Tag Archives: blackanese


Blackanese: The Weeknd ft. Drake – Live For(ビデオ)




Abel Tesafaye follows up his video for “Belong to the World” with a gloomy, drug-addled sequel, that keeps with Kiss Land’s Japan-inspired aesthetic. No art school girls this time around though. Just OVO and XO traipsing around a defunct office building/warehouse, emoting in the darkness from behind occasional bursts of hiragana that reiterate to the j-audience that this is, indeed, the shit he lives for.

Again, the use of Japanese here seems strange. Like, what’s the basis? The Weeknd has said before that Kiss Land is like a horror movie, and now that I think of it, his character in these videos does remind me of that weird dude from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s The Cure.


But still, why Japan?

“Kiss Land is the story after Trilogy; it’s pretty much the second chapter of my life,” he continued. “The narrative takes place after my first flight; it’s very foreign, very Asian-inspired. When people ask me ‘Why Japan?’ I simply tell them it’s the furthest I’ve ever been from home. It really is a different planet.”

(via MTV)

Oh. Well I guess that makes sense.


Blackanese: Mbira Takes Tokyo

The African lamellophone, thumb piano or mbira

The African lamellophone, thumb piano or mbira (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time, Erika Hayashi traveled to Zimbabwe and found herself completely surrendered to the irresistible charms of mbira music.

Back in my wily youth, my mom had an mbira, an instrument also known as a ‘hand piano’. Additionally, there were a few djembes and some wind instruments lying around the house that I was not allowed to touch because they were there as part of a Back to Africa thing she was going through at the time, not as musical instruments. Luckily, the mbira was playable and over the course of an afternoon, I taught myself how to play one short song: the Nickelodeon fanfare, because duh. I was pretty proud of the accomplishment, but never thought to take it any further.

(hit Play, then continue reading, if it please you)

Not so for Erika Hayashi. She was touched deeply by the mbira’s sweet sound – and probably also the Zimbabwean culture it represents – so much so that she went back to Japan and opened two mbira schools, obviously.

WONDER GUCHU explains:

She has quit her nursing job to goose up Zimbabwean music by performing for tourists visiting the 333-metre broadcasting Tokyo tower where tourists come to view the city.

“I used to admire Florence Nightingale when I was growing up hence I became a nurse, but certainly mbira has become an integral part of me,” Erika explained.

Apart from goosing up the mbira, Erika has also written a book titled ‘Ngoma in Japanese’, which is used as a learners’ guide to mbira music.

You could fill a bathroom or a small backpack with books about alleged Japanese appropriation of Black culture. Is j-jazz REAL jazz? Is j-rap REAL rap? The question of authenticity has started many “intellectual” arguments and ended as many friendships. Everyone has their own opinion on whether music come from place or race, and I wonder what those types think about something like this.

Perhaps the appeal lies in ancestral sounds handed down from the distant past. Perhaps the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the instrument and its sounds appeal to the collective consciousness of many Japanese people. Whatever the case, if Katsuhiro Otomo lost his mind and directed another Akira film, the mbira doesn’t sound like it would be out of place in the cacophony of choral arrangements, shamisen grinding and gamelan insanity.

What do you think? Is j-mbira an AUTHENTIC musical form? Crass imitation? Does it even matter? Perhaps this man’s message to Japanese people will offer some insight!

Perhaps not.

BIzarrely, another Erica, this one American, has a similar story reported by WONDER GUCHU. Coincidence or glitch in the Matrix. YOU DECIDE.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Blackanese: Kokujin Tensai

It’s hard to know where to start here, but I guess this is as good a place as any:

Kokujin Tensai (黒人天才), or Black Genius, is a guy named Eric from Tennessee who decided in the mid-2000s that he wanted to become a J-rap star. He almost perfectly embodies the idea this blog is founded on, even if I don’t remember what that is anymore.

Black Genius formed a group with his friends in Memphis toward the end 2006, after which they began to craft their brand of rap for Japanese audiences. How did these dudes in the American South, home to its own tradition of rap including questionable Oscar winners Three 6 Mafia, decide that this was the route they wanted to take?

The best piece of biography I could find comes from a 2007 entry in Watashi to Tokyo, which reads:

This is the American Rapper “Kokujin Tensai”. He raps in Japanese. He fell in love with a Japanese girl who came to his high school for her studies. He tried to master Japanese for her because she couldn’t speak English well. She returned to Japan after just one year but he started to sing original rap in Japanese. Good story.

Good story, indeed! The bio on the group’s Myspace page goes on to explain that Kokujin Tensai  began learning Japanese his junior year in high school, presumably the year a j-spell was cast on him, and upon graduating decided that rapping in Japanese was where he wanted to put his heart.

The result? A Japan tour, two albums released (both of them available on iTunes), and dozens of videos of KT & Co. dancing, performing live, taking photos with fans, and generally being a cool dudes.

I think Kokujin Tensai has done something admirable here. Japanese is not only a difficult language to learn, but also a super difficult language to rap in; I know because of some amateur bars I’ve composed myself in the eerie solitude of a parking booth. Somehow he managed a feat that some J-native speakers can hardly achieve, and in the process convinced some of his friends to do the same, formed a group, recorded the efforts and took it to Japan. Let’s be real; that takes dedication.

There is only one problem:

The approach.

KT doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and instead focuses on the same stereotypical subject matter that people offhandedly associate rap with. From a musical standpoint, the shit is played out, but from a marketing standpoint this is the type of stuff people buy by the truckload. Maybe the sentiment is “THIS ALBUM IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS, SO FUCK YOU.” Give and take, right?

Perhaps KT’s goal is the export of a more authentic brand of Memphis rap to Japan. There are hella videos under the group’s accounts dellchan and kokujin tensai that demonstrate buckinbooty poppinhow to flick the LS, and at least one on how to perform cunnilingus on a cantaloupe (no linx, you’ll have to find that one yourself, kids).  It’s all performed against a backdrop of the American south and soundtracked by Memphis all-stars like David Banner, DJ Paul, and the rest. Check this Gangsta Walk tutorial:

The illusory concept of “authenticity” (i.e. actually being a Black American rapping about it in Japanese) seems to be the only thing Kokujin Tensai can bring a genre that is already clichéd with clubz, thugz, sex, and drugz.

Does the Japanese demographic that buys J-rap want to hear Kokujin Tensai? Japan has a sort of lust for the exotic that clashes with the protection of their own culture. Acts can perform in Japanese, very well even, but are hardly taken seriously. How many years did it take for Jero to shake the variety show novelty of being the first Black Enka singer and be recognized as an artist that revitalized a near obsolete Japanese musical form for a young demographic?

Despite a seemingly successful, if short career in music, there is no trace of Black Genius after 2009. Did he enroll in the JET programme? Did he settle down with the girl that inspired this whole endeavor? The shit is a mystery, and we may never know.

Luckily for us, he’s left behind an incredible catalogue of Internet documents that we can enjoy over and over again. Observe this Genius track “Waruguchi Sensei,” which is probably an underground hit in Japanese middle schools.

Waruguchi Sensei

Despite my wariness of Black Genius’ export of a played out image of  black dudes, and his ultimately ridiculous rap persona, I simply cannot hate on videos like this:

Blackanese: Kanye West in Neo Tokyo

Welcome, readers, to the new editorial series here on JSR, BLACKANESE, where we will explore the deeply interesting junction where black and Japanese culture meet by way of short, unilluminating posts, the first of which follows below. It’s a topic close to my heart and rather than trying to write a term paper of a post about it, I thought I’d separate it out into bite-size chunks to better address the scope of such a “deep topic”. As always, let me know what you think and hit me with suggestions if you come across something you think would fit in. That said, let’s hop into Exhibit A:

The last post got me thinking about other influences the movie Akira has had on American music and this video came to mind. In the case of “Stronger”, the influence is purely visual but still an interesting intersection of US x JPN “culture.” As far as rap videos go, Kanye West seems to always achieve the right mix of formula (seductive Blasian girl, multi-expensive fashion, etc.) with artistry (visual homage to 1980s anime). Anyone coming to this blog has probably seen the source material, but in case you haven’t, check the bike scene and hospital scene below to get your context on.