Brown rice is a culinary staple that does a body good. It was a belief in this “vital food,” especially among Rastafarians, that gave the eight-piece Brown Rice Family its name. In fact, when asked how his group tries to psyche up a crowd, percussionist Yuichi Iida simply says, “It’s Brown Rice: high-fiber music.”
Brown Rice Family takes pride in getting its audience moving, whether its at a show in Tokyo or on the beaches of Kanagawa Prefecture. This weekend, though, it will take its Latin, dancehall and ska-infused sound to the Windblow Festival at Sagara Seaside Park in Shizuoka.
“We try to involve the crowds,” Iida says. “We have dancers who go into the audience, and we also pull people from the crowd and dance with them on stage.”
Originally a drummer in his hometown of Shizuoka, it was a desire to study dance that drew Iida to New York in 1999. He couldn’t escape his roots, however, recalling the time he was captivated by a Caribbean street drummer.
“I watched the performance for one hour. I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be like him when I am older,’ ” he says. “A month later, I was in his drum group.”
Brown Rice Family formed as a duo in 2006 and later recruited Haitian percussionist Okai Fleurimont, Nigerian bassist Oladotun Amu, Japanese guitarist Kazuya “Caz” Ishijima, South African saxophonist “Soils” Tshepo Puoane, U.S. saxophonist Isaiah Richardson Jr. and Jamaican vocalist Lenworth “Sticky Rice” Maxwell. The band has since expanded to nine members (including Japan’s Ui “Tama” Tamaki and, most recently, Jamaican Corey Chinel Miller), coming from six different countries with differing musical backgrounds.
“(The Japanese music influence) is naturally in my djembe percussion phrasing,” Iida says. “I grew up in Japan playing traditional drums since I was 6. It is in my blood, the phrase and the spirit is already in my playing.”
Brown Rice Family’s most recent album, last year’s “Havana to Kingston,” focuses on melding Cuban and Jamaican folk rhythms. The record includes “Latin Goes Ska,” a 1964 instrumental tune by The Skatalites, and “Zimbabwe,” which is Brown Rice Family’s take on Buena Vista Social Club’s “El Cuarto de Tula.” However, the group adds its own original lyrics to the tunes, which don’t shy away from political themes. The track “Gun Town” is a commentary on vocalist Sticky Rice’s hometown in Jamaica.
“Most of our songs are trying to share the message and values of what we are doing through music,” Iida says, “like respecting difference, instead of hating it.”
A couple of members of the Brown Rice Family won’t be at the upcoming Windblow music festival, but the rest are planning to collaborate with Japanese reggae artists Papa U-Gee and Leyona. In any case, Iida is ecstatic at the idea of bringing the group to his hometown, and he’s confident that one group of people will show up.
“I always wanted to bring Brown Rice Family to Shizuoka, but it is in the countryside so we never really had a chance,” he says. “(Sagara Seaside Park) is right next to the beach, so surfers come in to check the festival, and they love reggae.”
Brown Rice Family plays the first day of the Windblow Festival, which takes place Aug. 27 and 28 at Sagara Seaside Park in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture. The band’s set starts around 2:20 p.m. on the Regular Stage. For more information, visit www.windblow.jp/2016 or www.brownricefamily.com.
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