What prompted you to make Yasuke?
25 years ago, he came across an article talking about a black man who became a samurai. As a black man himself living in Japan who experienced feeling out of place in a foreign land, the story of Yasuke really resonated with him for a long time.
Fast Forward to 2-3 years ago, his assistant told him there was a book about Yasuke and that ignited his passion for him. He looks at me and says “Him being a black samurai and me being a black drummer, connected a lot of dots for me.” He had friends and family members asking why he kept living in Japan. And to that he responded, “Because I had people who wanted me here and accepted me as Marty Bracey. I felt that if I stayed in the states, people would always see me as a black man, I felt I could never get past my skin color.” The more he got to know about Yasuke, the more he wanted to create something that would honor his life. That’s how the album was created.
Can you tell me the process of creating this album? Was there any inspiration?
This album follows the path Yasuke took in his life. In the first song, he wanted to describe his life in Africa so he invited a lot of amazing African musicians to play the Talking Drums and Ngoni (Afrian guitar) and a percussionist who lived in Africa so he could create an authentic sound. The 2nd song is about Yasuke leaving Africa and experiencing his first taste of Western religion when he was taken in by the Jesuits so he decided to incorporate more gospel elements. With the 3rd track, it’s all about when Yasuke landed in Japan and met Nobunaga. Martin used a matsuri-themed sound to describe the encounter between the two men. Yasuke’s whereabouts were unknown after his friendship with Nobunaga ended with the daimyo’s ultimate death so Martin imagined what his life would have been. He believed that Yasuke stayed in Japan, maybe had a family, maybe lived the rest of his life as a ninja no one will ever know and that was what the 4th song is about.
How did you hire the musicians for each of the instruments and how did you record them all? (was it individual? Or all together in one room?)
This album is a story told about Yasuke without any images. Martin made sure to fully tell the life of Yasuke as authentic as possible. Yasuke lived such an eclectic life so it was important that he hired a different arranger for each song to accurately portray Yasuke’s milestones. Talking about his 4th song, Martin told me “I’m old school, you know, so I wanted a more modern sound, so I hired a young guitarist from a hip hop band called Groove School.” Which says a lot about Martin as a musician and producer, who is willing to seek new ideas and new inputs constantly.
How do you start making the song?
Making music is all about communication. If Martin believes the song is about rhythm, he starts from there, but if it’s more about the melody then that comes first. As the rhythm of the melody forms, it becomes the beat and at times the beat becomes the melody. But this process doesn’t happen if not talking it out with the creators involved in the song. “This is a creative process, this is why I love being a musician. You’re designing something that’s an idea in your head, but then you put it into a form where people can see that idea.” Martin says passionately.
As a producer, what kind of value do you have with your musicians?
“My asset is not the money I make, but how big my network is and the people I surround myself at work.” For Martin, it is important that he creates a family environment with the people he works with because having respect with each other ultimately leads to forming a rapport together. When you create a place where you truly enjoy, naturally you create music that you can be proud of.
On top of being a producer, you are also a drummer. When do you start recording the drumming part?
Depending on the song, Martin decides as a drummer if he needs to be the foundation or the support for the song. “Again”, he emphasizes, “it’s about communication.” “You need to know what is expected from you as a musician from the producer. I feel like I’m the conductor of the song, steering it in a different direction.” Martin always strives to create something different every time he works on a song. He thanks his decision to stay in Japan for his musical taste. Living in a different culture introduced him to so many music genres which helped him tremendously when producing music.
Lastly, can you give the viewers who are pursuing the music world any advice ?
To keep an open mind. The music scene is constantly shifting and you need to be adaptable to the changes. You also need to understand how the business of music works and create that network of creative people. Martin also tells us never take no for an answer, although that doesn’t mean you should never take constructive criticism but if there is a reason behind that no, find a way to make it a yes. “I’m not sure if I said anything worthwhile”, Martin tells me sheepishly but I remind him that he has given us valuable knowledge and most importantly showed us his humble passion towards his craft.
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