The Tropical in East Asia: Appropriation, Location, and Circulation of Caribbean and Island Musics in East Asia

Panel Organizer and Chair: Noriko Manabe, CUNY Graduate Center

Asia has long held a fascination with Caribbean and island musics, from rumba in the 1920s, to mambo and calypso in the 50s, to reggae, dancehall, and salsa in the 80s and beyond. As explored by Hosokawa, Mitsui, and others, local artists in these genres have participated in global music scenes while debating what constitutes authenticity in their locale. In addition, the means by which these musics are diffused in Asia—by direct contact with artists or through recordings--have also influenced their reception.

This panel will explore the process of localization and appropriation of Caribbean and island musics. Our first speaker will describe the development of the reggae/dancehall scene in Japan, outlining the attraction of the genre and the selective integration of Jamaican culture. Our second speaker discusses the case of reggae in Taiwan, whose center in the tropical tourist destination of Taitung not only reinforces its association with summer fun but also places it in dialogue with indigenous musicians, who empathize with the marginalization of the African diaspora.

Our next two papers deal with the reinterpretations of a particular tropical song in different locales. Our third speaker explores the versions of the Venezuelan song “Moliendo café” in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Hawai’i, and Indonesia. Our fourth speaker will describe the processes of localization, authentication, appropriation, and commercialization in the popular song “Shima-Uta” by the Tokyo band The Boom, itself inspired by an Okinawan folk genre, and its subsequent popularization in Argentina.

Dreadlocks and Dajare: Localization and Globalization in Japanese Reggae/Dancehall

Noriko Manabe, CUNY Graduate Center

At the Yokohama Reggae Festival, which featured mostly Japanese artists and attracted sell-out crowds of 30,000, a Jamaican DJ told me, “Japan must be the biggest reggae market in the world.” Indeed, Japanese reggae and dancehall have grown from an underground scene to commercial success, with large festivals around the country and recordings topping charts.

Noteworthy is the global nature of Japanese artists’ engagement with the genre. Mighty Crown and Junko Kudo have won international contests for sound systems and dancehall queens respectively in Jamaica. Many Japanese artists live in Jamaica for long periods and maintain ties to the Jamaican scene, picking up dub plates, holding recording sessions, and organizing Japan-based concerts for Jamaican artists.

This close association with Jamaica has led some artists to adopt not only a musical style close to the original, but also behaviors at odds with Japanese norms, such as a coarsening of the voice to approximate Jamaican vocal timbre or an adoption of homophobic attitudes. Others assert their Japanese identities through references to Japanese comic arts or traditional music.

Drawn from interviews with leading artists and managers, this paper discusses the development of the Japanese reggae/dancehall scene, exploring the history of its reception in Japan, the business infrastructure that made it commercial, and the redefinition of authenticity in each genre. In particular, I will address the schism in the community regarding homophobia, the use of the Japanese language, and references to Japanese culture to assess the selective fusing of Japanese identity with Jamaican culture.

The Place of Genre: Locating Reggae in Taiwan

DJ Hatfield, Berklee School of Music

In this paper, I examine how those engaged in Taiwan’s underground reggae scene have come to understand reggae as belonging to specific places on the island. At first, this emplaced quality of reggae seems counterintuitive. Like hip-hop artists, Taiwanese reggae enthusiasts maintain interests in and connections to the larger reggae scene in Japan, performing at Japanese festivals, touring in Japan with Japanese artists, and inviting their Japanese colleagues to Taiwan. Major figures in Taiwan’s reggae scene have also lived for extended periods abroad, often in their youth. While these connections seem to mitigate against a sense of reggae as belonging to Taiwanese places, Taitung, a city on the island’s southeast coast, has emerged as the center for reggae performance. Taitung is a tropical tourist destination. The sense of reggae as appropriate to the city resembles commercial appropriations of reggae as a beach soundtrack. Yet reggae in Taitung placed the genre in an ongoing dialogue with indigenous musicians, for whom Taitung is an important cultural center in an urban indigenous diaspora. For these musicians, reggae’s formation within a Black Atlantic diaspora allowed the genre to resonate with what they perceived as shared experiences of displacement and marginalization. Providing an account from interviews and observations of how these musicians and listeners have located reggae, I will examine the relationship between emplacement and the localization of world music genres.

From “Moliendo café” to “Kōhī rumba:” An Asian Variant of the Latin Tinge

Richard Miller, University of Wisconsin- Madison

John Storm Roberts famously identified a “Latin tinge” in American popular music—the long historical influence and counter-influence across what has been called the Black Atlantic connecting Africa, Europe, and the New World. Similarly, even a cursory listen to Asian popular music reveals a Latin tinge. Latin music has at times been enthusiastically taken up in a straightforward manner directly from New World examples, whether via the Filipino dance bands staffing the US cross-Pacific steamship lines in the 1920s or, more recently, in the case of the justly celebrated Japanese salsa band Orquesta de la Luz. However, often the specific colors of the Latin tinge result from circulation within Asia through means ranging from semi-legal karaoke VCDs to deliberate cross-border collaboration. Hosokawa, Atkins, Jones, Mitsui, Condry, and other scholars have explored some of the history of cross-Pacific popular music circuits; Iwabuchi, McCargo, and others have looked at intra-Asian circulation of popular media, particularly video. In this paper, I examine the Asian circulation of popular music with a Latin tinge, taking as my primary case the classic Latin song “Moliendo café” (“Grinding Coffee”) from its creation as a harp-based rumba by Venezuelan musicians Hugo Blanco and José Manzo in 1960 through to the 2001 cover “Kōhī rumba” (“Coffee Rumba”) by Japanese crooner Inoue Yosui, stopping along the way in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Hawai’i, and Indonesia.

Windows, Mirrors, and the Adventures of a Traveling Song

Ana María Alarcón Jiménez, University of California – San Diego

On a Tokyo evening in 2002, thousands of Japanese and Argentine soccer fans sang the melody of the song “Shima-Uta” in rapturous unison, right before a match between their national teams. “Shima-Uta” was released in Japan in 1993 by Tokyo band The Boom. Intended as a tribute to Okinawa and its folk music, shimauta, the song has traveled around the world, becoming the most widely-known shimauta among Japanese and Latin American youth. In Argentina, a local version of “Shima-Uta,” sung in Japanese, won three Gardel Awards in 2001, and it was chosen as the official song to represent the Argentine soccer team for the Korea/Japan FIFA World Cup of 2002.

This paper will describe the journeys and interactions of shimauta and “Shima-Uta,” exploring the processes involved in the dissemination of a folk music genre in the guise of a commercially popular song. First, I will discuss the changing interpretations of the word shimauta before and after the popularization of The Boom’s song. I will then compare The Boom’s “Shima-Uta” to its Okinawan and Argentinean cover versions, highlighting for each case the musical elements of localizing, authenticating, and re-appropriating. Finally, I will examine the use of "Shima-Uta" for not only the trans-local connection of Okinawan communities but also the socio-cultural representation of the Japanese diaspora in Argentina, paying particular attention to the roles played by Sony Music in Japan and Argentina in localizing the global, and in globalizing the local shimauta.