Embracing the Unconventional with Utena Kobayashi

JP – “When I quit university, I felt that the steel pan would bring me opportunities,” Utena Kobayashi recalls. “For me, it just wasn’t fun studying classical music to perform it with others like a disciplined army. I realized that I just like to listen to classical music — I still do now,” she tells Metropolis with a laugh.

“Unconventional” is a fitting adjective for Kobayashi. Everything from her life choices to the genre of music she plays and the red shock of hair she sports when meeting Metropolis all show she is not afraid of standing out, or shy to embrace her own way in life. And, as her debut album 6 roads suggests, that “way” can take the form of various paths and lead you in many unexpected directions.

Born in Nagano, Japan, Kobayashi’s decision to drop out of her music university in Kanagawa and pursue a career playing the steel pan set her apart from the masses of other Japanese students she saw around her. To many, it seemed like a risky choice she was making.

However, Kobayashi had a secret weapon to success: the steel pan. So far, she has certainly reaped success from her skill with the instrument, and has already joined a host of diverse Japanese musicians’ projects who are the hottest musicians in their genres, such as indie group D.A.N., rapper KID FRESINO and the Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra. “The steel pan is a Caribbean instrument meant to provide warm sounds,” she explains, “but working with those artists helped me establish my own style.”

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