I’ve featured a few of my favorite songs or videos on here a few times before, but here’s some more I’d like to share. I don’t know if there’s a word for this sub-genre, or if it even is technically a sub-genre (any ethnomusicologists out there?), but I love the use of traditional instruments, sampling of traditional songs, to create very (post-?)modern, current music with the flavor of East Asian tradition.
I’m sure plenty could be written, and has been written, about the socio-cultural discursive impact of a neo-traditional revival movement, and performativity of identity. But, I’d rather not deal with that today. Just some of my favorite bands/artists who you might not learn of or come across otherwise. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Guitar – Naoki
Guitar (ギター), also known as Michael Luckner, is a German music artist based in Germany. I love the koto(?) trills and such in this song. It’s easily my favorite of what I’ve heard of his, but there’s tons more that’s also quite good.
Shanghai Restoration Project – The Bund (instrumental)
The Shanghai Restoration Project is group headed by Chinese-American Dave Liang. Their music, as you can hear, is very modern, using elements of electronica (I guess?, or something along those lines?), but their use of traditional Chinese instruments, and especially their song titles – which include “Bund”, “Nanking Road”, and “MCMXXXVII” – definitely help evoke the idea/aesthetic of 1920s-1930s Shanghai as romanticized in fiction, film, etc. . Personally, I much prefer the instrumental versions of their songs, and am glad for the availability of these, as the vocals are often in English, and too hip-hop or otherwise non-traditional/non-Chinese for my taste. But, anyway, what I like of their stuff, I really like.
Rin’ – Jikuu
Rin’ – Murasaki no yukari, futatabi
RIN’, a trio of young women who graduated Geidai (Tokyo National University of the Arts) together, were only active from 2003 until 2009, when they broke up, but in the intervening time, they put out some really great stuff. Their music employs mainly koto, shakuhachi, and biwa, and includes an album inspired by the Tale of Genji, as well as one entitled “Inland Sea,” in which they collaborated with American vocalists (e.g. Lisa Loeb), producing something that was, I thought, the perfect blend of American mainstream and traditional Japanese – plenty accessible, yet with just enough of a twist to be interesting, novel, new, intriguing, and maybe enough to get American mainstream listeners to try out Japanese music.
I like the first song much better, but the second provides a visual example of the aesthetic of their videos, and indicating, I think, that they’re not about exploiting tradition for the benefit of modern music, but rather quite the opposite. The feeling I get from this video is one of trying to make the traditional more hip, more accessible, and trying to drum up interest in the traditional, showing how dynamic a shamisen can be, how rocking a Noh stage can be, and how cool kimono can be.
HIFANA – Uchi-nan-champloo
HIFANA is a Tokyo-based group mixing very Okinawan sounds with hip-hop/reggae and electronica flavors. This is easily one of my favorite tracks from all the artists I’ve heard who make use of Okinawan folk music sounds. The video for their song WAMONO is pretty awesome too.
Ryukyu Underground – Umaku Kamade
Ryukyu Underground is the duo Keith Gordon and Jon Taylor, from the UK and US respectively, who met in Okinawa, and DJed there for a time, mixing samples of Okinawan folk music with electronica and such. Gaining popularity, they were later able to collaborate directly with prominent Okinawan folk singers to produce original tracks. Many of their tracks are simply named after traditional folk songs that they remix – Tingsagu nu Hana Dub is one of my favorites. Other tracks have more general new age / electronica sort of titles, like “East is East” and “The Spaces Between.” But, then, too, a few, such as “Koza Riot” make it clear that they are familiar with, and are addressing, the complex and dark history of US involvement in Okinawa.
Yoshida Brothers – Modern
Monkey Majik feat. Yoshida Brothers – Change
Finally, we have Yoshida Brothers, who are surely the top, leading, most famous non-traditional shamisen players in Japan. What sets them apart from all these others is that (so far as I know) they don’t use electronica remixing or anything of the sort, but really rely chiefly on the shamisen itself. Their music is so energetic… it really highlights the energy and potential of traditional Japanese music – that there’s no need to think of it as dusty, old, or boring.
Monkey Majik is a pair of brothers from Canada, based now in Sendai, whose music, for the most part, is indistinguishable from that of a mainstream Canadian alternative rock band with no connections to Japan at all. That is to say, they do use some Japanese in their lyrics and song titles, making it pretty clear; but their sound is nothing remarkable to me. Except for this album on which they collaborated with Yoshida Brothers, and created some really incredible, catchy, wonderful stuff. … In any case, like their sound or not, I love their story – the fact that two brothers in Japan teaching English, just regular 20-something white guys, could become this popular and successful, rather than getting stuck still teaching English, or having to move back home, is pretty damn cool.
So, that’s it. A quick romp through a few of my favorite bands/artists reviving (hopefully?) interest in traditional Japanese (or Chinese or Okinawan) sounds. I hope you like some of them; and if you have others you like, please leave a comment, and share it with us.
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2012 bring health and happiness, and hopefully some adventure (of the good kind) as well.