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French guitarist Claude Ciari has the rare distinction of being the first Caucasian to run for a seat in the upper house of the government of Japan. While he was not elected, he used the opportunity to publicly challenge what he felt was a stupid law for foreigners, a stance that only furthered his popularity in Japan. Ciari was born in Nice on the French Riviera in 1944. He started to play guitar when he was 11, and by 16 he was proficient enough to join a rock group, Les Champions, featuring himself on lead guitar along with Jean-Claude Chane (singer), Alain Santamaria (guitar), Daniel Kaufman (bass guitar), and Willy Lewis (drums). Les Champions, with a sound closer to the Jordanaires than the more popular instrumental groups of the era, recorded several singles, and even toured France with Gene Vincent in October 1962. Les Champions were not very original, and Ciari became frustrated when the band decided to become the support band for French singer Danyel Gerard. Ciari left the group in 1964, and began his career as a solo artist. Solo success was immediate -- his first album included an instrumental rhumba, "La Playa," which caught on in the bossa nova fervor of the time and became a big hit in France and over 40 other countries. At 20 years old, Ciari had sold several million records, and began a prolific and acclaimed career. The first Batacuda's Seven LP, recorded in 1970, was his first dedicated to exploring Latin music, and gained him many more devoted followers in Latin America. He recorded many charting albums and singles, and toured extensively. In 1974 he decided to move to Tahiti, exploring Polynesian music while performing throughout Southeast Asia. Ciari fell in love with a fashion model while touring Japan, and subsequently moved to that country and married her. Ciari and his new wife started a family immediately, having two children within a few years of their wedding. Japanese law at the time stipulated that children of a Japanese father automatically became Japanese citizens, while children of a foreign father were deemed foreign nationals. This archaic rule and the labyrinthine Japanese bureaucracy regarding children's rights outraged Ciari, and he decided the best way he could change things was to run for political office. He took Japanese citizenship, then campaigned to enter the upper house of government -- somewhat akin to running for the U.S. Senate -- and used the opportunity to, in his words, "make a big fuss using newspaper, magazines, radio, and TV." He received a solid 300,000 votes, but did not win the seat; however, his case became a cause célèbre, and eventually the offending law was removed. Claude Ciari has recorded more than 50 albums, and has contributed to many film and television soundtracks, working multiple times with composers Francis Lai and Bernard Gérard, and he continues to appear on television shows in Japan. He has not performed in France in almost 30 years, but hopes to return in the near future. ~ Laurie Mercer
1944 in Nice, France
'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s