Born: July 24, 1962 (age 46)Years Active: 1985 - Present
Plenty of Japanese soul singers cop the look, but few can deliver the smooth grooves as naturally and soulfully as Toshinobu Kubota. Born in Shizuoka, a prefecture better known for green tea and dramatic views of Mt. Fuji that soul singers, Kubota displayed singing talent early in life, winning contests from the time he was in pre-school. He was introduced to Stevie Wonder's seminal Songs in the Key of Life as a junior high school student and was immediately hooked, soon discovering other soul and funk standards like Sly and the Family Stone and Marvin Gaye. He played in several bands throughout junior high and high school, but their efforts to recreate the sound and feeling of the American soul that Kubota worshipped were unsuccessful, leaving him frustrated. After high school, Kubota moved to Tokyo to study, but spent more time performing and checking out music in Tokyo's numerous clubs than in the classroom. One of those nights, a label representative caught his act and, impressed by his vocal chops, set him up a gig as a vocalist for a record by Naoya Matsuoka. While not a big seller, the song served as Kubota's demo, and eventually landed him his first work. His debut album, Shake It Paradise, dropped in 1989, and went platinum soon after its release. The following three albums, also Japan-only releases, followed suit. In the early 90s, Kubota had begun traveling to the United States frequently, soaking up the scene and sometimes collaborating with American artists during his stays. It was around this time that Kubota made the decision to focus on the States as well as in Japan, and in 1995, Sony released his first English language album Sunshine, Moonlight there. The record made few ripples, despite Kubota's superstar status in Japan, but many soul artists in the States began to take notice of his smooth, alto vocal style and innate soul sensibilities, and Kubota soon found himself in with soul's elite set. His second Stateside release, Nothing But Your Love, appeared in 2000 and was a funkier affair than its predecessor, featuring guest appearances by R&B and hip-hop heavyweights including Ahmir Thompson from the Roots, chanteuse Angie Stone, Raphael Saadiq from Lucy Pearl, and rapper Pras, and blipped larger on the radar than Sunshine, Moonlight . 2004's Time to Share, his first Stateside record in four years, again featured vocals by Stone with additional contributions from underground hip-hop favorite Mos Def and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Like its predecessors, Time to Share offered more of the silky smooth, Maxwell-style vocals and strong arrangements that have become Kubota's trademark. Before releasing Time to Share, Kubota showed his fans a new hairstyle, having traded his longtime trademark dreadlocks with the close-cropped look. Kubota continues to release and perform in Japan, where he can still move records, but has made New York his home, and appears set on chipping further into the US market.