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Leading A Double Life

Published: July 10, 2017

Kaz Mogi, administrative staff coordinator for CSULB’s Philosophy Department, leads a double life.
By day, he schedules classes and handles paperwork for the department’s faculty. By night, and the occasional weekend, he is a professional musician who performs everything from heavy metal to Japanese taiko drums.

He recently joined 11 musical friends in the first public performance of Bataré, a mixture of Japanese taiko drumming and rock in Tracy, Calif. Mogi, at 34 Bataré’s “oldest” musician, is a former high school drum-line coach from Long Beach and son of a Japan-born musician. Their 90-minute show included six acrobatic taiko drummers, four eight-string guitar players (electric and acoustic) and taiko percussionists.

The idea for Batare originated with Nick Wiley, a friend and guitarist who writes the group’s music.

“The Tracy performance went great,” said Mogi, who joined CSULB’s staff in 2006. “It was our first performance yet the turnout was pretty good with people coming from as far away as Stockton and L.A. It was a lot of fun and a good beginning. I’m half Japanese and half Mexican. When I wanted to connect with Japanese culture, I had a choice between martial arts and taiko. I chose taiko. I had been playing drums for a while and it just naturally snowballed.” His stage inspirations include the Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

As the philosophy department coordinator, where he has been since 2011, Mogi makes sure classrooms are open and everything functions normally.

“I answer student questions and when I don’t know the answer, I know who does,” he explained.

Mogi is not only a CSULB staff member; he is a graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in instrumental music. After graduating from Lakewood High School, he attended Hollywood’s Musicians Institute and Long Beach City College before enrolling at CSULB.

An only child, Kazumori Mogi was born in Long Beach where his father, elementary school teacher Yoshi Noburo Mogi—born in Japan—played taiko. His mother Rosanna worked at CSULB in the Foundation building in University Research. He was 12 when a Metallica video of their hit “Sad but True” transfixed him on MTV.

“I thought it was the coolest thing,” he said. “I was able to mimic it all with just drum sticks. My dad got me a drum pad. My parents were very supportive. They added a drum kit and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Kaz Mogi

Mostly self-taught, Mogi learned to read music at school and has gone on to perform in a video (“Princess in China”) by England’s Coldplay; recorded on a new album by Quetzal and the film soundtrack for “Battleship” (2012); and, in 2015, played with San Diego’s Yuujou Daiko troupe at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. He is also a member of East L.A. Taiko and works with Kris Berstrom, an L.A. taiko specialist.

In the beginning, the music was simply fun for Mogi.

“I remember playing my drum set from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day after day. My poor parents. My mom had to remind me to eat. Music is something I have to do. It is a little like breathing. If I do not perform for a while, I become sad and depressed. There are tough times when you get gigs that do not pay much or do not pay at all. Sometimes it seems there are only two people in the audience. It’s still something you have to do.”

A similar instrument to the taiko drum and its dynamic style of play has roots in the sixth century—drums energized troops during on the battlefield—the instrument’s actual origin is uncertain. Jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi originated modern taiko styles in 1951.

The philosophy department has been supportive.

“Most of the faculty know I’m a musician and a few more know about Bataré’s show in Tracy and another coming up in Arizona,” he explained. “I think they think it is cool.”