|Photo by: Katie O'Leary|
There is a lot to say about singer/songwriter and activist Andrew “Koji” Shiraki. He is an emerging artist in the DIY singer/songwriter scene who was recently featured in Alternative Press and has worked with other DIY bands like Balance and Composure, La Dispute, Into It. Over It. and Settle. But, if you ever asked Koji about his music, he will always bring the conversation back to his bigger passion, justice.
Koji has worked with nonprofits like Resolve, The Voice Project and recently finished an Amplify Peace tour that worked with Invisible Children to bring child soldiers home from the oppressive Lord’s Resistance Army.
Koji visited Athens, Ohio, and took some time to speak with ACRN about his end of the year plans as well as the progress that he has achieved for justice.
ACRN: This is your first time in Athens, and the first place you went to was Shively Dining Hall. How was it?
Andrew "Koji" Shiraki: Shively Dining Hall was much like other college dining halls. I had a really nice exchange with the people at the sandwich station who were very patient when trying to find Mitch and I vegan cheese and vegan tofurkey and accommodate our sort of, I guess, unconventional needs. Apparently Shively, or at least Ohio University, is the number one vegan/vegetarian [campus] according to Peta2, so I think we just arrived late to the party and it was all out. Shively was cool.
ACRN: You’re from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is part of Appalachia like Athens is. What about home do you find in Athens?
AKS: Athens reminds me of a place that I would’ve played starting out back home in Pennsylvania. Once I started travelling outside of Harrisburg, a lot of the places I would play would be state schools or small private schools that were nestled in the mountains of Appalachia. That definitely was where I cut my teeth as a performer, whether it was at a city school like Temple University--where I attended for a short time--or schools like Penn State, it’s just like where I would’ve played starting out.
I think that’s where a lot of the curiosity about my music and my friend’s music is happening: in small, friend music communities in college towns and cities all around America.
ACRN: How many more dates are left on this tour?
AKS: This tour is a little under a week of dates left. And then, I take time off to start work on more songwriting and then I meet up with White Wives in December, and we start in Chicago and move out to the West Coast and go down the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego.
Then, I fly back and I have the Glamour Kills holiday shows coming up; I have my annual holiday show I throw every year, plus a couple more [shows] in Pennsylvania and Michigan. That’ll wrap up my year, and then 2012 will begin.
ACRN: You played one new song when you were in town, what was the name of that song?
AKS: I played “Placeholders,” which is going to be on a holiday, tour-only EP. That’s all acoustic material, and it is stuff that didn’t really fit in with what I thought would be a future record.
A lot of the stuff [that is on the Holiday EP] kind of centers around more existential and coming of age themes. These songs are based in seasons of life but surrounding romantic relationships, which is new ground for me.
ACRN: You do a lot of collaborating with other artists. Are there any collaborations coming up from you?
ACRN: Talk a bit about the nonprofits you are involved with.
AKS: A lot of touring I was doing this year was with different non-profits, mainly Resolve and The Voice Project. We were successful in seeing the implementation of the strategy, the Lord’s Resistance Army strategy that we were trying to get enacted and funded in the spring.
As a direct result of our efforts and the efforts of the U.S. advocacy movement around this issue, we were able to see progress in the form of advisory troops going to L.R.A. affected areas.
ACRN: Did you go in front of Congress for that?
AKS: That was the nonprofit I worked with, Resolve. Resolve was a part of a lot of the hearings leading up to the troop deployment. So, this is really cool because, as a comparison to what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were unilateral declarations of war, this was something unanimously passed by Congress, and we sent troops in an advisory role to lend U.S. resources to taking a man off the battlefield who has been responsible for tens of thousands of child abductions over the last 25 years.
So, this is huge progress for the sake of justice and freedom. That’s a really cool thing for the young people of America to have a hand in changing the lives of these displaced communities, of these child soldiers, these sex slaves and all the people that are affected by the L.R.A. That’s huge.
ACRN: On your last tour, you recorded audiences saying “Dwog Paco” which means “Come Home” in Acholi with the intention of playing that for the child soldiers in the L.R.A. affected areas. How did that project turn out?
AKS: We’re editing together the video and the audio, and we’re going to send that along. It will be really interesting to see if the conflict were to be ended before that makes it over there, which would be just as awesome.
I think what we very soundly demonstrated over the last couple years is how much our voices as an individual matter, how loud we can be as a community and that the process, that democracy, it does work. It totally works.
So really, the issue is engagement. Getting people to put their apathy and fear away and get their hands dirty and go to work. That’s what this whole punk and DIY thing has taught me, that’s what activism and advocacy has taught me. My walk through life has been nothing but lessons in doing, in living and action.
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