Lisa Ono and the New Japanese Bossa Nova

Vintage types who have listened to recordings of Jet Set Radio will note the steady presence of bossa nova and other groovy muzak-type tunes in the playlists. When it comes to cultural cross-pollination between Japan and other countries, “j-bossa” proves itself a ripe genre with its own stars and influence on other areas of music by Japanese artists; Miho Hatori “bossed up” for her two EPs with Smokey Hormel as “Smokey and Miho”, and Yuki Chikudate performs an acoustic “Bossa” on Asobi Seksu’s Rewolf album.

When I say “New Japanese Bossa Nova” I actually mean “Old Japanese Bossa Nova” because this has been happening since the two countries started interacting, and they go waaayyy back.

This promotional flyer reads: Brazil is so tite! Bring the fam! Make super loot! Slave labor optional!

The largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan is in Brazil thanks to a shady immigration treaty drawn up between the two nations in 1908. The end of Feudalism in Japan brought on unprecedented poverty among rural families. Around the same time, the abolition of slavery created a huge hole in the Brazilian workforce that needed filling post-haste; rural Japanese needed jobs and rich Brazilians were hiring. Some good marketing (see: left) and a short boat ride later, the first Japanese families landed in Brazil to cash in on the promise of a new life and were instead exploited by the coffee barons there. The more things change, right?

Alas, time marches on and tempers would rise and fall between the two nations, but time heals all wounds and eventually Japanese-Brazilians became an accepted “thing”. Though mainland Japanese seem to be too stuffy to accept the first part of Japanese-Brazialians’ binomial nomenclature, JBs have managed to bloom into a significant, photogenic demographic.

As a result of this sordid history, we have Lisa Ono, a half-Japanese, half Brazilian songstress whose resume is replete with bossa classics and covers of other genre hits, including bossa versions of soul jams “Georgia on My Mind“, “What’s Goin On” and a re-imagined, elevator version of famous stalker-anthem “Every Breath You Take“. In fact, at least half of her Youtube catalog is comprised of covers and versions of famous songs, which I guess is what people want when they search for Japanese Bossa Nova.

Previously, I have operated under the pretense that all bossa sounds remarkably similar, but there are some wacky subgenres and styles that mushroom up, especially when you take into account bossa nova’s influence on J-pop. A little Internet sleuthing  revealed a blog called minipopcube, where you can find no less than five Japanese bossa nova compilations which examine bossa nova through the lenses of 60s pop, electro, modern j-pop, chanson, maybe witchhouse, and other niche genres to keep you coming back for more. Like most collections, the songs are hit and miss and run the gamut from saccharine pop tunes to legit dancefloor jams to island coolout classics (read: “Authentic Bossa Nova”).

Bossa is a genre for which I have to really be in the mood (read: in a hammock, on an island) to listen to all day, and seeing as how I live in the decidedly inequatorial state of Indiana, it could be awhile before I listen through to give you the FULL SCOOP on what’s HOT and what’s NOT.

But why wait for me? I can smell your ears are burning with curiousity, so check das links below, turn up the heat and let me know how you really feel about it, slimes!

Akasaka Rare Groove Vol 1.
Tokyo Bossa Nova Lounge Chronicle
Bossa Nova 1991: Shibuya Scene Retrospective
Tokyo Bossa Nova Lounge: Summer Mix
Tokyo Bossa Nova Lounge: Winter Mix,


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