Friday, June 16, 2006

As my trip approaches, I find myself more and more fixated on it. Every unrelated aspect reminds me of some preparation - cooking dinner leads me to Japanese food, washing clothes to packing lists, asking questions of a grocery clerk to concerns about communication.

Then, it came time for me to write my reviews for the upcoming issue of Exclaim! In my pile were two albums - one by the Yoshida Brothers, a duo of shamisen players who have electrified the instruments, and then Rin', who are three graduates of the Tokyo university of Fine Arts and Music, with degrees in traditional Japanese music. They have become a pop trio, adding English vocals over their koto, shakuachi and other instruments.

The reviews will be out in a few weeks, with the next issue, but there was one thing I noticed with both albums - this is an incredibly hard fusion to do well. Somehow, it is easier to accept combinations of Indian music and western pop, or other nationalities, but with east Asian sounds, it is very very easy for it to become...kitchy. And particularly with Japanese music, because their own brands of J-Pop are so strongly westernized, that perhaps it is more of an expectation than an innovation. I'm not exactly sure why this is - but I certainly came away with mixed feelings about the music - and curiosity of what I had even expected in the first place.

Did I want something more "traditionally Japanese?" What does that even mean - what sound was I looking for? What was there that I DIDN'T want? It's still a big question, and one I have developed more in retrospect, and I'm sure I will ponder more in the future.

I don't know how much live music I'll be experiencing while there - festival music for sure, as we'll be in Osaka for one of their biggest festivals of the summer. But I will be experiencing another musical form - karaoke. I have been told (or threatened, perhaps) that we will be heading to a karaoke bar with a friend and her Japanese friends, to experience this particular facet of social interaction. Please, all of you reading - wish me luck.

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