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Shake Forward! 2008

by James Hadfield

Hip-hop may have lost its way in the United States, stuck in a cul-de-sac of bling and booty cliches, but in other parts of the world it’s grown legs and started popping. No more so than among minority communities, who’ve seized the music and used it to give themselves the voice they never previously had. From Maori MCs to Arab-Israeli rappers, the global scene is ripe with examples of freshly emancipated hip-hoppers whose conviction and desire to make themselves heard presents a stark contrast with the lazy, tossed-off rubbish of, say, the last 50 Cent album.

Such acts exist in Japan, too, and you’ll find a few of them at Shake Forward! 2008. This innovative event, held in Osaka later this month and in Kawasaki in June, aims to promote dialogue about racial diversity in Japan, with the help of a bevy of multiracial and ethnic minority hip-hop and reggaeton artists.

Among the groups lined up to perform, Ainu Rebels have already attracted a fair amount of media interest, thanks to their singular fusion of hip-hop and the traditional dances and costumes of Japan’s indigenous people. Blendz, meanwhile, are a trio of Afro-Japanese rappers perhaps best known for supplying official anthems to former Yokohama BayStars pitcher Marc Kroon and Chunichi Dragons slugger Tyrone Woods. Also performing are KP, a duo of Zainichi Korean MCs, and Los Kalibres, a reggaeton unit comprising three Nikkei Peruvians who moved to Japan in their teens. On the Kawasaki leg in June, local hip-hop crew Tensais MCs — featuring Nikkei Brazilian and Japanese members — will also be joining in.

It promises to be an illuminating and thought-provoking event, and a valuable riposte to anyone who whinges about how hip-hop doesn’t “mean anything” these days. It does: You just have to look in different places.

Shake Forward! 2008 is on April 12 at Shinsaibashi Sunhall, Osaka (¥2,500 in advance, ¥3,000 at the door) and June 8 at Club Citta, Kawasaki (¥3,000 in advance, ¥3,800 at the door). For details, visit www.wajju.jp/shake2008.