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Friday, July 1, 2011


Reggae and world: Beats from abroad under the starlight

Special to The Japan Times

Two summer reggae events that have gained plenty of attention in recent years are the Starlight Reggae Festa, taking place amid gorgeous environs in Gifu Prefecture from July 16-18, and the Yokohama Reggae Festival, held at the colossal Yokohama Stadium on Aug. 6.

Rankin Taxi will once again assume the role of master of ceremonies — as well as perform himself — at the open-air and, you guessed it, night-time only Starlight Reggae Festa. Set in Meiho Ski Resort, the event will feature many of Japan's prominent reggae and dance-hall musicians and DJs including 1945 featuring Ao Inoue of Dry&Heavy fame, and Osaka-based Mighty Jam Rock, not to mention reggae queens Minmi and Pushim. Don't forget to make your way to the forest stage to catch the refreshingly eclectic Red Spider — and take in a healthy dose of nature while you're at it.

The Yokohama Reggae Festival will have similar musical fare to its counterpart in Gifu, however because of the vast difference in setting, the two festivals have their own distinct flavors. Since the very start of the festival in 1995, when the event took place in the now-closed Club24Yokohama, the Mighty Crown crew have been an integral part of what is now one of Yokohama's biggest summer bashes. Among the supporting cast will be veteran Papa B, Yokohama born-and-raised reggae band Fireball, dance-hall MC Ryo The Skywalker and ragga singer Rudebwoy Face.

Ueda Joint, held at the foot of Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture, and the World Music and Dance Festival in Hakodate, Hokkaido, are altogether different kinds of experiences. Thankfully, they are held free of charge, but nonetheless the standard of music is consistently at a high standard.

Ueda Joint officially runs from Aug. 3-7, however there will only be stage performances on Aug. 6 and 7, with the definite spotlight-stealer being percussionist Kenwood Dennard supported by TM Stevens on bass and world-pop musician Delmar Brown on keyboard. Among local artists will be Okinawa-based quintet Element Of The Moment, Uki — an all-girl trio incorporating two didgeridoos and percussion into their jams — and Go Yamada and Naoto Suzuki in a much-anticipated guitar pairing.

The World Music and Dance Festival will also take place in stunning surroundings, with the main Free Stage constructed at the base of Mount Hakodate. Spanning a week from Aug. 5-10, the festival boasts a lineup encompassing music from over 11 countries. Although the festival may only be four years old, due to its overwhelming success a new stage and market area were added to the venue in 2010. Groups to look out for are the formidable Maori company Imanuera, Sapporo-based Ainu Art Project and jazz and blues songstress Margret RoadKnight from Australia.

The latter half of August in the world-music festival circuit sees two options taking place Aug. 19-21. Earth Celebration and Sukiyaki Meets The World are both sure to be culturally — and musically — enlightening experiences.

The Earth Celebration is now in its 24th year, and has become one of the best un-kept secrets of Japan's summer offerings. The venue is the spectacular Sado Island off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, and the event has annually hosted Sado's renowned Kodo taiko (drum) troupe. Sharing the stage with them this time around are the Iranian tambour-playing ensemble Ranei Family, and Ko No Kai, an all-male outfit who perform in the Suodori Gunbu traditional style of dance.

Back on the mainland, Sukiyaki Meets The World takes place in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, and offers its own version of world music. Founded in 1991, the event annually attracts musicians from all corners of the globe. Highlights of the program this year are Algerian artist Amazigh Kazeb and Tuareg guitarist Omara "Bombino" Moctar, along with Sukiyaki regulars Cuatro Sukiyaki Minimal, which is made up of the vocals of Juan Pablo Villa with guitarist Fernando Vigueras from Mexico, Chang Jaehyo from South Korea supplying the rhythms and local musician Sakaki Mango. Both festivals are outdoors, thus reminding audiences that the stars you've come to see aren't just on the stage, they're in the sky.

Festival lineup

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