Emiko & KiriSute Gomen – Minyo Psychedelic Surf Rock

One of the things Japanese music is known for is mixtures. Crazy mixtures. Emiko & KiriSute Gomen are the latest to contribute to a pantheon of extraordinary concoctions. Into the E&KSG music blender are added, in roughly equal quantities, minyo (Japanese folk), 60s psychedelic and surf. Stir in a dash each of jazz and swing, and a pinch of j-pop and punk. Now, blend on full power, and out comes something, quite unlike anything you’ve heard before. Or will in the future. Yet somehow manages to sound as if these diverse musical ingredients were made for each other. No mean feat.

Emiko & KiriSute Gomen are based in France, long a melting pot for creative musicians from the African diaspora, even from Vietnam, but never before from Japan.
Leader of the band, singer, taiko drummer and percussionist is Emiko Ota, who has been living in France for 10 years, initially to join a class in classical percussion. She soon morphed into a creative, multifaceted tour-de-force in the Parisian underground scene, playing with bands such as Fantazio, Les Elles, Urban Sax, Rihanna and Brain Damage, traditional group Ensemble Sakura and visiting Japanese musicians such as Otomo Yoshihide.

Electronic, classical, blues, dub, experimental, and Japanese minyo all came under her radar, as she performed in France and around the world in various guises at venues and festivals including Théâtre d’Arras, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques (Musée Guimet), Musée Jacques Chirac, La Cigale (Paris), French Embassies in Rome, Luxembourg and Paris for the ambassadors of Japan, at the Institut Franco-Japonais in Tokyo, Celtic Festival in Chicago (US), Festival de Gand (Belgium), Festival de Bourges (France), Festival International de Musique Sacrée in Sylvanes, Festival de Musique Classique in Saint- Jacques-de-Compostelle (Spain), Festival International des Emirats Arabes Unis, Festival International de Théâtre in Moscow, Pori Jazz Festival (Finland), and Glastonbury Festival (UK).


In 2011 she formed Emiko & KiriSute Gomen, focusing herself mainly on vocals to create music primarily based around minyo and other Japanese popular songs, but with extraneous influences she had encountered in France. Joining her are French musicians playing guitar, bass, shamisen (Japanese three stringed lute) and drums.

The backing band provides Emiko with the vehicle to express her chameleon musical abilities. Each song, traditional or contemporary is arranged by the band in a unique way, yet still pays respect to the original.

Folk music in Japan has always been in a process of constant evolution. Fittingly, in France, in the hands of the Emiko & KiriSute Gomen, minyo is undergoing more of a revolution.

Emiko & KiriSute Gomen’s first album Shyohatto was released in 2013.

Emiko Ota : lead vocals, taiko (Japanese percussion), drums
Julien Omeyer : guitar, bass, backing vocals

Sylvain Diony : shamisen (Japanese banjo), backing vocals
Simon Poncet: drums, backing vocals

Emiko & KuriSute Gomen are based in France and are available for shows and festivals worldwide in 2015. For more information or to book the group get in touch with us via the Far Side web site

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Takio Ito – The Japan Times

The most compelling, expressive and soulful instrument of all is the human voice. Outside of most western music, some vocalists have an ability to capture a certain indefinable sense of yearning. Voices with a fiery beauty and explosive power; intimate, haunting, ageless, mysterious. Some of the best known are West Africa’s Salif Keita and Youssou N’dour, or from Pakistan the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but there are several other lesser known names from around the world. So, who could possibly be Japan’s representative in such illustrious company? Step forward Takio Ito.

As with other great singers, Ito is not only blessed with an inimitable voice, but has constantly striven to develop and expand his tradition, in Ito’s case min’yo or Japanese folk music. Takio Ito was born in Tomakomi, Hokkaido in 1950, the youngest of identical twins and the last of 13 children, or “the last drop of my parents” as he puts it.


His father was a poor fisherman in a seaside village which didn’t even have electricity until he was 12 years old. According to Ito, his expanded vision was conceived growing up and listening to his family’s singing. They would sing min’yo, but Ito never knew what it was called. “Sometimes I helped my father fish on his boat. As he rowed or drew the fishing net he’d say “oh-o-shi, koh-o-shi” or “yara-dockoy, dockoyosho”. I couldn’t figure out if it was a call or a song, but now I believe he was singing for himself, and it soaked into my body and heart. That’s why I don’t like to distinguish one music style from others; enka or rock or jazz.”

Min’yo (derived from the German word ‘Volklied’) is the standard term for folk songs, and are associated with particular communities or districts throughout Japan. Songs typically relate to work, weddings, drinking, or to pray for the spirit of a tree or animal. Those lyrics can be personal or local or sometimes near nonsense. However, the real meaning and spirit of min’yo, is believed to have somehow gotten lost during the Meiji period of modernization in Japan in the second half of the 19th century. The government strove hard to root out traditional culture, deemed not suitable for a western style nation. Many min’yo songs were re-written and only government approved min’yo came to be recorded or played on the radio. Pockets of true min’yo survived however in rural regions, including Ito’s hometown.

It was the devastation of min’yo that eventually led to the evolution of ‘Japanese pops’, and some believe the definition of min’yo to not be a folk music at all. “The image of min’yo is like a traditional music” says Ito, “but min’yo has always been for the common people. It was simply the popular music of the time.” The rather conservative Min’yo Association and other preservation societies have probably fostered the traditional image, and have strict credentials for issuing teaching licenses. At 18 years old Takio Ito was the youngest ever certified teacher. He went on to win the national Min’yo championship three years running, and his reputation was firmly established.

Ito was to find the confines of belonging to the Association stifling for his creativity and promptly quit in 1981, declaring his teachers could tell him nothing. He became independent, thereby foregoing the chance to perform publicly with ease or teach. “They” (the Association), he says, “called me crazy”. “Min’yo has always changed through the years, and has adapted and been influenced by each particular period of time. Because min’yo is thought of as traditional these days and taught as such, you can’t hear it in the cities or on the streets anymore. I wanted to let people know what min’yo is, so to do that I mixed min’yo with jazz or rock and played at usual live houses. In reality there are no rules to Min’yo, you sing how you feel. That can be happy or sad or I get some power from the audience and I just express my feelings. My father used to sing Soran Bushi (a Hokkaido fishing song) differently everytime. That original working style of min’yo was just voice and clapping.”


Ito’s own updated, powerful rocking versions of ‘Soran Bushi’, have become one of his trademark songs, and have even been adopted by schools throughout Japan, some of which have formed troupes of dancers to accompany the song. “One of the points of min’yo is the call and response vocals. That can help make you feel at one with the people you’re with.” observes Ito. As an independent voice, Ito has been expanding the realms of min’yo by incorporating jazz and rock plus other Asian and Japanese traditional elements, while bass, guitar, violin, piano and drums are combined with shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko. In some ways, Takio Ito represents the true ‘soul’ of Japan, and shows how a tradition can keep it’s essence and evolve without selling out to western music.

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Micabox – Spiritual Hi-Tech Orientalism

The Japanese may be well known for making the machines music is listened to, but little for making the music itself. In the west, some of the best known Japanese music is either the ancient traditional (taiko drums) or the hi-tech computer generated (Yellow Magic Orchestra) Micabox bring together these two diverse styles like nothing before, truly combining ancient and modern Japan. On Hinemosu kagura (music for the gods) minyo (local folk) and other Oriental sounds are mixed with the cutting edge electronics of Toshimi Mikami, together with help from his mentor, the legendary Haruomi Hosono (ex-YMO) and superb female vocalist Ayako Takato. This album was originally released in Japan by Daisyworld, the much respected label run by Haruomi Hosono.

Toshimi Mikami who has long been fascinated by the possibilities of electronic music, cites Haruomi Hosono among his main influences. He is not alone. Hosono who mixed and adds additional sounds to this CD has been a pioneering musician in Japan for several decades, at the forefront of creating Japanese rock music with the group Happy End, technopop with his group Yellow Magic Orchestra (along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi) world music and electronic dance music. Still today Hosono is an inspiration for many of the new generation of innovative Japanese dance and experimental music creators.
When the term world music first came into wider usage in the mid 1980s, like other Japanese, Toshimi Mikami wondered what his own country had to offer. It took him a while to find it, but he discovered two types of homegrown music; kagura and minyo. Kagura “god music” is music and dance played at shrines, and is probably Japan’s most ancient surviving music. It has its roots in acts of magic in worship of the gods inhabiting the forest and sea. It has incorporated elements of noh and kabuki theatre, including the use of elaborate masks. Some of the instruments include the simple bamboo flute, the takebue an the large odaiko and smaller taiko drums.


Minyo meanwhile are local Japanese folk songs of which literally thousands exist, from the far north of Hokkaido to the deep south of Okinawa. Themes include fishermen pulling in nets, farmers planting crops, lullabies and weddings. Performers of minyo and other traditional styles belong mostly to quite conservative associations and updated versions are not always welcomed. It wasn’t until Mikami met female singer Ayako Takato in the Pan-Pacific Mongoloid Unit, a group run by Haruomi Hosono of which Mikami is also a member that Mikami had found a singer with the versatility to sing the tunes he had composed over a number of years. Thus Micabox was born. Hosono discovered Takato after she had sent him a recording of her extraordinary voice. She had classical training, had tried singing pop music, but it wasn’t until she joined the Pan-Pacific Mongoloid Unit and heard Mikami’s compositions that she found the music most suited to her voice. She too became fascinated with the worlds of kagura and minyo. Aside to performing together in the Pan-Pacific Mongoloid Unit, Toshimi Mikami is also a member’s latest group, Tokyo Shyness.


The album Hinemosu combines these ancient Japanese traditions and from other Asian countries especially China and Thailand with Mikami’s innovative electronic accompaniment. It sounds a bit like a snapshot of today’s Japan; where the grounds of an ancient, peaceful temple stands adjacent to the blazing neon of an advertising hoard. A curious mixture of the old and new, spiritual and hi-tech, serenity and chaos.

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