The (Tokyo Worldbeat) Beat Goes On

Japanese popsters fuse East Asian music with all sorts of things

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In the US, East Asian worldbeat usually means either meditative exotica under the umbrella of New Age or free jazz, or the endless thudding of the various Kodo-clone Japanese drum groups. Tokyo, it means real world pop: bright, danceable Okinawan rhythms married with Brazilian and Caribbean beats or Indonesian gamelan (the wonderful four-woman group Nenes) or West African dance music (Mamadou Doumbia) or bhangra (Punjabi dance-pop) fused with rollicking folk tunes from Osaka (Kikusuimaru).

Ever since Okinawan folkie hero Shoukichi Kina appeared on the Japanese music scene in 1977 with his marriage of rock and the cheerfully rythmic music of Okinawa, there's been a push on the part of some Japanese artists to make an end run around both standard-brand Japanese pop and EuroAmerican rock -- to find the strains of world music that belong in a distinctive East Asian mix. (Kina was later to add Hawaiian and American roots influences when he picked Ry Cooder as a sideman.)

The Okinawan beat has been endlessly adaptable in the hands of the Nenes -- one of the most wonderful of all Japanese groups, overdue for US exposure -- and the dramatic Okinawan rocker Rinken, who has appeared on stage and on albums with Mamadou Doumbia, a Malian bandleader and longtime Tokyo resident. Tetsuhiro Daiku has fused Okinawan tunes with, of all things, an urban Japanese brass-band tradition called chindon, and the irrepressible Kikusuimaru has not only turned the Osaka folksong form called Kawachi-ondo into a politicized form of Japanese rap -- and dabbled in bhangra -- he's made an album with those Texas accordion ironists Brave Combo, too.

These groups have attracted mostly what the Japanese call 'maniac fans' -- true believers rather than a mass audience -- but the pop supergroup The Boom has recently been playing the Paul Simon/David Byrne role, adapting worldbeat for the mainstream. They've had an Okinawan phase, a gamelan period, and now they are heavily into samba. In fact, their Braziliany 'Kaze ni Naritai' (I Want to be the Wind) recently became the official song of the J-League, Japan's popular professional soccer league.

(Most of the CDs listed, other than those marked Available in US, can be ordered from Far Side Music, 205 Sun City Hikawadai, 4-40-10 Hikawadai, Nerima-ku, Tokyo T179 Japan; phone and fax 011-81-03-3936-9464. See also the Asian Pops Information website for addresses of record stores in Tokyo.)




For More Information

Music
The Boom, Far East Samba, Sony, 1994.

Tetsuhiro Daiku, Okinawa Jinta, Off Note, 1994

Mamadou Doumbia, Acoustic Mandinka, Bad News, 1994