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.)
Tetsuhiro Daiku, Okinawa Jinta, Off Note, 1994
Mamadou Doumbia, Acoustic Mandinka, Bad News, 1994
Kikusuimaru and Brave Combo, Ondo wa Chikyu no Sukuu (Ondo is the Salvation of the World),TeleDisc, 1993
Shoukichi Kina, Peppermint Tea House, Luaka Bop, 1994 (available in US) Sample, Track 10 'Haisai Ojisan' (219K .au format)
Nenes, Koza Dabasa, Ki-Oon Sony, 1994 (Features Ry Cooder, David Lindley, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos).
World Wide Web
JWave Homepage (Top 100 tunes in Tokyo)
Dan's Japan/China Page (Info on mainstream Japanese and Asian pop)