Atari Kousuke began his music career as a performer of shima-uta, the traditional singing style of Amami, an island in the Ryukyu chain in southern Japan, but then shifted to folk-tinged pop, breaking out to a wider audience in Japan and gaining recognition in the Chinese-speaking world as well.
Born on Amami, Atari decided to become a musician after he heard Hajime Chitose, a shima-uta star, in high school. He focused on the local scene for a while, debuting with the album Atari (1999) -- which featured him singing over a jabisen, a variation of shamisen -- on the Jabara Records label and scooping up two prizes at folk festivals in 2000. He released three more folk albums up to 2004 and even played the Osaka Dome at a folk festival, but eventually began to expand his style, mixing J-pop with shima-uta singing on the EP Materia (2005). The record was a blast in indie circles and brought him a contract with Epic Records, on which he debuted with the single Sorezore Ni (2006), which still had a strong folk vibe. His first two singles failed to ignite the Japanese charts, but he had some success in Taiwan, where his fan base was established by his Chinese compilation Chung Dong Xin Xian (2006), which topped the Yahoo! Music Taiwanese chart. His 2006 EP, Natsukasha no Shima, featured a duet with Hanxue, a Chinese-Japanese singer, and the same year, Atari also played two Taiwan shows for the first time.
In 2007, Atari's single, Hana, penned by Naotaro Moriyama, cracked the Oricon Top 20 and went on to sell 34,000 copies in Japan, and his debut major-label full-length, Yurai Bana, scored number seven. Atari released Hua Jian Dao, a companion album to Yurai Bana, in Taiwan the same year. He got further promotion after participating in a worldwide ad campaign for the Gap in 2008, when he also made more ripples in Taiwan with the movie Cape No. 7, where he debuted as an actor. His old single, Sorezore Ni, became the theme song of the movie, and was covered by Andy Lau, a Hong Kong singer and film star. His second major-label album, Kizuna Uta, came out in 2008 in both Japan and Hong Kong, hitting number 17 on the Oricon and getting a good reception on the Chinese market. However, the 2009 single Kou fell out outside the Top 40 in Japan despite a tie with the anime Genji Monogatari Sennenki. In 2010, Atari released the EP Ugamiuta. ~ Alexey Eremenko, Rovi