Kenji Suzuki (鈴木健次, Suzuki Kenji, 16 January 1950 – 9 February 2024), known as Damo Suzuki (ダモ鈴木), was a Japanese musician best known as the vocalist for the German Krautrock group Can between 1970 and 1973. Born in 1950 in Kobe, Japan, he moved to Europe in the late 1960s where he was spotted busking in Munich, West Germany, by Can bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Can had just split with their vocalist Malcolm Mooney, and asked Suzuki to sing over tracks from their 1970 compilation album Soundtracks. Afterwards, he became their full time singer, appearing on the three influential albums Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyası (1972) and Future Days (1973).
|16 January 1950
|9 February 2024(aged 74)
After leaving Can in 1973, he abandoned music and became a Jehovah's Witness. Having left that organisation, he returned to music in the mid-1980s and began to tour widely. Over the following decades Suzuki recorded a large number of albums under different aliases, which he later grouped as "Damo Suzuki's Network".
Kenji Suzuki was born in Kobe, Japan on 16 January 1950. In 1968, while still a teenager, he moved to Europe, first to a Swedish commune, while spending time in Ireland, France, the UK and West Germany, earning money by busking. After Malcolm Mooney left Can following the band's first album Monster Movie (1969), Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit encountered Suzuki busking in Munich, West Germany. They invited him to join the group, and he performed with them that evening.
Suzuki's first recording with Can was "Don't Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone" from Soundtracks (1970). He was a full-time member of Can from 1970 to 1973, and his debut album with the band was the highly influential double album Tago Mago (1971), widely considered as foundational in the development of Krautrock and a major influence on bands ranging from the Sex Pistols to Happy Mondays. Suzuki's vocals became more confident and defining with Can's 1972 album Ege Bamyası, as evidenced in the songs "Vitamin C" and "Spoon". The band developed a more atmospheric sound for Future Days (1973), their final album with Suzuki. However, following the album's release, Suzuki quit the band and joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, taking a break from music for the following decade.
Suzuki's free-form, often improvised, lyrics were largely indiscernible, leading many critics to think they were sung in no particular language.
He returned to music in 1983 and led what became known as "Damo Suzuki's Network" – as he toured, he performed live improvisational music with various local musicians, which he described as "sound carriers." Suzuki published his memoir I Am Damo Suzuki in 2019. His career was somewhat revived in 2022 following the well received album Arkaoda, recorded in conjunction with Spiritczualic Enhancement Center.
Suzuki met his wife Elke Morsbach in Cologne in 1985. He lived in the city, although he played more shows in the United Kingdom and said that British audiences were more receptive to his music than were German ones. During his break from music, Suzuki became a Jehovah's Witness but left the organisation, considering himself a believer in the Bible without membership in any denomination or church.
He was first diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 33 years old, a disease that claimed his father's life when Suzuki was five years old. He was diagnosed with colon cancer again in 2014 and given a 10% chance of survival. He died on 9 February 2024 at the age of 74. The documentary Energy explores Suzuki's battle with cancer and relationship with his wife.
Can are widely hailed as pioneers of the West German krautrock scene. According to journalist Jo Vito, Suzuki "had an innovative and inimitable approach to singing, often improvising parts sung in a variety of languages (a blend he referred to as 'the language of the Stone Age')".
The Fall's 1985 album This Nation's Saving Grace features a song titled "I Am Damo Suzuki". The Fall's vocalist Mark E. Smith was a great admirer of Can and had become a friend of Suzuki, who used the song title for his 2019 biography I Am Damo Suzuki. The rock band the Mooney Suzuki takes its name from Suzuki and Can's earlier vocalist Malcolm Mooney.