I don’t know if you guys realize it, but I’m a huge fan of the Japanese ska music scene. No really, I like Japanese ska. As an American observing the Japanese scene, there are times when it seems much more active (and vibrant) than the U.S. scene!
One of the best bands in Japan today is Cool Wise Man, who’ve been making Japanese ska fans dance and shake to the authentic sound since 1993. These guys really know their ska. It seems like they’ve made it their life’s mission to study traditional, authentic ska. They’ve backed legends such as Rico Rodriguez, King Stitt, and Eddie “TAN TAN” Thorton.
Despite not being too strong in English, their bass player, Shinoda Tomohito, and their tenor sax player Hirade Junji were kind enough to answer some questions I had about the band, the Japanese scene, and what drives one of the (in this blogger’s humble opinion) best ska bands in the world playing today.
READ on, loyal readers. READ ON!
1. For our readers outside of Japan who aren’t lucky enough to have heard of Cool Wise Man, please tell us about yourselves and the history of your band!
Cool Wise Man started as a group of friends around 1993. We all met around the ska club in Shimokotazawa (a district in Tokyo Japan), and all our activities revovled around the club. After releasing two 7” vinyl, we released our first full length titled “BAD SKA” in 2000. Our other albums are “Faith” (2003), “Unity” (2005), “Salty Dinner” (2006), “East Meets West” (2007), and our latest album “RUNDOWN” was released in 2009.
We’ve also been able to work with legends such as Rico Rodriguez, Eddie “TAN TAN” Thorton, and Mr. Symarip and have been lucky enough to play in big festivals such as the Fuji Rock Festival and the BIG DAY OUT Festival in Australia.
2. How did you guys come to be called “Cool Wise Man”
The name came about because we wanted to put out a “Cool” and “Wise” sound!
There was a local club in Shimokitazwa that started playing ska, and we got into the music from the club. From then on, we went from listening to ska to playing ska.
4. What made you guys decide to start a traditional ska band, rather than something like a ska punk band or something else?
We wanted to play Jamaican ska because Jamaican ska is the original and authentic music. Ska came from Jamaica. Something like ska punk, seems to have a lot more in common with punk than with [Jamiacan] ska.
5. What bands or artists have influenced you guys the most?
The original masters, The Skatalites. Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso and all that. Rico Rodiguez and Eddie Thorton as well.
6. What type of people come to your concerts? (Rudeboys? Rastas? Skinheads? Mods? Everybody and Anybody?)
10 years ago, a lot of rude boys and skinheads came to our shows. These days however, more and more women are coming, and people of all ages, from children to elderly come out to see us play!
7. Ska came to Britain from Jamaican immigrants. The “third wave” of ska came to America thanks to the Specials and other British Two Tone Bands. How did ska come to Japan? Please tell us a little bit about the history of ska and Jamaican music in Japan!
In the 1980s, the 2Tone bands like the Specials were popular with the youth movement at the time. Bands like Madness appeared in car commercials on TV, and we wanted to know more about the music.
Eventually, people found out that the Specials (and the like) covered a lot of their their songs, and we wanted to discover those original songs, that’s when authentic ska was discovered. It was a little hard though, to find music and information because it was not easy to find [authentic] 7” in Japan at that time.
Eventually though, Gaz Mayall started releasing mix cassette tapes, CLUB SKA, which made it easier for fans to buy and hear traditional ska. From there, people went from listening to the music to starting to play the music.
8. As an observer from outside of Japan, the ska scene in Japan still looks very active and vibrant to me. How is the ska scene in Japan today? How has the scene changed from when you began back in 1993?
Around the time Japan discovered Ska, the Ska Flames and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra started to play and there were a lot of fans. Ska was a big thing. Around 2000, Ska Punk got pretty popular and a lot of ska-punk bands popped up. Eventually though, the whole ska-punk thing died down, and these days, there aren’t nearly as many ska-punk bands.
These days, it seems like traditional ska continues to be very popular in Japan and gain more and more fans, but the “scene” is shared amongst fans of Jazz and Soul music.
9. You guys have worked with some legends in Jamaican music. What was it like working with those guys? Was language a barrier?
Language was definitely not a barrier! When we all got on stage and started playing, it felt as like we’ve been playing together our whole lives. The great thing about music is that words are not needed, and being able to work with some of the legends of Jamaican music was a very moving and special experience for us.
10. Is there any artist or band (Jamaican or not) that you would like to work with?
We want to work more with Eddie “Tan Tan” Thorton. Maybe do some more tours with Eddie, and hopefully write and record some songs together in the future.
11. You’ve recently played some shows in South Korea. How was that experience? From what I understand, the scene in Korea is very young but has grown very, very fast. How would you compare it to the scene in Japan?
We were very surprised to to see at how positive the reaction from fans in Korea was. We enjoyed the music, and the scene seemed very energentic and fun. Kingston Rudieska, whom we played with, seemed to have a very good grasp of the music.
12. Other than Korea, have you been able to play outside of Japan? Is there a country or city that you would particularly want to play in?
We’ve played in Australia for the Big Day Out festival.
We want to go to South America, Europe, and eventually Jamaica! Argentina, Brazil; Spain, Italy, German, the UK, we want to play at all those places…but ultimately, we want to play in Jamaica one day!13. What has been your most memorable show experience so far?
There are so many! Our show with Rico Rodriguez for one….our last tour date with Eddie Thortan at the Shibuya Quattro was very memorable. [Ed. Note: Shibuya Quattro is a popular venue in the Shibuya district of Tokyo]. In fact, everytime we play at the Shibuya Quattro, the shows are memorable.
14. What are your favorite ska/reggae artists today?
15. Some members of Cool Wise Man (CWM) have started a side band called The Operators. Please tell us a little about the Operators and how they’re different from CWM?
CWM is relatively straight and simple. In CWM, we try to play authentic ska, and don’t dabble too much outside of that. The Operators play around more with dub and and more experimental rhythms and sounds.
16. Your last album, “Rundown” came out in 2009. Can we expect a new album in 2011?
We really want to put out our next album in 2011, and we want to do a worldwide release type deal. We’re still writing songs and working hard on the album, so please look forward to it!
17. What’s next for Cool Wise Man?
Recording an album in Jamaica.
Albums earlier than that are a little more difficult for those outside of Japan to find, but you might be able to find it at CDJapan.