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Groove is in the House

by Steve McClure

Ambitious is the word that comes to mind when looking at the publicity material for the inaugural New York-Tokyo Music Festival. Scheduled to take place in the Big Apple May 23-26, the event will feature live performances by a variety of Japanese artists, including Towa Tei, Ken Ishii and Mondo Grosso.

The live shows are happening at various Manhattan venues, including Pier 63, the Knitting Factory and Fryingpan. Besides concerts, the festival will include a symposium at the Japan Society. Up for discussion will be how to spread the word on J-pop to what the festival organizers call the “MTV generation.”

Companies wishing to promote their wares and services are also being invited to rent booths at the festival.

The New York-Tokyo Music Festival is being put together by a New York-based company called Pro-Tech Design, which for the past two years has organized the New York Anime Film Festival (check out their Web site at www.newyork-tokyo.org ).

Now I think it’s fair to say that Japanese anime is a bigger draw overseas than Japanese music, the obvious reason being that, unlike pop music, you can dub anime into English and not lose the essence of the medium.

But the festival organizers are sanguine about J-pop’s prospects overseas. The event, they confidently proclaim, “will attract existing J-music fans and provide an exciting and fresh twist for other American MTV-generation music lovers. It is not necessary to understand Japanese in order to understand and appreciate J-music. Conversely, audiences in Japan place American artists on the top of their music charts without knowing what they’re singing, thus proving that music is a universal language.”

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Eating fish won’t rot your brain. That’s the implicit message of “O-Sakana Tengoku (Fish Heaven),” originally recorded 10 years ago as part of a National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations campaign and released as a single by Pony Canyon on March 20.

It’s a lighthearted, up-tempo song in the tradition of “Dango San-Kyodai (Three Dumpling Brothers),” another culinary-themed novelty number that was a huge hit a few years back. “O-Sakana Tengoku,” however, has a serious message. Check out the lyrics, which translate:

“Fish, fish, fish, If you eat fish, Brain, brain, brain, It’s good for your brain.

“Fish, fish, fish, If you eat fish, Body, body, body, It’s good for your body.”

I’m sure the timing of the single’s release has absolutely nothing to do with all the recent horror stories about mad cow disease.

The song is performed by voice trainer Hiromi Shibaya and was written by her husband, Toshihiko, former guitarist in pop band the Juicy Fruits.

I’m waiting for an “answer song” from the National Beef Cattle Association. They’re not the kind of folks to be cowed into silence by this kind of promotional tactic.

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Muneo House — it’s not just a public lodging facility on Russia’s Kunashiri Island, it’s a new musical movement inspired by the travails of Diet member Muneo Suzuki. Or so the inspired parodists at the Coolsurf Records label would have us believe.

Playing on the “Muneo House” idea, they’ve put together an elaborate Web-based spoof complete with mock CD covers and a listing of tracks “recorded” by Suzuki, who purportedly was one of the pioneers of the house-music movement back in the ’80s along with “sexy female singer” Makiko Tanaka. Key tracks credited to Suzuki include “A Target of Criticism,” “A Private Secretary” and “Muneo Spiritual.”

To check out the Muneo House sound (mainly comprising cleverly cut up and spliced together bits from exchanges in the Diet between Suzuki and other politicians, set to a funky house backing), go to www.geocities.co.jp/Playtown-Knight/7479/muneohouse.mp3 And for the full “history” of the Muneo House movement, see muneo.ath.cx/top.htm

And some people say there’s no satire in Japan . . .