East Meets West: Globalization in Japanese Popular Music, Round Three By Alex Leavitt | Published: 11 January 2009 Karaoke’s

wicked popular in Japan (c’mon, like you didn’t know). It’s fun to show friends in America the YouTube videos of songs we’d sing every other week in Kyoto. Ken Hirai’s “Pop Star” ended up being that one song we’d sing every time we had the odd urge to spend $8 for thirty minutes in a box with two microphones. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=yM4EXnshE80] Ken Hirai, Pop Star Another popular karaoke band amongst us gaijin (外人) was a group called Monkey Majik. The band is, awesomely enough, also composed of two gaijin, who were assistant language teachers in the JET programme years back. Eventually, they formed the band, teamed up with some Japanese back-up musicians, and produced a number of songs that became fairly popular. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=_CH6RyaVvMs&feature=related] Monkey Majik, ただ、ありがとう Monkey Majik sings in both English and Japanese, and it doesn’t seem like they prefer one language over another. Though their performance is ordinarily American (they’re Canadian by the way), their sound mirrors that of other typical Japanese pop bands (I’d even go so far as to stereotype and say that the lyric methodology they employ, repeating the same line over and over, is mildly common enough in Japanese pop). But, yes, they possess

evidenced in October 2008. be another Japanese band without identifying themselves as foreigners. In 1970. “Free.” which presented the question of language use in rock music as a problem of performance and identity in the late 1960s. or. a discussion by contemporary Japanese rockers published in a music magazine showed how issues of language and identity could provoke angry divisions over how best to resolve the paradox of being both a rock musician and Japanese” (147). it is hard to distinguish them as a non-Japanese band. I’m facing the same type of problem when I think about whether or not anime produced or created by Americans can be considered true “Japanese” animation. as all four artists in the video play completely original instruments. foreign to either Japanese or North American traditions. Condry writes. “Japanese rockers debated whether they should aim for a global (i. Western.e. but identify themselves as foreign. I recently finished Ian Condry’s “Hip Hop Japan. English-speaking) audience or work to build the local scene. given Jero’s popularity. The YouTube clip I linked above is an interesting case..the Japanese sound (see the above video. They’ve been pegged by the Japanese government as quite obviously Canadian. just like anything else foreign that can mutter おはようございます. which I’ve written about before on a few occasions. I wonder then in which direction Monkey Majik’s founding members intended to move with their music: be a foreign artist performing and producing in Japan. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised though. They intrigue me because they draw the Japanese gaze so easily. But with a Japanese sound. . Thanks”).

com/watch?v=BurtuF959s&feature=related] Monkey Majik. the plot of the lost foreigner wandering Japan’s sidestreets at the beginning and end of the video. but does occur subtly in the duallyEnglish/Japanese song “Fly” above. with the ever-present sumo figurines in the lower left corner of the video. who appear as the shamisen duo in Monkey Majik’s “Change” video. “Change” is a good example. Change [youtube=http://www. The issue here is the politics behind the gaze of Japanese toward foreigners and how production companies can market musicians to fit that gaze. the array of fox masks hiding those Japanese actors that are so evidently Japanese it’s not even funny.com/watch? v=5IWVq7zSBlA] Monkey Majik.youtube. Did the band’s producers enforce an overt 日本らしい (typical of Japan) videoscape to localize the Canadians for Japanese viewers? Such “translation” doesn’t occur in MM’s Japanese songs. [youtube=http://www. Rising I want to highlight another band. the Yoshida Brothers.youtube. without throwing a blatantly foreign piece of work at Japanese audiences. Fly Another interesting aspect of the band’s music videos are its dependence on Japanese themes to carry Monkey Majik’s gaijinity past Japanese audience skepticism for everything foreign. the traditional Japanese guitar-like stringed instrument.[youtube=http://www.com/watch?v=RERXiliJfdI] Yoshida Brothers. They’re known specifically for their modernized shamisen work (though it still sticks to the .youtube. with its use of shamisen.

they remind me of the Chinese Twelve Girl Band.. foreigners might call them “banjos”). who use modern additions like synth and drums. Compared to Monkey Majik. as if showing the audience that they are not in fact using electric guitars. electric guitar. they strum strongly as if hitting a power chord. In a way. the Yoshida Brothers face a contrary issue: how to take their performance into a different realm of music culture. but also not so well known for being the performers of the official Wii commercial music. At about 1:05 into the video. have crafted their own performance style.” Perhaps they identify with a unique sound but try to hang on to their Japanese identity to not lose the authenticity of their instruments (eg.tsugaru-jamisen style). They don’t have to worry about appealing to Japanese audiences. Yoshida Brothers. creating a wall to visuals of the traditional Japanese to present instead a purely foreign sound. but like to cover songs and don’t really try to perform visually outside of a Chinese space. the two brothers sit behind their instruments. and deep drum. With regards to “Rising. at the same time. In the clash between musical and cultural identity.” this means the genre of rock. even when they wear traditional red-andwhite clothing in “Rising. on the other hand. they don’t want to appear Japanese to Japanese audiences. do we see new formation of genre through globalization? Or just a melange of strangely different elements that fortunately harmonize? . The video begins with a huge crescendo of shamisen. They beat their chests to the music. But still they surround themselves in “Rising” with Western musicians.

yoshida brothers. in that they play modern pop/rock/whatever type music with biwa. jero. identity. jpop. koto. Bookmark the permalink. japan. « The Uncertain Future of Academia in the Era of the Internet Notes on Prof. and makes them not nearly so interesting for me. Jonathan Culler’s “Theory of the Lyric” » One Comment 1. and shakuhachi. the sound that results from their teaming up with Yoshida Brothers. monkey majik. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. That first video seems really different from Hirai Ken’s normal style as a ballad singer… And thanks for introducing me to Monkey Majik. They also released one album collaborating with major American .This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged ethnomusicology. and the imagery and setting of the video. then I’m afraid there’s really nothing in their sound that distinguishes them as being Japan-inspired or Japan-influenced. shamisen. globalization. toranosuke Posted 11 January 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink Thanks for sharing these. though. If the majority of their stuff is like “Fly”. Are you familiar with the band Rin’? You might like them… they’re kind of like the Yoshida Brothers. “Change” is really great.

so they have a few songs with a sound more like “Change” – Japanese instruments and American vocals.singers. .

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful