Sunday, May 28, 2006

Disc o the Day

Regarding the current distressed state of U.S. vernacular music, as pluperfectly exemplified by the aural swill on American Idol, I would reiterate the immortal words of the great jazz drummer Max Roach: "Those who voted for defunding of music education in U.S. public schools are getting what they paid for." (I tend to quote that a lot.)

Inasmuch as some nations still consider music education to be of utmost importance, we bring you herein a typically sophisticated recording by a typical (well, almost) Japanese Top Ten vocal group, Rag Fair. I'm not making monumental claims about the greatness of this sexet, but alas, you're not likely to ever hear anything even remotely as musically advanced (or toe-tapping) on American Idol as this track (mp3 links for a limited time only) by the group. One would hazard that perhaps one in ten participants in that Fox Net dog and pony show can even read music. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Rag Fair, consists of six young vocalists, late teens and early twenties, who began recording together about five years ago. They are quite often joined at the top of the charts these days by another hot Nihonjin vocal group, Gospellers, and, lately, by a new cooperative known as Gosperats, consisting of two members of the Gospellers, and three others from the popular 80s-90s Japanese vocal quintet, Rats & Star. Yes, that really is the name of the group!

Rats & Star was, in turn, the outgrowth of another popular 70s and 80s singing outfit in Japan, The Shanels. The latter, if remembered at all in this country, is recalled because they performed in blackface. Even at a 1981 date at L.A.'s Whiskey a Go Go where, more than a trifle ironically, the vocal quartet was backed instrumentally by a quintet of some of the city's most prominent African-American jazz players: William Green, Jeff Clayton, Oscar Brashear, Raymond L. Brown and. . .the great Buddy Collette. But I guess if the blackface was alright with Buddy (he's not exactly starving for gigs, and is something of a final historical arbiter as to what qualifies as racist), then it should probably pass muster with the latter-day PC Police. Somewhat surprisingly, the new "supergroup" Gosperats, also corks up before going on stage.

Here's part of a recent TV interview with one of the members of Gosperats:

Q: "It's been a while since you guys put on blackface. How does it make you feel?"
A: "Strong. Like a light that's been turned on."
Q: "But back in the old days, you were the only guy who didn't put on make-up."
A: "Yeah. I was supposed to be the white guy."

Japanese are krrrrrazzzeeee!

As fustion as Gosperats music might seem, still it is a damn sight better than similar retro musical recreations on American Idol.

The Gosperats CD from which this video, "Hurricane," is culled has recently been at the very top of the Japanese sales charts. I'm not quite sure how racist, if at all, their blackface routine ultimately is---I'll leave that question to a PC Rabbi. After all, Japanese, too, are "people of color." But I do know for certain that this gesture is far less demeaing than most racial stereotyping rap --with its drugs and byaches and ho's and crack rhetoric. Yes! I am certain of that!

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