A Cultural Manifesto: Japanese afrobeat

 

Fela would be proud. The last few years have seen his vision of afrobeat explode into a worldwide

movement. Out of this current global afrobeat revival, Japan's Kingdom Afrocks have become one of

my favorite groups.

Kingdom Afrocks are one of only a handful of Japanese bands who’ve embraced the afrobeat style.

The seven-piece ensemble have been turning heads with their high-powered live show, and have

become regulars on the Japanese festival circuit, playing the Fuji Rock Festival in 2007 and Gilles

Peterson's Worldwide Showcase in 2008.

In addition to faithfully replicating the rugged rhythms and anthemic choruses of the afrobeat sound,

Kingdom Afrocks have also maintained Fela's tradition of using the afrobeat form as a vehicle for

social commentary. The group's back catalog is littered with message songs delivered in a combination

of Japanese, Spanish and English language.

Kingdom Afrocks have just released their sophomore LP SanSanNaNa, a powerful follow up to their

2001 debut album Fanfare. I spoke with Kingdom Afrocks bassist Leo Nanjo from his home in Japan.

NUVO: Can you describe the Kingdom Afrocks sound and tell me a bit about the history of the

group?



Leo Nanjo: The band formed at the end of 2006. We released our first 12″ in 2009, which became

a club hit in Japan. In 2011 we released our first LP Fanfare, which included a collaboration with

Fela's drummer Tony Allen. The core of our music lies in afrobeat, but there are also elements of jazz,

Brazilian music, Latin beats, rock and roll, you name it!

The group has a very international background. I was born and raised in Brazil. Our drummer Keiichi

Tanaka has spent time in Senegal and recently returned from a five year period studying percussion

in Cuba. Our guitarist Daisuke Nomoto has experience playing music in New Orleans and our dancer

Yussy just returned from Senegal.

NUVO: What initially inspired you to play afrobeat?


Leo Nanjo: The first time I heard afrobeat was at a Tony Allen gig in 2005 in Japan. It was an amazing experience. After that I wondered if could some day play afrobeat myself, and by 2006 we had formed the band. We are trying to make afrobeat music with a distinct Japanese style and a unique message for the Japanese people.

Nuvo: Is there a large scene for afrobeat music in Japan?


Leo Nanjo: No, the scene is not large yet, but it is growing quickly and it's catching up with the other

music scenes here. Our newest single is a collaboration with a pair of hip-hop artists and a female

singer who are very famous in the Japanese pop music scene. This collaboration is becoming a topic of

conversation for all music lovers in Japan, which is helping to spread the afrobeat sound here.

Nuvo: How have the audiences in Japan been reacting to the Kingdom Afrocks sound?


Leo Nanjo: Anytime we play the audience goes crazy! People dance and sing from the beginning of

the show to the end.

Nuvo: Tell me about the song 
“Loud Minority?”

Leo Nanjo: Earlier this year, on March11, we released the single “Loud Minority.” The release date

marked the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Japan. The song is a message of

peace for all Japanese people as well as the Japanese government.

Nuvo: Future plans for the group?

Leo Nanjo: We just released our second album here in Japan and we’re currently looking for a label to

release the album internationally. We're looking forward to playing gigs overseas and sharing the stage

with artists we respect.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's edition explores contemporary afrobeat music, featuring a new track from Kingdom Afrocks.

1. Kingdom Afrocks - BonBonBon (2012, Village Again Japan)

2. Kojato and The Afro Latin Cougaritas - Everywhere You Go Now, Kuti (2012, Buyu)

3. Antibalas - Dirty Money (2012, Daptone Records)

4. Jungle By Night - Marsvin (2012, Kindred Spirits)

5. The Shaolin Afronauts - Winds Across Gayanamede (2012, Freestyle)

6. Ebo Taylor - Kruman Dey (2012, Strut)

7. The Funkees - Akpankoro (2012 reissue, Soundway)

8. Konkoma - Accra Jump (2012, Soundway)

9. Banderas - Djougouya (2012, Nightshift Muzik)

10. Seun Kuti - The Good Leaf [Spoek Mothambo remix] (2012, Because Music)

11. Débruit - Akoula (2012, Civil Music)

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Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.