When Sadistic Mika Band broke up, Yukihiro Takahashi had a very clear vision of the musical direction he wanted to take as he launched a solo career that would span the coming decades. ‘I wanted to do something completely new,’ he confided in a radio interview in 2020 on the occasion of the re-release of his debut album Saravah! ‘I wanted to combine elements from new and old music from abroad as well as from Japan and create something unique.’
These were ideas that had been gestating for over ten years, based on cherished teenage memories. ‘When I was about fifteen or sixteen, I saw the French movie A Man and a Woman and fell in love with it. I became a fan of the director, Claude Lelouche, and watched all of his films. I was lucky enough to meet him later on. I loved the music in this film, but I especially loved the song, ‘Samba Saravah’. My favourite film composer at the time was Burt Bacharach, and in France it was Francis Lai. I watched A Man and a Woman eighteen times in the movie theatre at the age of sixteen, so you could say I was pretty mature for my age! I knew that when I released my first solo album, I would name it Saravah, after the song ‘Samba Saravah’ by Pierre Barouh.’
A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme) won the accolade of Best Picture (the Palme D’Or) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966. Among its leading actors was Frenchman Pierre Barouh who also collaborated with Francis Lai on the soundtrack for the movie. Whilst spending time in Portugal in the 1950s, Pierre became enthralled by the sensuous sounds of the Brazilian music he heard there. He felt compelled to visit the country of their origin and track down the intriguing artists behind the songs he’d fallen in love with.
‘Once upon a time,’ Barouh once reminisced, ‘there was a young man with a guitar who was totally passionate about the idea of travelling the world. His head was full of dreams of flying off to Rio de Janeiro to meet his idols, João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim and Baden Powell. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got a job working on an old cargo boat heading out to South America from Lisbon. I went all the way to Rio in the hope of meeting my musical idols, but I was destined to sail home with my dreams unfulfilled. A few weeks after I got back to Paris, however, I happened to be invited to a dinner party where I found myself sitting across the table from Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell. Since that moment, I’ve come to believe in the truth of Vinicius de Moraes’s saying: “A vida e arte de encontro” (“Life is the art of encounters”).’ (2005)
The influence of Brazilian bossa nova became a hallmark of the score for A Man and a Woman. Barouh’s wordless duet with Nicole Croisille for the movie’s instrumental theme is amongst the most instantly recognisable tunes in the rich history of film soundtrack music.
The song ‘Samba Saravah’ that so enthused Takahashi was itself a cover version of ‘Samba da Bênção’ by Vinicius de Moraes and is performed by Pierre in the film. It’s a song celebrating samba music, the lyric referencing its origins in Bahia, Brazil, and its influence from Africa, whilst name-checking musicians of the past and collaborators of the day who shaped its development.
The sleeve-notes of Takahashi’s album tell us that ‘the word Saravah has a Portuguese origin and could be translated as “You’re Welcome” in Japanese. It sounds similar to a word that means “Departure”.’ Benjamin Barouh, Pierre’s son, expands further, explaining that the term ‘is an incantation…that was sung at the Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies’ before being popularised in the lyrics of ‘Samba da Bênção’. Pierre would go on to give the name to his Paris-based label and its recording studio in Montmartre, home to an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, soul, Brazilian and African music. ‘Saravah,’ Benjamin says, ‘was a cult label which became a true “World Music” laboratory at the turn of the sixties.’
So, a French singer is heavily influenced by Afro-Brazilian music, and in turn he inspires a Japanese pop artist.
It was 1978 and significant musical partnerships were being formed. Takahashi: ‘I had become friends with Ryuichi Sakamoto and other musicians around that time which felt like destiny, and they all played on this record.
‘I asked Sakamoto to co-produce the album and we worked on all the arrangements together, so I worked closely with Sakamoto on all the songs and each day after recording we would go to a local bar and talk about the recording, and come up with ideas for the next day.’
The title track of Saravah! is a delightful mix of Sakamoto string arrangement and the luscious French-Brazilian flavour of A Man and A Woman. ‘I loved songs like ‘Estate’ by João Gilberto, so I wanted to do something like that. I wanted to record a bossa nova style song that expressed the sunrise in a city. This song is also an homage to Pierre Barouh and João Gilberto.’
An ever-present across the album is bass-player Haroumi Hosono who – momentously – joined forces later the same the year with Sakamoto and Takahashi to form Yellow Magic Orchestra. ‘A lot of things were happening at the same time in 1978,’ Takahashi said, ‘so I don’t remember which came first, but I’m pretty sure that YMO started recording after Saravah! was released.’
Influences from afar would soon become direct collaborations. Benjamin Barouh: ‘Four years later, producer Naoki Tachikawa invited Pierre to work on an album (Le Pollen) with Japanese musicians from the buoyant electro-pop movement. The French globe-trotter was immediately drawn to the Tokyo scene and its “floating world” – he found the same energy he had witnessed in Rio during the birth of the bossa nova or during the Saravah years in Paris.’
Sadly Pierre’s Saravah label had by this time been overtaken by financial issues and the precious Montmartre studio had closed. The invitation to Japan, however, would reignite a passion.
‘Five years after the flop of his last record, Viking Bank, Pierre found a taste for writing again in Tokyo,’ says Benjamin. ‘Six new songs then took shape, written with Yukihiro Takahashi, Yasuaki Shimizu and Kazuhiko Katoh, between the Nippon Columbia studio and nocturnal wanderings. I recently found Pierre’s diary in Tokyo, he barely slept.’
The song ‘Sans Parler D’Amour’ from Le Pollen is a lovely companion piece to the earlier ‘Saravah!’. Composed by Yukihiro Takahashi for his own musical idol, Barouh’s voice luxuriates in a soundscape of strings which are now accompanied by Takahashi’s punchy drums and the unmistakable synth sounds of the Prophet 5.
‘My father grew up between Paris and Rio…as the bossa nova movement was emerging,’ says Benjamin. ‘Twenty years later, he lands in the arena of Japanese pop from where he glimpses unknown soundscapes… Both cases induce a total loss of bearings and stimulate a progression, like surfing on a tidal wave…
‘Pierre said of Yukihiro Takahashi that he was a lord. I think that Yukihiro and the Yellow Magic Orchestra have largely contributed to [the label] Saravah’s notoriety, in Japan and in the rest of the world.’
David Sylvian was in Tokyo at the time of Pierre’s visit and appears on two songs, being one of the main contributors to the title track, ‘Le Pollen’, and contributing backing vocals for ‘Demain’.
‘I was lucky to meet Yukihiro with Pierre during the recording of Le Pollen in the summer of 1982 and also David Sylvian,’ remembers Barouh junior. ‘I was twelve years old and still have precious memories of Yukihiro’s cool dandyish moustache, hovering in the streets of Roppongi under an electric sky alongside Pierre, David, his partner Yuka and his brother Steve Jansen. Yukihiro had just composed the music for the title track, a beautiful minimal pop symphony over a poem that my father had just written after a night drifting in the Tokyo streets.
‘Aujourd’hui, je suis ce que je suis
Nous sommes qui nous sommes
Et tout ça, c’est la somme
Du pollen dont on s’est nourri‘
‘Today I am what I am
We are who we are
The flowers of the pollen we feed on‘
Just as Vinicius de Moraes had called out inspirational names, past and present, for his ‘Samba da Bênção’, so Pierre Barouh, Yukihiro Takahashi and David Sylvian name-check significant figures for them. The track opens with the convivial babble of a public meeting place, a siren drifting past on the street outside, Barouh then asking Sylvian to translate his French lyrics into English so that Takahashi can then render them in Japanese.
The lines contain a touching analogy for the creative path of every artist. The individual expression of each is stimulated into life as a result of ‘the pollen we feed on’, the work of others cross-pollinating in the imaginations of those who follow.
Barouh’s sung refrain brings us back to this central thought as these three musicians from different traditions pay tribute to those whose influence has been significant. Sylvian starts with Jean Cocteau, and there is laughter to follow as this name is later twice repeated, serving to emphasise the importance of Cocteau’s work. He then mentions Luchino Visconti, Gustav Mahler and Thomas Mann in order, most likely a reference to the film Death in Venice which Visconti directed based on Mann’s book of the same name, and where Mahler’s Third and Fifth symphonies feature in the score. Sylvian makes other references to the world of cinema: director Alan Resnais and actor/director Jean Marais who was also Jean Cocteau’s muse and lover. There are literary names: Herman Hesse whose Siddartha was a favourite book of Sylvian’s at the time, and Yukio Mishima whose Forbidden Colours would provide the title for the song that paved the way for Brilliant Trees (see ‘Forbidden Colours (version)’). Erik Satie is mentioned, whose life and music had already spawned ‘Despair’ and ‘Nightporter’. And then there are contemporary references, to his band-mates ‘my friends: Steve, Richard and Mick’, to his partner Yuka Fujii and to Yukihiro himself. When Takahashi references ‘Professor’, the nickname that he originated for Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sylvian responds, ‘me too.’
Amongst Pierre Barouh’s name-checks are one of his Brazilian heroes, João Gilberto, and ‘my son Benjamin.’ Looking back, Benjamin Barouh celebrates this song and all it represents: ‘The track ‘Le Pollen’ crowns, in itself, the exchanges which reign on this album. The conception of this title begins with a quatrain written by Pierre on a piece of tablecloth, in a bistro. A text that he then entrusted to Yukihiro. The spoken parts between Pierre, Yukihiro and David Sylvian, greeting the artists and friends who have nourished them, were captured on the spot, in one take. Superimposing rhythms and colours, Yukihiro then composed a tense theme. Pierre brings his warm voice, David his smile and Yukihiro his elegance.’
Sylvian enjoyed the encounter immensely. On the insert to the vinyl released in 1983 there is a photograph of Pierre and David deep in conversation accompanied by Sylvian’s hand-written note, ‘Pierre – I hope we meet in Paris someday – David.’
On his return to the UK, Sylvian was effusive in interviews. ‘I bought a whole batch of records in Japan and a lot of them were by famous “chanson” singers like Pierre Barouh,’ he told The Face. ‘God, I simply adore him, he’s so romantic. I’ve got a great record of his – the soundtrack album to A Man and a Woman.
‘I really love his music. I met him recently in Japan where he was recording an album. I guess he’s about forty-seven and he’s such a wonderful person, he’s so interesting and I’ve never met such a gentle, open person. I mean he doesn’t care about who you are, what you do or what you’ve done, he just meets you and talks to you and you can really feel the warmth coming from him.’ (1982)
In another interview he praised Barouh’s musical sensibility: ‘He was recording with Yellow Magic Orchestra and his feeling for what he was doing was so pure that it renewed my feeling for music.’ (1982)
It was an important encounter at a time when Sylvian was searching for the right first step as a solo musician. He had stopped writing music in the last throes of Japan and was channelling his creativity into the visual arts, a dalliance that would lead him to experiment with the Polaroid collages that would later form the exhibition and book, Perspectives.
The impact of meeting and working with Pierre and an invitation from Ryuichi Sakamoto the following spring to perform a vocal to his theme for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence were important catalysts for what was to follow.
It wasn’t long before that hoped-for meeting of the musicians in Paris. Sylvian spent New Year 1982/83 in the city and was in the French capital again for a live performance by Barouh at L’Espace Pierre Cardin in February. The café vibe of ‘Le Pollen’ was recreated for the live setting but this time Yukihiro Takahashi could not be present, so the conversation was between Pierre, David and Keiichi Suzuki from the Barouh’s backing band for the night, The Moonriders, who had also played on the studio version of the track. Sylvian adds to his list of luminaries Brassai (whose book The Artists of My Life was another he cited as a favourite around this time), Stravinsky and Bartok. Pierre thanks Sylvian in English as the track draws to a close, ‘It was very nice and warm for me to know that you were there.’
The performance was later released on the live album Dites 33: volume 2.
There were definitely intentions for the pair to work more together. Sylvian shared in late ’82, ‘I think he’s going to record one of my songs. It’s a ballad written around the time of …Polaroids called ‘Some Kind of Fool’, but Pierre’s writing new French lyrics for it.’ In an interview for the inaugural edition of the Bamboo fanzine in early ’83 he said that he anticipated ‘probably producing a French singer called Pierre Barouh.’
Pierre visited London in June 1984 for the opening of David’s exhibition of Polaroids at the Hamilton Gallery. He, David and Benjamin were also all together in Paris in 1984, the occasion captured in an elaborate photo-collage reproduced in the Japanese edition of Perspectives:
If anything was ever worked on in the studio, it never saw the light of day. Pierre died on 28 December 2016 at the age of 82. Anthony Reynolds interviewed him close to the end of his life for his book Cries and Whispers which was subsequently published in 2018. ‘I was introduced to David by a member of YMO,’ Barouh recalled. ‘Everyone was so welcoming, spontaneous and friendly and David and I got on really well…it was quite an unexpected meeting.’ Asked whether he had indeed recorded the Japan song, he said, ‘I don’t remember recording that…it’s such a long time ago…but meeting him was great, and from the first chat we had I felt many things in common…I still think about that first experience in Japan with great affection…It was really exciting working with younger musicians in a different environment…my friendship with David felt very natural…our age difference was not a problem.’
No more recorded work with Sylvian was forthcoming but there were more collaborations between Takahashi and Barouh. The short series of tracks on my playlist from this time is rounded off by ‘Ripples’ from Yukihiro’s 1983 album Tomorrow’s Just Another Day. Barouh singing on the Japanese star’s album seems to set the seal on a line of musical heritage that straddled the globe, a story of one artist’s work moving another, emboldening them to reach across miles and across genres to create something new: and all achieved at a time when such cross-continental collaboration was so much harder than it is today.
Pierre Barouh – vocals; Tetsuro Kashibuchi – drums, Prophet 5; Tohru Okada – Prophet-5, sequencer, acoustic piano; Yoshiaki (aka Ryomei) Shirai – electric guitar; Hirobumi Suzuki – electric bass; Keiichi Suzuki – guitar (gut); David Sylvian – additional vocals; Yukihiro Takahashi – additional vocals, Prophet 5; Masahiro Takekawa – violin
Music composed and arranged by Yukihiro Takahashi. Lyrics by Pierre Barouh.
Pierre Barouh – vocals; Takayuki Hijikata – acoustic guitar; Masanori Sasaji – Jupiter 8; Yasuaki Shimizu – acoustic piano, clarinet, flute, Prophet 5; David Sylvian – backing vocals; Morio Watanabe – Prophet 5; Hideo Yamaki – drums
Music and lyrics by Pierre Barouh. Arranged by Yasuaki Shimizu.
Both tracks produced by Naoki Tachikawa. From Le Pollen, Columbia, 1982
Recorded July 1982 at Nippon Columbia Studio, Akasaka, Tokyo
‘Le Pollen – live’
Pierre Barouh – vocals; The Moonriders: Tetsuro Kashibushi, Tohru Okada, Ryomei (aka Yoshiaki) Shirai, Hirobumi Suzuki, Keiichi Suzuki, Masahiro Takekawa – electric bass, percussion, violin, piano, electric and acoustic guitar
Recorded in February 1983, L’Espace Pierre Cardin, Paris
From Dites 33 – volume 2, Saravah, 2001
All artist quotes are from 2019/2020 unless otherwise stated. Full sources and acknowledgments for this article can be found here.
Cries and Whispers by Anthony Reynolds is available here: (burningshed).
‘When Pierre arrived in Tokyo in 1982, he was dubious. Very quickly the diversity, the hidden recesses and the effervescence of the mighty city intoxicate him. Not to mention a second youth: after the winter and the closing of the Saravah studio, Pierre finds himself rejuvenated by the eternal Japanese spring.’ Benjamin Barouh, 2020