Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Kansai Scene

If you're the kind of person who likes to cruise the local music scene, Kansai is a good place to live. Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara are jam-packed with small, homegrown bands and artists either just doing their own thing or trying to make it big. Having musical friends who fit either or both categories, I've been to a number of concerts at various venues over the past year.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to cover a show organized by my friends Dylan and Sammy of Ihou no Kyaku. There are myriad hidden bars, live houses, and basements scattered throughout the Kansai area, but luckily this show was held at a relatively easy-to-find venue at 元町(Motomachi) in Kobe. プラネトEarth (Planet Earth) is an interesting little joint - part art gallery, part bar, and part performance hall. It has a very bohemian atmosphere.

The show started off with Ihou no Kyaku (異邦の客). Second was a solo performance by guitarist Nara Hideki, followed by a traditional Japanese set by Gajin(雅人). Afterwards was a kind of half-time show by an amateur manzai duo going by the name of New River(ニューリバ). The one man show known as Qafu took the stage next, and the night was wrapped up by the lovely Chammy.

Band Name: Ihou no Kyaku (異邦の客)
Members: Dylan (Acoustic guitar/vocals) Sammy (Electric guitar)
Inspirations: Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews Band
Favorite Venues: Osaka, Kobe
Notes: Ihou no Kyaku ("Strangers in a Strange Land" in English) is an acoustic rock duo sometimes accompanied by a drummer or bassist. The influences of their inspirations, Mraz and DMB, are heavily recognizable in their music. Highly recommended if you're a fan of either. The Strangers count among their songs pieces in both Japanese and English. Feel free to check out their website for samples, or look them up on Facebook if you might be interested in attending a future show.

Band Name: Nara Hideki
Members: Nara Hideki (acoustic guitar/vocals)
Website: http://sound.jp/the-trip/index.html (mind your website's encoding)
Inspirations: Neil Young
Favorite Venues: All over Hyogo
Notes: Nara's like of American Southern rock was apparent in his songs. His sound struck me as a sort of J-rock meets Southern rock fusion. Other influences were also detectable - one of his songs sounded as if it incorporated elements of traditional Chinese music.

Band Name: Gajin
Members: JB (Janbe), Doug (Biwa)
Website: gajin.xxxxxxxx.jp (that's 8 x's)
Inspirations: Sakato Yoshiko
Favorite Venues: Osaka, Kobe
Notes: Impressive performers, whether or not you are a big fan of traditional Japanese music. The rhythmic janbe beat and twang of the biwa are definitely something to check out if you've never seen them performed, and JB and Doug seemed quite up to the task of providing an enjoyable introduction to any newcomer to (or member of) the traditional Japanese musical scene.

Band Name: New River
Members: Musuda Naoyuki, Tatsumi Akinobu
Website: -
Inspirations: Downtown
Favorite Venues: Osaka University
Notes: At the moment, New River performs almost exclusively at Osaka University, but hopefully someday these two amateur manzai comedians will branch out. Their performance at the show was short but quite entertaining.

Band Name: Qafu
Members: Maeda Daisuke (Guitar/vocals/etc)
Website: maetsch.info
Inspirations: Bowie
Favorite Venues: Osaka
Notes: I'm not quite sure how to describe Qafu, but I will offer a few words: surprising, different, refreshing, kooky, and fun. His performance was evocative of a nightmarish circus scene from hell. Qafu throws everything he can at the audience by using recording and looping equipment on the spot with various guitar distortions and vocal sounds. It makes for quite a good show.

Band Name: Chammy
Members: Chammy (Vocals/violin)
Website: -
Inspirations: Mariah Carey
Favorite Venues: Osaka
Notes: Chammy is quite a talent, with abeautiful and impressive singing voice and quite a knack for the violin. Her portion of the show mixed Mariah Carey-esque pop music with classical (one of her transitions was from an upbeat vocal piece to a violin rendition of Cannon in D).

Let me finish up by saying that these kinds of shows are fairly frequent and can be a nice way to spend an evening every once in a while. Not only might you find a band that you like, but the venues are often cozy little places with laid back atmospheres, so it is usually a simple matter to meet the performers or chat with other members of the audience.


  1. off topic- but i wanted to post it on a musical post- i've been listening to the singer Clementine. She's Japanese and sings in French. Very enjoyable if you get a minute and want some laid back jazz tunage