Japanese Dub In Every Sense

Jah Wobble and the Nippon Dub Ensemble -  Japanese Dub
Jah Wobble and the Nippon Dub Ensemble – Japanese Dub
Jah Wobble and the Nippon Dub Ensemble

Japanese Dub (30 Hertz Records; 30hzcd31, 2010)

The great British world beat and global electronica innovator Jah Wobble has focused his attention on the music of east Asia. His previous 2008 recording, Chinese Dub, explored the music of China. His 2010 release, Japanese Dub, delves into the rhythms and airs of Japan. Japanese Dub includes many of the fascinating elements that makes Jah Wobble one of the essential musicians in the world music scene. Jah Wobble’s ingredients include Japanese traditional songs, kabuki theater and the venerable taiko drumming tradition combined with dub techniques and ambient electronica.

The Nippon Dub Ensemble includes Joji Hirota (vocals, taiko drums), Keiko Kitamura (vocals, shamisen, koto), Clive Bell (shakuhachi) and Robin Thompson (hikaritchi, sho, shamisen). Wobble explains the story behind Japanese Dub: ‘For some time I’ve fancied having a crack at merging Japanese music with dub. I was very happy with the Chinese Dub album that I put together a couple of years ago, and was confident that I could do a similar job with Japanese styles. It can’t be denied that traditional Japanese music is heavily influenced by Chinese music. However, paradoxically, there is something unique and unmistakable about Japanese music. To an extent this is due to their distinctive chromatic modes, but above all the Japanese are incredible reductionists. Somehow they take other cultures’ ‘stuff,’ and in their own respectful way, rationalize it, reduce it, and thereby make it their own.

I knew I wanted a selection of folk songs on this album, and I also wanted Japan’s famous taiko drums to be represented (my bass with taiko drums is a marriage made in heaven). Luckily I know a man called Joji Hirota who has a great knowledge of Japanese culture generally, is an expert taiko drummer and sings like a Japanese Van Morrison. He sent me a selection of old Japanese songs to chose from and I immediately fell in love with Kokiriko, which is said to be the oldest known song in Japan (to be honest, I wish he hadn’t introduced me to that tune because it drove me nuts.

Similar to Phoenix and Dragon on Chinese Dub it entered my psyche, and I can’t get it out. I wake up humming it in various keys and tempos, as well as in multitudinous instrumental arrangements, from solo mandolin through to absurd James Last style string arrangements. It haunts me as I try and sleep. This thousand year old melody tortures me on a daily basis).

An underlying aesthetic principle that governs much Oriental (especially East Asian) music is referred to as ‘jo-ha-kyu’ (or ‘ya yueh’ in Chinese). It is a philosophy, or approach, that concerns movement; in its simplest definition it means beginning, middle and end. It can also be understood as slow, faster (and more complex), and sudden finish. This concept can be seen in all forms of Japanese art and culture, from martial arts to tea ceremonies, and in music and theatre.

The biggest challenge to me on both Chinese Dub and Japanese Dub was reconciling jo-ha-kyu with rhythmic groovy dance music. Heavy dub bass is the ideal musical instrument to solve that conundrum. When phrased properly the bass can meld the rigid with flexible, the fixed with the fluid, and the soft with the hard. The bass truly is the king of instruments. Sometimes, as a bassist, I feel like the big geezer at the base of those human pyramids that you get at Chinese and Russian Circuses, taking the weight of the other players, allowing the ones above me in the pyramid to perform their miraculous acrobatics.

I knew that if this was going to be a kosher Japanese record, I had to attempt a track in a kabuki (highly stylized classical Japanese dance-drama) style. This presented a big challenge to me because I found kabuki to be a vast area with many styles existing within its compass. I kept it simple, opting for a classic Japanese chromatic mode, soto (the Japan version of the Chinese ku-chen), played splendidly by Keiko Kitamura, with a hip hop style rhythm and heavy bass underpinning her. Of course, the beat box that I created the beat with is Japanese in manufacture. All my gear at home is Japanese. This album is Japanese in every sense of the word’.

Japanese Dub is a fascinating electro-acoustic adventure, exposing the ancient sounds of Japan reinvigorated with cutting edge electronica.

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Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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