By Stephanie Swensrude
It’s a Friday evening. The living room of a grandmother of six and a music teacher has been transformed into a live music setting. Friends and family curl up on the couches, cupping mugs of coffee and tea and the odd glass of wine. Her scrappy dog Ramsey is relocating from lap to lap, soaking in the cuddles.
Ryu Yokoo pulls himself from a conversation with a smile and makes his way to the front of the crowd.
A mic and amp have been set up amongst the host’s family photos and leafy green plants. Yokoo picks up his trusty guitar and welcomes the crowd before launching into a mesmerizing set of guitar tunes. The set ranges from Japanese ballads to classic rock to current top 40. The crowd is hushed, serenely taking in the performance.
Born in Osaka City, Japan, Yokoo began playing guitar as a young boy. He and his friends had a particular love for The Beatles, learning their songs without even fully understanding the English words.
He moved to Canada in 2000 where he enrolled in the MacEwan music program, graduating with honours in 2003. With the help of his longtime friend and manager Heather Miller, Yokoo has booked shows at local open mic nights, farmer’s markets and house shows.
“Usually [when I play,] I’m half asleep,” Yokoo said with a laugh. But he also said playing music makes him feel alive. Yokoo plays all music, Japanese and English, as long as it’s good. However, it’s easier for him to memorize Japanese music, and he stays away from rap music.
“Too many words, I can’t get it,” he said.
One of the challenges Yokoo takes on with fervour is arranging solo pieces. His goal is to express the sound of a band through one instrument.
“[It’s tough], but excellent,” Yokoo said.
Yokoo’s teaching career rounds out his resume. He says his students are some of the many special people that music has brought to him. In fact, many local students owe their proficiency to his teaching, and he couldn’t be more proud of that.
Every second Saturday, you can catch Yokoo at The Carrot, a local cafe, where he hosts an open mic. He says it’s important for him to let all musicians have a chance to play. He also plays at the L1 Lounge most Thursday nights.