A muffled bass line is soon matched by Katsumi Tanaka's staccato electric guitar riff loosely emulating a shamisen. Congas and timbales start grooving in the rhythm of cumbia before the horn section dives in, setting the stage for Fredy Tsukamoto to belt out a high-pitched, vibrato-filled rendition of "Kushimoto Bushi," a minyō folk song from western Wakayama Prefecture.

The opening track on "Echoes of Japan," the debut album by Minyo Crusaders, exemplifies how the 10-piece group seamlessly blends Afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms with old Japanese minyō to create an exotic and compelling modern interpretation of the time-worn folk genre.

"They naturally work together, since both minyō and Latin music use plenty of minor keys," says Tanaka, the long-haired, bearded 47-year-old guitarist and leader of the band.