The smooth and funky sound of prime-time Japanese reggae pop in the 1970s and ‘80s fired up an obsession with Jamaican music that persists to the present day.
If there is a year zero for the introduction of reggae music to Japan, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 1979 when Bob Marley and the Wailers toured the country, trailed by an entourage of journalists, photographers and fans ready to spread the message of the music into all corners of Japanese society.
But the story of Japanese reggae is not a linear one, and the music that is collected on Tokyo Riddim 1976-1985 captures the moment J-reggae entered the broader public consciousness, merging commercial city pop style with an infectious backbeat, that has drawn comparisons with the emergence of Lovers Rock in the UK.
Rather than look directly to Jamaica, many producers and artists in Japan were inspired instead by the more approachable sounds of The Police and UB40, their reggae fix arriving pre-filtered through the lens of new wave pop from the UK. Playful and groovy, these album deep cuts have been overlooked for too long.
Among them are Miki Hirayama, the idol singer who borrowed the bassline from Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic on Denshi Lenzi, Chu Kosaka, who headed to Hawaii to cut the Jimmy Cliff-inspired Music and Marlene, the Philippine songstress whose cover of Roberta Flack’s Hittin’ Me Wear It Hurts owed much to her producer’s obsession with Sly & Robbie’s Compass Point sound.
Then there was Izumi “Mimi” Kobayashi, who enlisted the Babylon Warriors to perform on a dubbed-out version of her own track Lazy Love, the city pop-meets-new wave reggae sound of Miharu Koshi’s Coffee Break, Junko Yagami’s anti-apartheid deep cut Johannesbiurg and Lily, whose Tenki Ni Naare was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and closes out the compilation with a flourish.
While these stories may not always conform to neat narratives, they do provide a more accurate reflection of the indirect ways in which styles infiltrate one another and, in their naivety, have the potential to create something beautifully strange and entirely new. Previously only available in Japan, the tracks on this compilation are a testament to that curious alchemy.
1. Miki Hirayama - 月影の渚 (Tsukikage No Nagisa)
2. Miki Hirayama - 電子レンジ (Denshi Lenzi)
3. Chu Kosaka - Music
4. Izumi "Mimi" Kobayashi - Lazy Love
5. Junko Yagami - ジョハナスバーグ (Johannesburg)
6. Miharu Koshi - コーヒーブレイク (Coffee Break)
7. Marlene - Hittin' Me Where It Hurts
8. Lily - 天気になあれ (Tenkini Naare)