This summer’s Roots Music Festival at Blue Note Tokyo moves far beyond simple basics to a full flowering of diverse branches of the musical tree. The seven performers, coming from different countries, styles and backgrounds, share an improvisational spirit, but otherwise are notable for their unique musical visions. Their styles range from acoustic to computerized and from melody-rich to rhythm-heavy, but all of the performers base their music on diverse, exotic blends. They’ve globalized their sounds, yet remained distinct.
You might not be able to make it to every show, but just hearing a couple of different performers within a week will introduce you to intriguing contrasts, overlaps and intersections. The Latin grooves of Bronx-based DJ Louie Vega are immersed in tight Cuban rhythms, yet are unlike the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Chile-born Omar Sosa. Both men steep their sound in polyrhythmic complexity, but Vega takes his tracks to the club, while Sosa orchestrates a jazz soundscape. The flexibility of Cuban rhythm allows it to stretch far and wide, encompassing also the vision of Kip Hanrahan, producer and director of an ever-shifting band of the best New York-based Latin jazz musicians.
Similarly, traces of blues and African rhythm echo faintly inside Brazilian singer-guitarist Joyce’s MPB, but she polishes her influences with lyricism and acoustic sophistication. Though she adds a few electric touches on her recordings from time to time, her live sets rely on guitar and voice.
A different simplicity can be heard in blues singer Maria Muldaur. Her earthy frankness and to-the-point voice ranges across American music, from gospel and show-tunes to her specialty, the blues. While Joyce is smooth and flowing, Muldaur has a gruff maturity.
Perhaps laying the best claim to roots is Femi Kuti, son of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. Kuti learned his style by playing with his father, picking up firsthand his mix of American soul, jazz and traditional African music. The younger Kuti has released several intense recordings that keep a celebratory beat even while maintaining his father’s firm political stance. Maxi Priest reveals his roots less openly, hailing from London but sounding like Kingston. Perhaps the most pop-oriented of the summer lineup, Priest combines reggae with soul, pop and rock in a sultry style that is highly popular. Kuti’s explosive vitality could hardly be more different from Priest’s laid-back smoothness.
If being able to hear a month of musical diversity is globalization, we need more events like this.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.