AWESOME: Cool video mashup of “One Love” & Ue O Muite Arukou” (“Sukiyaki” to some) by Tohoku musicians

I find this magically powerful. It’s a sweet rendition of one of my all-time favorite songs (and one I was just playing last night on the guitar). And it’s also an expression of hope, community and rebirth from musicians in the Tohoku region of NE Japan, set amidst the cleaned-up but still devastated area hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

TaikoProject comes home to perform in LA’s Little Tokyo

TaikoProject brings its "Rhythmic Relations" show to LA's Little Tokyo

Another reason I wish we lived in LA: TaikoProject, the acclaimed genre-expanding taiko group based in LA, brings its talents home to perform its “Rhythmic Relations 2011” show this weekend outdoors at Noguchi Plaza in front of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles.

There will be two performances, at 2 and 7:30 pm; tickets are $30 – $35 + service charges. Tickets are available online at or by phone (213) 680-3700. The group will be joined by Bombu Taiko, Kitsune Taiko and Loma Pacific Taiko, and the show will feature special guest Ryutaro Kaneko (former Artistic Director for the superstar Japanese taiko group Kodo).

You may have caught TaikoProject this week on “The Voice,” the terrific NBC singing competition show (we’re cheering for Dia Frampton, and not just because she’s Asian American — hapa Korean). You may have also seen TaikoProject way back in 2006, playing on a Mistubishi car commercial (I remember at the time, thought it was totally cool to see a taiko group on a commercial).

Here’s how TaikoProject describes itself:
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Win a pair of tickets to Kollaboration Acoustic 5

Kollaboration Acoustic 5

The first reader to comment on this blog post will win a pair of tickets to Kollaboration Acoustic 5, a competition of the best young acoustic Asian American talent. The show is Friday June 17 at the Ford Theater in Los Angeles.

The competitors include Alexa Yoshimoto, Chrizle, Ensemble Memo, Jason Yano, Lindsey Yung, The Mood Junkies, Nessa Rica, Teesa and Tranley. The night also features performances by comedian KT Tatara and special guest, singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn.

Wish I could be there, but I’ll be stuck in Denver. If you’re a lucky reader in LA, or will be travelling to LA that weekend, be the first to post a comment (be sure to enter your email address) and I’ll get you on the list for two.

Here’s a preview:

Dengue Fever’s “Cannibal Courtship” continues alt-rock Cambodian-influenced band’s evolution

Dengue Fever

It’s a curious conceit of rock critics that we love being the early adopters who discover great new talent, but we want that talent to stay exactly as we found it, as if the music is some sort of archeological treasure, suspended in amber for the ages. We can’t imagine a musician might continue along an evolutionary progression and grow and mature artistically. Or worse, we dismiss artists we like when they become too popular, as if being adopted by a wider, mainstream audience taints artistic credibility.

I know I’ve been guilty of both. I dismissed Joni Mitchell past “Miles of Aisles” as becoming too arty (as if her earliest, brittle folk gems weren’t also arty to the extreme). I blew off Bruce Springsteen once he sold a bazillion copies of “Born in the USA.” The fact is, most music critics are snobs, and we’re proud of it. Over the years since I “retired” from being a full-time music critic, I’ve mellowed and accepted that I have biases (old-fart biases at that), and see how I blocked out good music by being an obstinate butthead.

So I was surprised when I realized I still fall back on snob instincts with new music from time to time. These days I rarely write about any music unless it’s related to my interests in Asian culture or Asian American community.

I’ve written in the past (here and here), for instance, about Dengue Fever, an alt-rock band from California that was formed by a pair of white brothers who fell in love with Cambodian rock of the 1960s, and found a Cambodian singer to help them meld that sound with surf and psychedelic music.

For years I’ve been intrigued by the band’s globe-hopping musicality and especially enchanted by singer Chhom Nimol’s slinky, elastic vocals, which snakes through melodies with the tonality and scale of traditional Cambodian folk and pop songs.

In a word, though I hesitate to use it because it’s such a loaded symbol of Orientalism, objectifying Asian culture and people, my attraction to Dengue Fever is in large part because of Nimol’s exoticism.

There, I’ve said it.
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“Unite for Japan”: Denver benefit concert featuring Denver Taiko, local rock & hip hop groups

Unite for Japan BenefitIt’s great that so many local benefits in the Denver area are being held event for Japan disaster relief, but I wish some weren’t so ad-hoc and we had more time to promote them.

Here’s one you have a week to plan for, “Unite for Japan” next Friday, April 29 at the Aztlan Theater, 974 Santa Fe Dr. (doors open at 7 pm).

This one features some great local artists including Denver Taiko with their thunderous drumming. Also featured are dub rockers MEGA, rap and rock band ii kanji (Caucasian rapper putting it out in Japanese and English), the multicultural dance crew D2L and popular local Japanese American DJ, Ichiban.

Tickets cost $10, and 100% of all proceeds including from a silent auction to be held during the show will be donated to the Japan Red Cross (to avoid the admin fees of the American Red Cross).

The event also needs donations in advance, such as services, entertainment/sports tickets, Asian items, etc. for the silent auction.

If you can provide a donation or want to volunteer at this event, please Mike Ninomiya at 914-826-4991. “Unite for Japan” is sponsored by the Kaiser Permanente Asian Pacific Staff Association and Enshin Karate, the traditional martial arts dojo that brings literally kick-ass, full-contact Sabaki tournaments to the area.