Q. What is exactly salsa?
A. I never liked that adjective. It was used for identifying a series of rhythms coming from Caribbean area in order to sell it to North Americans and the rest of the world. That is to say, to simplify a musical information that is really complex... It came to obtain the pejorative acceptance of a spoiled genre in the most hidden of the Latin American culture (Rubén Blades -- all the translations in this text are mine.
Summer in 1987, I found by chance a cassette of Johnny Pacheco in a street shop of Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire, and asked the vendor, a man very knowledgeable about Francophone African music, what it was. His answer was: "c'est de la musique internationale" [it's international music".] I now regret that I didn't converse with him more. I don't know if he knew where the music came from and how it was called, whom he expected to buy that cassette, what he intended to qualify "international music". I don't remember if there were other salsa tapes and other "international music" at the shop. An accidental tourist then didn't believe that he was virtually participating in the (Third) world market of Afro-Caribbean music and was abruptly conducting informal fieldwork on the globalization of local music. I was more eager to know about (and buy) the African cassettes hard to find in Paris and London than the tape I might get in Tokyo. Hence I missed the chance to research about salsa's magnetic march to an African city.
The point is that the vendor qualified it as "international." As he could define with conviction all the African cassettes I pointed to, it is inplausible that he had not listened to the cassette of J. Pacheco. Probably he knew about salsa but got bored with explaining it to a Japanese customer who seemed to be ignorant about music (all we talked about was the music I had not known). Either for convenience or for ignorance, salsa is, in certain situations outside of Hispanic community regarded as international.
With its rising commercial potential in multinational markets, the non-Anglo- or Afro-American popular music (conveniently labled as "World Music") attracts broad scholarly attention. Unlike the ethnomusicologists of past decades, the scholars now tend to take it not as consequence of adulteratation of genuine tradition contaminated with Western civilization but as process of globalized intercourse of music makers and consumers, and of technology-mediated form of sound and local sensibility. For George Lipsitz, for example, what imminently emerges from today's global realities is a path "to produce an immanent critique of contemporary social relations, to work through the conduits of commercial culture in order to illuminate affinities, resemblances, and potentials for alliances among a world population that now must be as dynamic and as mobile as the forces of capital" (1994, p. 17). He then examines "a plurality of practices within popular music to understand how popular culture contains different meanings in different countries" (ibid.) Our object -- salsa in Japan -- is one of many examples of this "plurality of practices".
The increasing presence of the Third World inhabiting inside the urban core of the First World and inversely the gratuitous circulation of industrial commodities and technologically-transmitted images from the First World in faraway places urge us to reformulate a conventional version of cultural imperialism: the center as hegemonic subject unilaterally manipulates and exploits the periphery as submissive object. The autochtone appropriation of the foreign (western) produces an affective spearhead of resistance against the economical and the political repression and articulates the ethnic and the local, two inseparable constituents of cultural identity. Such an artifact as cassette tape is, in turn, circulated in the market dominated by the First World. The international success of "local" music then affects the music making of remote villages. Sometimes the periphery becomes more hypermodernized than the most of western cities. Hence, the relation between two (or three?) "Worlds" is so polylateral that some sociologists propose to revise the three worlds theory as a One World one (ex. Buell, 1994, ch. 1,4 &5; Robertson, 1992.) From this new view that stresses the interconnectedness of disparate and heterogeneous cultures on our planet, the historically ubiquous phenomenon of cultural transfer should be rearranged. From a village to metropolis, from one island or continent to another, people move and are forced to move with music. It is in this human and cultural flow that the problems of the ethnic and the local are best spotlighted because in every inch of move one has to redefine oneself by questioning the taken-for-granted conditions of performance, listening, dancing, or even record-buying in one's native circumstances.
In this intellectual strain, salsa provides a good example of assessing not only the hybrid sound culture but also the symbolic racial meaning of traveling sounds for the Spanish-speaking community in U.S. and the Caribbean. The "route" pilgrimaged by the scholars is mostly San Juan-La Habana-New York triangle. The posterior route -- from New York to the rest of the world -- has not been seriously explored. The critique on the "world music" with whose marketing salsa has been expanded its audiences generally never fails to point out the socio-aesthetic effect of intervention of transnational enterprise and the reiteration of old exoticism (ex. Frith 1989; Keil & Feld 1994, ch. 8; World of Music ,vol. 35/2) yet little do we know about the "different meanings in different countries" produced by the process of "deterritorialization" (Pelinski 1995: 25-70), or "the loss of 'natural' relation of the culture with the geographical and social territory" (García Canclini 1990, p. 288). What is happening when salsa crosses over the linguistic boundary? The public dance everywhere with Latin beat without caring about what the lyrics mean to the Hispanic audience to whom the music is basically addressed: the Barthesian tension between verbal meaning and pure materiality of voice simply withdraws. Songs transmit nothing more and less than the "grain of voice." Aren't the new public ideal in the utopic scheme of Barthes? It is true that exoticism and consumerism are most responsible for non-Hispanic reception of salsa but the reduction of global trot to curiosity and marketing strategies provides nothing but a superficial account of salsa diaspora.
Nothing can impress you about the global diffusion of community-bound music like salsa more than Orquesta de la Luz, an all-Japanese salsa group. Neither their success story nor the stereotyped criticism ("Japanese are chipmunks") concerns us. We take the group as symptom for contemporary economic power and traditional music practice of Japan as well as that for globalization of local music because we should see this displacement of salsa from Afro-Caribbean, "international" and Japanese points of view. Japan is, as Roland Robertson claims, "a vital and unavoidable topic for theorists of globalization," because it shows the Asian countries "how to learn how to learn" (1992, p.85) (and how to (un-)learn how to (un-)learn, I would add), in other words, how to negotiate efficiently with the West in terms of economy and culture when the political sovereignty is established. How the band learned salsa through technology is less relevant than how the sound of band as a result of such learning is valued, circulated and imagined in Japanese society. How Japanese culture grants imitation is one of the questions I will pose here. Orquesta de la Luz generates a space for social discourse on the Afro-Caribbean music that may clarify how the practice of mimicry closely rests on the meaning of technique and appearance, on the one hand, and that of identity and ethnicity, on the other hand. We know what the mimicry and appropriation on the part of the colonized may be an ambiguous strategy of surveillance and counter-surveillance, of mocking and obeying the political and economic hegemony under (post-) colonial circumstance (Bhaba, 1995, chap. 4; Young, 1990, chap. 7; Miller, 1994). But the difference in historical condition of Japan prevents us from applying blindly the theory of colonial mimicry to it. Japan escaped from political colonialization precisely because it was allowed to be isolated for more than two centuries before the initiation to the modern (and imperialistic) Nation-State.
My paper will examine threefold questions. First, to locate the Orquesta de la Luz (hereafter: OL) in the historical context of Latin American music in Japan. Second, to discuss the mainstream/niche dichotomy in Japanese music production and consumption as well as to examine the globalization of local music by the foreigners in the international music market. The former is concerned with the Japanese traditional idea and practice of compartmentalization, while the latter with the economic power relations on the global level crystalized in the concept of world music. The points of reference are not dichotomic (Japan-West, or West-Latin America) but triangular: Japan-West-Latin America. As we will show, the mediation of the West is determinant for the Latin American music in Japan and the international sucess of OL. Third, to characterize the sound of OL as two basic operations of cultural transfer, rationalization and canonization.
The history of OL starts in 1984 when several salsa aficionados in Tokyo got together. Each of them had played and sung rock or Afro-American music and had been fascinated by the Afro-Caribbean music through imported records and live performance of Orquesta del Sol, one of the earliest salsa bands based in Tokyo (from which comes timbales player of OL). Around the late 80s they regularly performed in small clubs in the capital. In 1987 their performance impressed Tito Puente while touring in Japan. The following year Nora, lead singer, went to New York for months to learn salsa and get in touch with the Hispanic music scene. In 1989 they visited New York (by their own expense) and were "discovered" by Richie Bonilla, a shrewd booking agent, and Ralph Mercado, the owner of RMM label, a major distribution company in Latin America.
The real success story begins in 1990 with their appearance at Village Gate, Palladium and the 15th Salsa Festival at Meadowlands Arena (New Jersey) with Fania All Stars simultaneously with the release of their debut album, Salsa caliente del Japón, that topped Billboard Tropical Chart for eleven weeks and soon gained the platinum album. They have since then realized extensive tours to the United States, Columbia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Spain and so on as well as release five albums (and one anthlogy) and one live video at the Madison Square Garden. In 1993 they were conferred the United Nation Peace Award.
Such a brilliant international career of course echoes in Japan where salsa has been socially little recognized. Or better, it is the international reputation informed by mass media rather than the music itself that makes the band famous in Japan. "They are international stars before we notice it", says a hagiographic CD book for OL. Since 1992 the Japan Salsa Festival is annually held and presents new Japanese salsa bands as well as Latin American artists. OL always closes the festival with all the other musicians invited. In terms of record sales and celebrity, they are no doubt one of the most successful bands in the contemporary salsa scene.
It is not always surprising for Japanese to perform as well as listen to Latin American music as they -- some of them -- have been enjoying it since the 1920s. Because there was no direct cultural path between Latin America and Japan, the music must be imported via North America and/or Europe with which Japan had more regular contact. For example, tango, the first and the most penetrated among Latin genres in Japan, entered with the young elite who danced and listened to it in Paris around 1920 (Hosokawa 1995: 289-323). The Florida Moulin Rouge Tango Band, a French "musette"quintet performing for three years in the 1930s in the Florida Ballroom, the most paramount site for social dancing in Tokyo, was a vital force for popularizing the Argentine music with Parisian accent. Japanese musicians learned tango through this French band, score and recording.
From a choreographical point of view, Japanese mostly learned tango through British textbooks that reigned within the dance teachers' society. The merit of British style was that you could learn it without "native" contact because it was more formalized and systematized on the basis of written figures than Argentine (and French) style that valued more informal and spontaneous dancing. The teachers read the English books and magazines to teach the choreography described in them and advised the pupils not to improvise and move sensuously as the Frencophile did. The sensuality was nothing but vulgar for them. Furthermore, all the ballrooms hired "taxi dancers," that is to say, professional female dancers to accompany male customers, since the women were not traditionally recommanded to be paired up with men while dancing. Men and their female company (even wives) rarely went out together for dancing. Only professional women were allowed to hold men to dance with. Thus the difference in the practice of socialization results in the different mode of dancing, performing and listening to tango in Japan. Besides the live performance and recording, Hollywood contributed to form the familiarity with and the stereotype of tango as a passionate, sensual and extravagant dance and music (Savigliano, 1995, chap. 5; Hosokawa 1995).
As for Caribbean music, rumba was the first to be introduced in Japan around 1935 and shares three basic aspects with the history of tango: exoticism, eroticism, Anglicism (Hosokawa, 1994) Hence, it is important to note that through British sources Japanese received the western stereotypes about the Afro-Caribbean in an intact manner (passionate, primitive but good-hearted...). Sound doesn't travel alone: it conveys symbolism, too, which is susceptible to be transformed according to the system of local knowledge. But this local system is not separable from but sensitive to the world system of knowledge because knowledge, as Foucault repeatedly examines, pertains to a form of power relation permanently in vacillation. Japan's knowledge on the Afro-Caribbean music is usually filtered through the omnipotent western grid. But it doesn't always mean that Japanese receive that music in the same way as Europeans do: Japan has no direct border with the Caribbean. The contact is therefore necessarily mediated. Knowledge is obviously a powerful system of connecting the two distanced cultures, Japanese and Afro-Caribbean.
In 1937 a Cuban quintet contracted with the Florida Ballroom to perform Caribbean music for the first time in Japan. The quintet was named the Florida National Rumba Band. But most of the audience sensed the polyrhythm characteristic to rumba nothing more than random and found it difficult to dance with it. They were embarrassed by the change of rhythm in one single piece from son to montuno because it was not written in British books. The musicians also complained that as the dancers could not catch the quick rhythm they were obliged to play the tunes with improper tempo. They couldn't play British-like rumba, the only rumba Japanese could dance.
The public scarcely and maybe awkwardly danced with Cuban beat but interviews with the musicians by critics, tango players and arrangers reveals how these professionals were eager to know about the music in the actual scene (Dance to Ongaku [Dance and Music], November 1937). They questioned, for example, where Don Azpiaz (composer of "El Manicero" or "The Peanuts Vendor") or Ernesto Lecuona played then, what was the difference between rumba and bolero, what kind of instrumentation was standard in Cuba. Japanese fans were relatively knowledgeable or "bookish" about foreign music such as rumba they had known only through recordings and magazines. This type of mediated encounter is one of the very characteristics of Japanese cultural history since the eighth century when the government dispatched regularly a group of cultural delegates to China who imported a mount of artifacts and knowledge concerning technology, philosophy, architecture, political system, art, literature and so on. But very few of Japanese in reality communicated with Chinese: the gigantic dynasty could invade an imaginary realm without physical encounter. The geographical condition of archipelago evidently facilitates the selective absorption that construes the Japanization. This is also the case of western contact. As Japan is one of few nations that have not lost its political sovereignty in the process of modernization, the colonizing power of the "West" has hardly jeopartized Japanese cultural identity. Owing to selective contact, the "West" exists as almost purely imaginary construction serving for the counterpoint of reference to Japanese self-definition (see Gluck 1985) as much as the "Orient" does for western. Apparent westernization supplements invisible but constant indigenization each other. Japanese know Caribbean music as the western does and rarely question about the foreign knowledge.
A question by Japanese side in the inverview with rumberos unveils the misconception of rumba with Mexican tunes such as "Amapola" and "La Cucaracha", two of the most famous "Latin" melodies in the prewar Japan (there are several recordings of them by Japanese singers in Japanese in the 1930s.) According to one musician's answer, those songs "are miscredited as Cuban by the American film and phonograph company." What is important for us is not whether this statement itself is true or not but that the "Latin" image that didn't articulate accurately Mexico from Cuba was invented outside the Latin countries (most powerfully by the American entertainment industry) and disseminated all around the world. As much as "Orientalism" mixes Japan with China, the "Latinism" fuses all the imaginary and incongruent elements ascribed to the "south of border."
In contrast to the Moulin Rouge Tango Band, that worked for over three years in Florida and recorded more than a dozen pieces with and without Japanese singers, the Florida National Rumba Band was engaged only for a few months with the same club and recorded merely two sides in Japan. There are about forty pieces with tango and habanera rhythm composed by Japanese before the war, while are known nothing more than six tunes which are associated with "rumba." None of them made commercial success nor use the clave rhythmic pattern. For example, "Cuban Moon" ["Cuba no Tsuki"], composed by Ryoichi Hattori, has in fact habanera-like rhythm, mandolins and castanets and as a result sounds more with Spanish tinge. One cannot deny the sharp contrast in popularity and the definitive difference in understanding between tango and rumba in Japan.
During wartime foreign popular music was strictly prohibited. Latin American music revived in the 1950s: tango, with Ranko Fujisawa and the Orquesta Tipica Tokyo; rumba, with the Tokyo Cuban Boys. When the global mambo boom swallowed Japan, Perez Prado and Xavier Cugat visited the country with sensational success. In the prehistory of salsa in Japan, the 1962 tour of Machito and His Orchestra (with Mario Bauza) is so noteworthy that Japanese "Latin" music fans could listen to one of the most exciting Afrocuban bands for the first time.1 It is said that the Machito "Latinized" Japanese mambo orchestras that had little "groove".
Since the 1960s Trio Los Panchos toured almost annually to Japan, where their sweet and intimate melody and vocal of requinto guitar and maracas penetrated mainstream popular songs (kayôkyoku). Quite a lot of hit songs in the same dacade had "Latin tinge" of Trio Los Panchos style or tango rhythm. But the Caribbean beat such as mambo, cha-cha-cha, calypso and rumba was rarely merged by the mainstream (notable exceptions are Hibari Misora's "Omatsuri Mambo" ["Festival Mambo"], Michiko Hamamura's version of "Banana Boat" and a juvenile song, "Omocha no Cha-cha-cha" [Toy Cha-cha-cha"]).
It is difficult to answer briefly a question of why the Caribbean rhythms were and are marginalized in Japanese popular music in contrast to the successful penetration of tango and bolero. The most crucial factor conditioning the marginalization of Caribbean music in Japan is, in my hypothesis, rhythmic incompatibility between two cultures. As noted above, polyrhythmic texture as organizing principle of all the Afro-Caribbean music is totally alien to Japanese tradition as well as far from western classical music the people have received through education since the mid-19th century. As Japanese folk music before the western contact had basically two-beat rhythm (ex. festive taiko percussion ensemble) or fluid (a-metric) one (ex. shamisen song genres, melismatic singing style in min'yô, "folk song"), syncopated interlocking of various percussions sounds chaotic to the average ears. In the Afro-Caribbean music the percussive domination over melody, chord and lyrics is almost absolute and the sound is inseparable from corporal movement, choreographed or not. Neither American jazz nor tango and bolero have such a rhythmic impetus as Afro-Caribbean music overtly manifests. I don't mean here that Japanese music lacks in percussive beat but that it expresses a mode of groove incompatible with Afro-Caribbean music. The working definition of groove is crystallization of participatory experiences in time intuitively felt by body (see Keil & Feld 1994, ch. 4) and it is incompatible when the organizing principles of grooves in question have nothing to share with. Japanese festive percussions are generally based solely on binary structure whereas rumba and its derivative styles are on the combination of binary and trinary structures. Choreographically speaking, heals and swinging hands are axis of taiko groove whilst toes and rotating waist are that of clave beat.
Another factor to be noted concerning the marginalization of Caribbean music is the exclusion of percussive music from everyday music on stage, radio and television. In other words, the percussion-driven sound is limited to folk festivals and kept apart from the mainstream which is usually characterized by solo singing, slow and medium tempo, sentimental lyrics and guitar and/or orchestra accompaniment. In spite of three decades of constant influence of rock and American pop music (recently soul and rap music included) on rhythm, instrumentation and melody of kayôkyoku, Caribbean percussive sound with long repetitive part (montuno, for example) is still difficult to adopt to the Japanese notion of popular song. Tango and bolero, on the contrary, are relatively accessible for Japanese average sensibility because of the slower tempo, smaller and less percussive instrumentation and Iberic thus European heritage of melodic configuration. Beside this musical condition, social one must be counted if we intend to understand the marginalization of Caribbean music as we shall argue later.
It may be useful here to evoke the notion of rationalization of Max Weber. In his posthumous text, The Rational and Social Foundations of Music (1958), Weber demonstrated how western musical materials such as instrument, scale, tuning system, notation, form etc. had been affected by rational modes of thought and action, modes characteristic to the Modern originated only in the West (especially in the Protestant countries). The text is part of his huge project of comparative sociology that questions why only the West could establish global economy, advanced technique, universal ethics and so on since the 16-17th century. The Modern is a process of rationalization, a process that makes the world as transparent as mathematics and deprives any mysterious, magical and ambiguous element from our vision. According to Weber, the modern history of western music is one of such processes of rationalization.
For example, the well-tempered tuning, invented in the 17th century, unyokes the western music from cosmological and physical constraints conditioning the music before the modernity ("natural" tuning, Pythagorian thought...). Tonal and harmonic systems, brought about by that tuning, encourages the goal-oriented structure of modern music that goes parallel with the narrative economy of modern novel. The domination of notation gradually excludes improvisation (ex. cadenza in Pre-Beethovenian sonata) so that the artistic control of composer as a self-conscious individual or the imposition of his intention to interpreters may become socially perfect and technically exigent. This is, in Weber's thought, related with individualism, the philosophy and practice essential to the Modern.
To apply this Weberian notion of rationalization to Latin American music, tango is more rationlized than rumba because it is usually scored; it has four-four time without exaggerated polyrhythm; it has no unpredictable repetition and no improvisation; it uses only western instruments. This may explain the different fates of two genres in Japan because the Argentine sound is more compatible with the western canon Japanese has privileged and idealized in school and in concert hall. We will argue later how OL rationalizes salsa, a genre directly deriving from rumba.
As has been discussed so far, Japan has been usually receiving Latin American music via the West: when one genre is a la mode there, it is also in vogue here with certain time lag. Broadly speaking, a history of Latin American music in Anglo-American society (Roberts, 1985) goes parallel with that in Japan. As electronic media and mass transportation being diffused, the time lag shrinks. The growth of Japan's music industry also contributes to a multitude of release of Latin American albums.
In 1976, a few years after salsa had been recognized by the curious White media, the Fania All Stars with Johnny Pacheco, Ismail Miranda, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Willi Colon, Bobby Valentin, Cheo Feliciano, Luiz Cahn, Mongo Santamaría among others, toured Japan to evoke unprecedent applause among young audience. It means that they had sufficiently known about the musicians and the music they played. The public consisted not only of the veteran fans of Latin music but also of the new audience who "spinned off" from or got bored with the rock, jazz and funk. Some musicians with a jazz background, among whom Naoya Matsuoka was of special importance, converted to salsa around the same period.
Towards the end of the 1970s were founded two pioneers of Tokyo salsa scene, Orquesta del Sol and Orquesta 246. They usually played in small clubs specialized in jazz, new wave, blues etc. Major part of audience were, so to speak, connaiseurs of Latin American music. The variety and quantity of salsa albums circulated in Japan increased after Fania's success. It is two monthly magazines, Music Magazine and Chûnanbei Ongaku [Meso- and South-American Music, later Latina] that regularly feature new records with uptodate information of artists concerned. It is the rite of passge for the Latin American artists who visit Japan to receive an interview with these magazines whose influence is visible especially out of metropolitan areas where the information about the "minor" genres is hardly available.
The Japanese music market may be roughly understood as three-layered structure. In the center one finds imperative mainstream market of kayôkyoku, enka (romantic ballad genre), Japanese pop and rock. Japanese pop and rock enthusiastically and syncretically use faddish British beat, Anglo- and Afro-American styles, that are located on the margin of mainstream. Record shops, radio and television are mostly occupied either with Japanese or British and American popular music. The fans may be interested in both sectors because of musical similarity.
On the outer fringe of this margin, you will find mini niches of all kinds of music such as American experimental music, French prewar chanson, film music, Hawaiian music, German tango, C & W, flamenco, Asian pop, sitar, kretzmer, schlammer, Celtic folksong, Islamic chant, African pop, choro and salsa. Some are larger (jazz, blues, western classic...), the others are smaller (gamelan, cajun...). The larger niches are subdivided (ex. 19th-century Italian opera, West Coast jazz, Chess label...) These niches are commonly specialized or purist fantasies that are difficult to know from outside. They are usually formed by middle or upper-middle class, with university diploma, and often indifferent to the mainstream. Average salsa fans are more interested in what is happening in New York than in Tokyo. Some of the small niches have fan clubs that usually publish home computer-edited fanzines with CD and concert review, digested article and uptodate information from imported journal, exchange of opinion, search-for and exchange-with columns and so on.
The "World Music" boom, obviously coming from the West in the middle of 1980s, fragmented as well as integrated such pre-existent mini niches. NowLatina, once an exclusive sanctuary for "Meso- and South America music" (its original title), opens the gate for African and Asian pop music as well and many young critics and journalists promote the idea of opening ears to many musics and try to substitute the old-fashioned purist devotion with a multi-cultural sensibility (shared philosophy is proclaimed by WOMAD). Albeit no statistics available, it seems to me that the young public is gradually becoming multi-cultural in their consumption pattern. In other words, one salsa fan may be also interested in Mighty Sparrow, Morrison, Mozart, Miles Davis. This might be bound up with the increasing economic power of Japan that enables fans to buy much more albums and to go to more frequently to live performances than in the past decades. The shift of taste has become so capricious that the calculating industry appears to lose control. Despite such a change in taste structure, the mainstream resists to fuse salsa. This Caribbean music remains one of many small "niches" inhabited mainly by the purists in Japanese music market. Reggae is the only Caribbean style that is now used by some rock groups (but never by chart-oriented pop). The contribution of North-American music to the formation of Jamaican genre may make it easy for reggae to penetrate in Japanese ears familiar with rock and R & B. And of course, Police, the Rolling Stones and other examplary bands have demonstrated how to rock with reggae. Salsa is more bound with the community.2
To keep an aesthetic distance from omnipresent mainstream is an attitude to make the symbolic distinction from the mass. In Japan, where the traditional rank system is institutionally abolished in the period of Meiji Restoration (1860s) and where the nation considers itself homogeneous (as a result of thoroughly nationalist education and of hasty assimilation with postwar democratic ideology), taste seems more relevant to locate neatly oneself in the anonymous society than in the West, where the class structure generally persists in spite of social transformation. I don't insist that Japanese society is homogeneous or classless. Here I am just emphasizing the ideological force to mask the difference in the society where 90 % of the nation positions themselves as "middle class" living "average life" in spite of economic stratification. It seems likely that differenciation of taste gives rise to the individualization in the nebulous mass of "middle class". In many genres Japanese themselves don't only listen to these genres but perform them either on professional or amateur basis. You will find in Japan not only the listeners but also the performers of each genre and style of foreign music. Rarely do they collaborate to create new sound. They are compartmentalized, too.
The fine compartmentalization in music production and consumption doesn't always come from contemporary taste structure and marketing strategy. It similarly found in the 18-9th century popular shamisen vocal genre in Japan where various "schools" with very small differences (for the outsider) coexisted without communication. Once a school is established, the authenticity is inherited by rigid licensing system and the rote learning method is completed, then the human and musical relation with other schools is almost cut off and closes itself without mixing with the outsiders. This leads to the inclination to purism, orthodoxy and exclusivism. Compartmentalization may be one of the lingering characteristics of Japanese music history: peaceful but separated coexistance of court music (gagaku) imported from China and Korea around the 7th century, epic narration-song genre of the 11-2th century, noh theater music of the 15th century, kabuki music of the 17th century, western music coming in the 19th century. The traditional principle of compartmentalization is attentively applied to the separation between the Japanese and the western in the process of modernization: the traditional music becomes traditionalized (freezed in the past) as much as the western music classicized (freezed in the authentic form). Recent coexistance of various niches shows the persistence of this tradition inside the foreign music. As a result of fine compartmentalization and rigid categorization, Japanese music scene probably reminds us of display policy of transnational CD retailers (HMV, Tower, Virgin...).
Compartmentalization is hard to find in Latin American music practice. Regional and class differenciation aside, every disparate music tends to be Cubanized, Brazilianized, Dominicanized.... The interference with folk and Euro-classic, rural and urban, vernacular and foreign genres gives birth to sound specific to each island and each culture on the basis of common denominator that insinuates the shared history of colonization. Salsa in Japan is isolated not only from other popular music in Japan but also from salsa in the Caribbean.
OL borrows and canonizes the style of great classic as already-hybridized accomplished style. "Canonization" includes freezing, authenticating, packaging and classicizing existent symbolic entities. Although this is completely anti-Caribbean way of doing, it may be the only way or the least risk-taking one for the non-Hispanic salsa band because as they are physically and ethnically alien from salsa community, the deviation from the canon must be interpreted as their technical imperfection, therefore as their inauthentic status. It is true that the canonization is not specific to OL because innumerable local "imitators" of great classic are active in tourist sites, wedding parties and so on. But the canonization of OL implies another meaning that minor Hispanic bands don't have: they freeze the classic out of the community. Only a handful of musicians can be canonic. Or it is owing to the followers that an idiosyncratic expression becomes a socially enduring style. They might prefer "commercial" salsa to the declining but authentic sound as OL revitalize since they are economically, aesthetically and socially dependent upon what is going on in the community. Whatever music they play and however one calls it, their music is pertinent to the Hispanic aesthetics. But when OL subverts or transcends the canon, they turns to one non-Hispanic band playing non-Hispanic music. Being outsiders, they must show more loyality to the Latin flag than the Latin does.
No one would wonder why a Chinese fiddles Tchaikovski, a Polish swings with bebop, or a Brazilian explodes heavy metal. Universalized -- "international" -- genres go across the ethnic and geographical boundaries without questioning for whom, of whom and by whom the music is played. For example, blues, once regarded exclusively as Afroamerican heritage, has been gradually open to the white (then, Japanese) performers. It is, despite the frequent claim of exploitation from black side, "de-localized" and "de-ethnicized". Blue-eyed soul is another case of expansion of one ethnic/racial expression beyond the origin. We may know however that the Afro-American music, to certain degree, owes to the white culture (Protestant church, guitar, harmony, English, etc.) as a result of centuries of forced contact (Roots of Popular Music...). This may justify the white participation in black culture.3
Salsa has been so exclusively tied with Afro-Hispanic-American experience that the outsiders have been little allowed to play. OL is not the first to challenge the ethnic and geographical borderline of salsa but is the first who succeeds in breaking it down dramatically. The dramatization was without doubt embellished by the scenic direction of the world music boom. Although OL launched in 1984 just before the boom overwhelmed Japan, their international fame was certainly boosted by the newly-emerging Non-Hispanic audience. I don't mean that these audience are more significant for the record sales. The importance is that it is when salsa became commercially integrated into the "world" market and "de-ethnicized" that OL stood out with their platinum albums. The news about world music boom let the Hispanic realize that salsa was accepted by Europeans and the timely appearance of OL endorsed their conviction that salsa could reach the antipode. Acceptance of salsa among the White seems to me inseparable from the success of OL in and out of the Hispanic community.4
OL insists the universal of salsa with such a phrase that:
Salsa no tiene frontera,no, ni barreras
Queremos agradecer a todo el público oyente
Que abrieron nuestras puertas...
Esta música es para todos
Baile conmigo, pueblo latino
["Salsa has no frontier, no barriers/ we want to thank to all the public listening to us/ who opened our gates.../ This music is for everyone/ Dance with me, Latin people"] ("salsa no tiene frontera")
The message, "this music is for everyone", is in fact adressed to "Latin people". Who is this todos [everyone]? Non-Latino included? On which frontiers and barriers are they singing about?5 Just like the "We" in "We Are the World" ideally calls to all the humanity but actually is addressed only to the English-speaking public who try to help "Them", the discriminated Other, the todos in this song is concerned less with the euphoria of fraternity than the concealment of real frontiers and barriers inside and outside the salsa community. Nora, lead vocalist, often mentions the necessity of message in lyrics for the future salsa. What kind of message is however possible for them to address to Hispanic and "international" audiences? As they are not entitled to "voice the problems of this [Caribbean] disadvantaged class," that is to say, "scarcity, violence, inequality, marginality, and desperation" nor allude the urban decay, the threatened life, or the satire to government and welfare programs (Duany, 1984, p.206), all the message they may transmit are the international thus neutral and abstract themes like peace, love and ecology (for example, "Los niños" in Sabor de la luz is good for UNICEF campaign.) OL globalizes salsa at the cost of freezing the dynamics of salsa as ethno-political expression.
Some reviewers think inversely: OL sets salsa free from ethnic fetter. But is it possible for the Caribbean to imagine musical creation without committing to ethnicity, even if the lyrics do not directly refer to politics, since their life, especially of the salsa public, is absolutely framed by ethnicity and they are conscious of being different from the dominant race? The commentary on that type of "bordercrossing" shows the difficulty of understanding the lived notion of ethnicity in Japan, where the daily life dispenses with the ethnic and political prerequisite essential to Latin American music.
Singing in English may be useful to overcome the linguistic frontera. Asked about three songs in English included in OL's four album, La Aventura, Nora answers:
We intended [while recording] to address to the public out of salsa scene we have not targeted so far. To tell the truth, it is more relaxing for me to sing in English [remind you that she used to sing soul music before converting to salsa]. Singing in English, I can sing in my own way. Salsa, singing in Spanish, inseparable from clave rhythm - it's limited. At first, you must have a groove (nori) and you must sing on clave. Sometimes I feel it uncomfortable. It's because we don't have clave rhythm in our body. For example, when Adalberto Santiago sings, he never misses it. It is the royal road of salsa. It's beautiful. But sometimes we think that it's also good even if we get out of clave. ... Of course, it is crazy excitement to sing in Spanish as if I were attracted by clave rhythm and it is the thrill of salsa and we gonna play it. But I have a feeling that getting out of clave is somehow tied with the internationalization of salsa. Well, it's contradiction. I can sing good in English even with salsa arrangement (Latina, Dec. 1993, p. 11).
Ten years' life as a salsa singer doesn't suffice for Nora to inject clave rhythm in her body. Spontaneously as she may look, she has to sing while calculating the beat. This unnaturalness is natural because Spanish, inextricably linked with the culminating rhythm of salsa and with oral poetry that bases the music, is not her native nor daily language. English, neither.6 Yet English is easier for her to express herself probably because it is her first foreign language. The "bi-lingualism" of OL has nothing to do with that of, for example, Gloria Estefan and Rubén Blades, for whom the constant pendulum between two languages is the very basic condition of life and song. OL occasionally picks up non-Hispanic hits such as "(They Long to Be) Close to You" of Carpenters and "There's Nothing Better Than Love" of Luther Vandross. In many salsa albums, non-Hispanic songs and English tracks are recorded for white distribution, but in case of OL, such a commercial intention is unlikely to be confirmed since the band itself, from the inception, is targetted to international market and the tunes in English can give just an impression that they follow a routine of salsa industry that a few tracks in English are a hallmark of "salsa blanca" ["white salsa"].7 Singing in English or incorporating Afro-American elements is already part of the contemporary canon.
What has promoted OL to international stardom is not only their passion but also their musicianship and professionalism. The quasi-mono-racial structure of Japanese society is one of the key grounds, for the future musicians can challenge all they want without racial/ethnic competition to the extent that the most enthusiastic can become professional. This may explain why a good number of amateur and professional musicians of small niches live there. The possibility of dedicating oneself to music as a full-time job certainly encourages the technical mastery and the musicianship. For the sense of authenticity of Japanese audience, who plays is less relevant than what is played.
In contrast, the western audience of non-western music is generally more exigent about ethnicity. The look of musician is part of exoticism. Thus Non-Hispanic musicians, if they want to be socially recognized as salseros, must survive a tough competition with a number of Hispanic fellows and must live -- physically and economically -- inside or at least on the fringe of barrio if they want to be professional just like Johnny Otis, a bluesman of Greek origin, has wholly devoted himself to be "black by persuasion" and Larry Harlow, Jewish salsero in New York ("el judío maravilloso"). Lipsitz notes that "Black music provided them with a powerful critique of mainstream middle-class Anglo-Saxon America as well as with an elaborate vocabulary for airing feelings of marginality and contestation". Their "conversion" engages in "indirect expression of alienations too threatening to express directly" (Lipsitz, 1994, p. 55). Probably, Johnny Clegg, a white musician dovoted to South African black urban genre, may be another close example of transgressing ethnic code. So is not the case of OL because the public knows they are entirely disconnected from the community in terms of race and geography.
But why do Japanese play salsa? OL answers:
a Tito Puente tocar
su timbal en Japón,
le cogimos gusto a esta música
["When we listened to/ Tito Puente playing/his timbal in Japan, we liked this music"] ("Descarga de la luz")
There is no other reason than "gusto" [taste, fondness] why OL plays salsa. OL has become professional without racial conflict all the Caribbean artists experienced (Hernandez, 1993, p.57f) nor "feeling of marginality and contestation" as Lipsitz remarks. They are entitled to pick up their favorite sound without taking the social view and racial condition of the music in consideration. Salsa is de-ethnicized and de-localized because the sound doesn't evoke any real idea of ethnicity and locality. Similarly, barrio may consume Japanese cars and televisions but is completely faraway from Japanese reality. For Latino, all-gringo salsa band, if any, would be less surprising but more threatening than OL.
Carlos Kanno (né Shingo Kanno), vocalist and percussionist of OL, does justice to the distance from salsa community as follows:
I think there are many advantages [concerning the success of OL] and I don't deny that the greatest is that we are Japanese. But it alone doesn't suffice to bring about such a success that we have got. I guess that we play not just for money, though making music is always for living. 'Cause we can stay in Japan. We work hard, very hard. Richie [Bonilla, booking agent] always explains to the people, saying "this band is always good wherever and whenever they play. I have never had such a band." This is because Japanese are uniquely serious and sincere, I guess (Latina, Sep. 1993. p. 11. After their move to BMG).
What he suggests is that because Hispanic musicians are constrained to play under strong commercial pressure, many musicians just make the dull music. On the contrary, OL can produce the authentic but declining salsa because they are free from economic and cultural pressure from the Hispanic community. They rejuvenates rather than innovates classic salsa because they can work out in an ethnicity-free, conflict-free laboratory. They don't show the instability in performance (business merit) owing to their hard discipline. This is certainly related with rationalization (see below).
Learning (manabu) is imitating (manebu) -- thus claim often Japanese and is how OL learned salsa (including gesture, look, costume) through recordings and video. This punned philosophy/practice is applied to traditional arts as well as modern schooling. Disciples repeat what their master demonstates, paying special attention to the legitimate form and pattern. The authority of master is seldom suspected and the form and pattern are intactly transmitted from generation to generation. Needless to say, this mimetism is essential to the compartmentalization discussed above.
This tradition is also represented by the "dexterity" (kiyô), one of Japanese self-images. Carlos Kanno speaks:
... Sergio George [record producer] said, "Why can Japanese master everything so quickly?" If such dexterity [or versatility] is Japanese specificity, it had better make use of it. Latino has played salsa for too long time and cannot get out of it. We have no such yoke and have dexterity to use varied stimula we live with." (Latina, Dec. 1990, p. 18.)
The "dexterity" of Japanese in adopting foreign cultures may be related, on the one hand, with the type of "rote" learning that keeps each imported style separate each other and, on the other hand, with the the temporary bracketing of "identity" that constitutes Japanese self. Why are they so "serious and sincere" to learn others' music? What motivates them to simulate what doesn't belong to them? So-called "national character" doesn't help us to answer the questions at all. Beside the compartmentalism and the ideology of racial homogeneity, the construction of self of Japanese must induce their "serious and sincere" attitude.
The sociologist Roland Robertson, wondering how Japan's isolation from the global circumstance (especially in the 17-19th century) has become paradoxically a "globally oriented gesture" (1992, p. 85) and how Japanese identity is "formed by encounters with the outside world" (p. 93), concludes that particular nature of Japanese syncretism insiduously prevailing not only in the notion of the sacred but in the order of daily life allows and obliges the nation to incorporate (or to some, imitate) the "foreign" :
In any case, the critical point is that the very structure of Japanese religion as a whole and [emphasis original] the syncretism of everyday individual life are both based upon and encourage the tendency to make an identity from various sources, which themselves vary in terms of "native" and "foreign" references [this emphasis mine]. (p.94-5).
In this context, Frederick Buell interestingly wonders whether the "capacity for inauthenticity, simulacra, theater" might be Japanese "essence" (1994, p. 58). This "essence", as he rightly suggests, is concerned less with what one calls "essentialism" (discourse based on biological, racial, geographical, national and other characters that are alleged to be perennially fixed) than with fictionality and elusiveness of Japanese identity: true Japaneseness (traditional, primordial, genuine Japan...) is constructed by western model while real Japanese identify themselves simulacra of what they want and imagine (Occidentalization) and of what the Other (West) wants and imagines them (Orientalization). There is little use of searching for truly true Japanese today: nobody is behind the mask. They are what they are ("identity") and what they are not, what the Other see them ("borrowing"). This Other is certainly construed by the projection of their desire and imagination. We may call it the virtual Other. But these desire and imagination in turn are constructed by the projection of what they are, of the "identity." Probably Japanese "identity" is an empty matrix or a formless sponge which to allow them of filling up foreign references inside: they may sponge out what they are given alien ingredients.
That the identity is constructed by the difference (to Other) is not a new theory as we see in the radical critique of Orientalism. What I emphasize here is that Japanese are not only capable of pretending to be the imagined Other or of identifying themselves in opposition to the non-Japanese but also of recognizing themselves as Other. In other words, "we" and "they" are sharply distinguished as well as ambiguously interchangeable (this happens only when the Other is desirable to Japanese, for example the Western. Japanese when confronting with the Asian try to make the smaller difference more salient and to play down the mechanism of identity borrowing.) This is what Joseph Tobin calls parallel capacity of self-exoticization and self-orientalization: the former is concerned with "becoming Other" (occidentalization, Caribbeanization), while the latter "occurs when Japanese consciously or unconsciously make themselves into, or see themselves as, the objects of western desire and imagination" (Tobin, 1992, p. 30, see also Iwabuchi, 1994, p. 70f.) This slippery construction of self is closely linked with the "dexterity" as Kanno specifies as Japanese uniqueness. The paradox is: the more they play non-Japanese music, the more they become Japanese. Of course, the play with identity is not uncommon to traveling music: Swedish salsa band, Filipino hula band, Chinese dixieland, Indic enka singer ... But they may not, I suppose, interiorize the identity of Other as OL does and remain to be, so to speak, hobby musicians.8
OL is of course conscious of their Non-Hispanic identity:
Aunque ellos son todos japoneses
tocan la salsa sabrosa
("Salsa caliente del Japón")
No sabíamos nada
sobre el mundo latino
Cómo tocar la salsa
Cómo bailar Guaracha
("Descarga de la Luz") Somos diferentes
al público que nos quiere....
No importa que me critiquen
Al son del Oriente
What is important to their success is that the "difference" they are sensitive to doesn't appear in sound but in physical outlook. The members often state in their interviews the possiblity of salsa a la japonesa but has not yet shown what it is. They refuse to sing in Japanese as did Orquesta del Sol, nor do they present Japanese piece (except "I Am a Piano" in "Salsa no tiene frontera"). Their original tunes have no Japanese association at all. Nora says: "I don't stick to Japanese. 'Cause We can exhibit our originality through sound, I believe" (Latina, July 1990, p. 53). So far my non-Latin ears can detect nothing characteristic to them. They may not have Hispanic burden but Japanese one that prescribes the separation of the foreign and the domestic.
But would the international audience, Latino or not, have applaused them if they topped soy sauce to salsa? Japanese salsa may be possible as much as Japanese tango is. However, it is dubious for world market to receive it as enthusiastically as the authentic salsa performed by the exotic artists (see the original jacket of their first album with a half-naked muscular taiko percussionist and a Chinese gong, and "bomboo lettering"). Japanese salsa, if any, might be consumed in domestic market as Japanese tango has been (for example, Chica Boon, all-female Japanese salsa band, sings in Japanese but the tunes have little musical association with Japan). This type of "asymmetric power relations" (I. Monson) -- I may add, "asymmetric aesthetic relations" -- don't favor the Japanese artists who perform foreign music in foreign (western) countries. On going abroad, they are too clearly marked as Japanese as opposed to what occurs inside Japan. With the notable exceptions of a 1963 fluke, "Sukiyaki", Yellow Magic Orchestra, a self-Orientalizing trio, and its member Ryuichi Sakamoto, a universalized Orientalist, no Japanese popular musicians have not yet enjoyed international acclaim through their native music.9
I don't mean that Japanese salsa is impossible or fake but will meet enormous obstacle when marketed outside the country. For Oriental appearance is acceptable or even enchanting but the exotic sound may not attract the western ("international") ears as much as the Japanese ones. The impasse of Japanese salsa may be ascribed to the compartmentalization on the part of Japan and the asymmetric power relations on the part of the West. The OL dare not test salsa a la japonesa because the band has become too huge machinery of BMG Victor to experiment something totally inconventional and the artists themselves prefer to be exotic in appearance to in sound.10
Few will doubt that the high resolution sound of OL's albums contributes to their success. If one can associate their music with Japan, it is only the immaculateness of their recording that might conjure up the recent "hi-tech" image of the country. Unlike the precarious studio equipment allowed for major part of salseros, OL works from the outset in some of the best studios in Tokyo and New York under the auspices of well-established company.11 It seems to me that the clearcut quality of their CD that they can reproduce on stage is not simply related with the state-of-art equipment they used but also with the meaning of salsa production and consumption in a global economic center like Tokyo. We shall argue double effect of cultural transfer in question: rationalization and canonization.
To sum up the Weberian notion again, rationalization is concerned with special attention to economic eficiency and technical control over space and time. OL rationalizes salsa through elaborated recording technology and sophisticated marketing strategy both of which are aimed at eliminating mistakes and avoiding the unpredictable scratches in sound and business. The "dual pattern of rationalization" concerning the multitrack recording noted by Paul Théberge can be better extrapolated to the digital recording:
First, engineers and entrepreneurial producers interested in an aesthetic of recorded musical 'sound' gained increasing control over the process through separation recording -- a set of techniques derived from experimentation with architecture, tools, and techniques in the sound studio. Second, the aesthetics of the 'sound', in combination with commercial demands in the form of cost efficiency and the need to highligh star performers (usually singers), encouraged the increasing use of overdubbing, which allowed for the rational planning and control of the temporal aspects of music-making (1989, p.106-7).
The point is that the rationalism in recorded sound is complicit with that in business that sells it. The aesthetics and the economy are inextricably bonded to each other on the basis of rationalization. Théberge then observes the recording studio as "meta-structure" for rationalized site:
Just as chordal harmony creates a rational, structural framework for expressive, melodic elaboration, so the multitrack studio creates a meta-structure for a rationalized, test-and-evaluate form of musical practice. Even when it does not lose its expressive and affective character, performance becomes a kind of calculated risk-taking in a no-risk environment (p.106.)
Technical accomplishment of OL is profoundly linked with the technological perfection they are allowed to explore, on the one hand, and with the efficient international business supporting them, on the other hand.12
Salsa is, as all the contemporary popular music, essentially inseparable from commercial and technological facets of our society and thus more or less rationalized. But OL goes to the extreme: they launched at the final page of the ordinary development of a band that starts in a shabby venue in barrio, rehearses no more than once or twice a week in garage or backyard, records "demo tape" in a primitive studio in their neighborhood, then, with luck, goes to larger auditorium, meets with larger company and smarter agency. The mythical idea of barrio as cradle and vein of salsa is rejected by Nora, who knows that contemporary salsa cannot be streetwise but must satisfy international aesthetic standard:
After all, salsa cannot be any longer street music. Both the melody and words of salsa were born in street and it still has strong influence of street. It [To be street music] is advantage and joy. But in the process of internationalization, salsa is naturally required to accompany tremendously good words and good melody. It is what we have done. And I do wish that salsa will be international all the more we will become international (Latina, Sep. 1993, p.10).
This process of internationalization is inherent to that of rationalization and canonization that involves not only the polished sound but also the de-politicization and de-ethnicization and de-eroticization of lyrics. The internationalization of salsa as OL intends to encourage, however, goes the opposite way of zouk, French-Caribbean dance music, whose internationalization of sound (the use of preponderant Euro-American scales and tunings, harmony, electronic instruments etc.) and market leads paradoxically to the return to locality among the musicians (the recovery of Creole, traditional percussions and rhythmic patterns etc.) (Guilbault 1993, p. 150f). The Creole lyrics depicting daily life of the people may sound only exotic to the outsiders but can express local identities unperceived by them in our age of transnationally reproductive technology. This strategy -- Lipsitz calls "a detour through fictive identities" (1994, p. 62) -- has nothing to do with internationalization of the Caribbean sound by Japanese. Nor does OL have in common with patchwork aesthetics of Paul Simon and David Byrne: OL is not international -- ethnically unmarked -- musicians who use ethnically marked sound as foreground/background effect. OL is instead an ethnically marked band that plays internationalized music. Graceland and Rei Momo after all belong to those two creative musicians (and not to their "guest" musicians from subaltern lands). But it is difficult to judge whether OL plays their music (like whether Byrne's Brazilian albums belong to the compiler or the compiled). They don't use Other's music as Simon and Byrne but simply borrows it. Whose music do they play?
We have argued so far one of the most conspicuous aspects of salsa diaspora to Japan: canonization. This occurs not only in the music-making but also in the consumption. According to a review article,
As time goes by, salsa has changed to turn to be different from what it initially was. It may be shocking and fresh [in such a moment of salsa transition] that a group stoically loyal to the aesthetics and basis of Latin world suddenly appeared from the Orient that has nothing to do with Latin history and problems. Without this factor, no one could explain their Pan-Latin extraordinary popularity. ... All we find [in Sabor de la luz] is nothing less than the royal road of Latin [music], the very authentic product. They propose a new development in their way but express perennially new and old -- timeless -- Latin world. ... Nora's vocal in Spanish has slightly different flavor [from that of native singers] : mood that is somehow more authentic than the native singer. Just like enka [Japanese sentimental ballad] sung by Teresa Ten [Taiwanese singer with Pan-Asian reputation died in 1995] . This is something "the more phony, the more real," after all, the very charm and essence of popular music (Toshiyuki Fujimura, Music Magazine, June 1995, p.248).13
Thus this reviewer values OL as a sort of revival of roots salsa, the orthodoxy directly coming from Fania All Stars, El Gran Combo, Sonora Poncena, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, to whom they sincerely declare their debt in "Salsa Caliente del Japón" and "Salsa es mi energia." Simulacrum is more authentic than the authentic, even more real than the real -- this "hyper-realism" partly comes from technical perfection discussed above.14 Fujimura elsewhere sees the actual salsa scene getting into the phase of "revitalization by the periphery" because the center is so stagnant that has no further development (Music Magazine, Feb. 1992, p.310). He justifies the periphery-strikes-back theory by summoning up the history of fusion and hybridization of Latin American music such as beguine and rumba all around the world. But I doubt if OL is to be compared to, for example, rumba in Zaire because their performance has little or nothing to do with fusing the foreign with the vernacular -- arcana of the Afro-Caribbean music with which Fujimura tries to connect OL.
The decadence of salsa is not Fujimura's peculiar view. Yasuo Ohta, in his euphoric article on OL's 1991 tour in Latin America, interprets their success as follows:
Orquesta de la Luz has especially tremendous popularity among the poor class living in barrio. They say, "their salsa has a different style from ordinary salsa." ... Their salsa is not same as contemporary salsa called salsa erotica or commercialized salsa. They name in their songs powerful musicians in the 1960s and 70s with pride, as if they were singing "here are our heroes". Those musicians were heroes of the poor but seemingly forgotten. Salsa is music born from the life of the poor and is a part of their life. The music of Orquesta de la Luz has penetrated in the scene rooted on life and become a part of the life of the poor people. (Latina, July 1991, p. 5)
Two points are to be noted: 1) authentic salsa such as OL plays is contrasted to commercialized "salsa erotica" (that corresponds to what Hispanic calls salsa sensual [sensual salsa]) ; 2) barrio as well as its "poor" inhabitants are idealized as the origin of true salsa. The former is concerned with the purist taste among the salsa audience in Japan for whom Anglo-American gimmics (synthesizer, soft rock rhythm...) or with excessive romanticism (Luiz Enrique, Frankie Lewis, Eddie Santiago....) is inferior because of commercialism (or it is only for the local -- not international -- consumption). Although the international audience cannot understand sweety lyrics, they feel and judge the romanticism through arrangement and the "grain of voice" too honeyed to be authentic.15
OL thus "de-eroticizes" salsa to recover the real roots that have been forgotten even by the underprivileged in barrio, the site of genuine salsa. Just like conventional anthropologists who try to keep their "field" away from the western civilization, the reviewer Ohta wishes the poor to maintain the unconcocted salsa. There is an obvious contradiction: on the one hand, he knows that salsa is rooted in and expresses everyday life of barrio; on the other hand, the inhabitants prefer "salsa erotica", the salsa that should not reflect their life. Is OL untimely or is it the poor Latino that impoverishes their taste? Observing from outside, the Japanese traveler-reviewer cannot seize how salsa erotica is rooted on the life in the 1990s.
The imaginary of barrio as originary locale of salsa is concerned with the self-consciousness of the rootless among Japanese. The trombonist of OL mentions:
"The Caribbean people are proud of their own music. Salsa is to them what min'yô [folk song] is to Japanese. But Japanese are not proud of their own music. There is not any proper music to them. ...Japan has no music rooted upon life, doesn't it?" (Latina, July 1991, p. 5-6)
This complaint results from music politics of modern Japan. The rural and urban popular music before the western contact has been systematically repressed by the government that promotes western or western-like Japanese music in school and concert hall since the 1870s. Of course, the radical change in sensibility doesn't occur in one day (or even in one century.) However, the modernization is irreversible and the public of western and western-derived Japanese music has always been increasing.
Even the nativist reaction to westernization is paradoxically involved with the process of modernization they object to. For example, "pre-modern" folk song (min'yô) became gradually institutionalized in the 1920s by the urban intellectuals and their rural sympathizers, who, urged by the western pressure of preserving truly Japanese tradition, aimed at authenticizing one fixed melodic and lyrical version out of existent idiosyncratic and local variants and organizing official meets for purist amateur singers (see Hughes, 1992). One compartment is ready. It is meticulously retreated from the actual music scene. Such an institutionalization of rural culture suffocates the vivid intercourse between country and city music makers and determines the construction of rural image by the industry and government since the 1920s when the urbanization was gradually driving away the "real" country from Japanese landscape. The isolation of folk song from urban life is found everywhere but the tendency of compartmentalization in Japanese music culture reinforces the aesthetic discrimination against the pre-modern rural music more than many countries (especially than the Latin American ones). It is not coincidental that "new folk songs," folkish songs in service of record companies, became popular in that decade. The prestine image of traditional life is thus massively reproduced month after month by professional composers and lyricists (Hughes 1990). The really rural is outcast from school and city life and survived only in the archive of ethnomusicology, while the institutionalized/compartmentalized rural has found the small but right niche in contemporary social life. Japanese don't only keep the exotic exotic (see footnote 3) but also the Japanese Japanese.
Min'yô is now seen as too nostalgically rural and too genuinely Japanese to adopt itself to contemporary music. We know it is our musical roots that have been regrettably lost because of modernization. The guilty conscience of being rootless, of being alienated from the continuity of tradition, often evokes nostalgia for the "roots music", music that is closely attached to everyday life, to the "heart" of the people. The inclination to the authenticity is related with the idealization of the people's life and the "roots" of Other. Salsa in Japan is exactly detached from life with respect to language, rhythm, sound and so on more than Anglo-American pop and rock is in Japan. For the American and Americanized music has resonance with contemporary everyday life in Japan with MacDonald's, Disneyland, Coca-Cola and so on. The trombonist may regret the irretrievably lost roots but feel happy to dig out the other's roots. Paradoxically the more OL persues how to make salsa sound, the more it is committed to Japanese tradition of borrowing, simulation, and canonization. Whose music do they play? Of everyone?
We have delineated how an Afro-Caribbean genre has been "domesticated" (Tobin, 1992, p. 4) by Japanese musicians and journalists on the basis of Japan's historical and cultural conditions which are as tanecious as the Caribbean ones. It is evident that the uniqueness of OL lies in their stance towards salsa rather than in their sound. The sincere respect to the model to simulate, the hard discipline to emulate with the foreign, the keen sense of authenticity are all common to Japanese cultural history since its initial encounter with China. Such an inclination to simulate the foreign is counterbalanced by the perennial nationalism deeply rooted on national language and national religion that have not been exported outside the territory (except during the imperial period.) Anchored by the two foundations of "identity", Japanese are free to adopt and adapt themselves to the West, circulate the foreign. The mono-racial ideology diffused obstinately in the nation (see Koguma 1995) also affects the allegedly ethnicity-free, locality-free use of things overseas. The multi-culturalism, again imported from U.S. by intellectuals and mass media, gradually influences the recognition of ethnic groups in Japan with or without Japanese passport among the liberal part of the population but is still far from establishing new national/ethnic ethics.
Musical diaspora, or traveling sounds itself is nothing new and especially the recording technology brings about the global dissemination of sound in form of commodity. Sound travels far beyond its original place and is consumed by those who know nothing about the recording musicians and the culture thereof. In various countries has this technological displacement of sound resulted in the syncretism between the imported and the vernacular. The latter, far from something pure, is naturally formed by a series of progressive, disparate (and frequently colonial) contacts. The "world music" scene dramatizes multiple possibilities of such hybridization realized by extensive uses of technology and by unprecedent population flow from tourists, commercial tours of artists to exile and forced migration. What is unique to Japanese cultural condition concerning musical transfer is that the imported sound is kept intact without fusing with the local sound: it is instead reconciled with the local practice of compartmentalization. Although the walls of compartment may shift continuously, it seems unprobable, if not impossible, that salsa will be incorporated by mainstream unless the current model for the average commercial music, Anglo-American pop and rock, shows how to use the Latin beat.
Studies of popular music often stress the musical style as the very constituent of ethnic/racial and class identity. This is true both to music-makers and to consumers as far as we examine the community from which the music is born. But it is not always true out of the community. OL identifies themselves only with the sound. This purely aesthetic identification or the taste affinity with the "local" music has been usually discussed as a case of cultural imperialism implied in the notion of world music. The audience "out of place" is implicitly only passive consumers who just buy the glossy sound but little understand its real meaning to the "local" public. For the critique of world music, Japanese listeners may be described as such manipulated consumers, while OL as a whimsical band pushed by hype. Such a stance, I believe, cannot unfold the significance of "borrowed style" and thus "borrowed identity", historically asserted in Japan, where the style of foreign music is less linked with "identity" than taste, an symbolic mark of distinction for the nation without clear ethnic/racial contrast in life-world. Borrowing is not only as superficial as is appears but also intrinsic to the Japanese sense of self. This explanation may be valid to a variety of superb "exotic" musicians other than OL in Japan: Tokyo Ska Paradise, Concrete Mixer (polka), Naki (ragamuffin), Lisa Ono (bossa nova).
Richard Middleton, rejecting the dichotomy of copy (appropriation) and original (authenticity) in the politics of "folk", puts forward instead a spectrum between these notions: there is no absolute authenticity nor complete copy but all the music practices fall somewhere in-between. "In fact, there are always limits to appropriation; it can never be complete. Within cultural production in capitalist societies, musical objects, however integrated into particular social practices, always carry the marks of their (contradictory) origins and of other (real or potential) existences. And this then raises the whole question of how they relate to particular social locations" (1990, p. 140). This paper has intended to answer this question precisely by positioning OL in the world atlas of salsa and the socio-historical map of popular music in Japan. In order to criticize OL, it is not always wise to apply straightforwardly the general critique of world music from western point of view that ranges from exploitation of musicians "over there" by transnational industry to imperial project implied in western popular music itself, from pastiche-like incongruity (or postmodern aesthetics) to celebration of hybridity. The difficulty to argue properly OL comes from "ambiguity of Japan" (to use the title of 1994 Nobel Prize Speech by Kenzaburo Oe), a country living between economic overrepresentation and cultural underrepresentation: It is almost westernized but not quite western. OL is first and foremost a Japanese band. Whatever and however they may play, it is Japanese culture that conditions them.
1.I agree with Pacini Hernandez that "reggae, sung in English, was easily accessible to a wide range of English-speaking (if not Anglo) international audiences." (1993, p.51) A Francophone reggae artist such as Alpha Blondy, from Côte d'Ivoire, has hardly been able to reach non-French-speaking cultures. But why is another English-sung genres from the Caribbean such as soca and calypso far less known than reggae?
2.Mary Yoko Brennen finds at Tokyo Disneyland a form of cultural appropriation specific to Japan, where western theories of one-sided imposition of dominant western culture on the colonized doesn't work . She remarks: "Here [at Tokyo Disneyland], Japan appropriates a cultural artifact from America (Disneyland) and uses it in relation to its Western and Asian Others in such a way as to retain its own unique identity. This Japanese form of cultrual imperialism operates by continually reinforcing the distinction between Japan and the Other, by keeping the exotic exotic." (1992, p.227). This operation of cultural appropriation is indirectly concerned with the polarization of popular music scene in Japan we are discussing: Japanese keep the Caribbean Caribbean. In other words, to copy a foreign artifact is to domesticate it in Japanese society. Japanization therefore doesn't necessarily imply mixture or synthesis with vernacular elements (as "Caribbeanization" always does.)
3.Ingrid Monson argues that "most European-American participants in African-American music, whether as listeners or performers, simply do not have experience in the other domains of African-American life. Their cultural domains are unlikely to be aligned throughout to the African-American participatory and evaluative frame even if they share values, attitudes and participation in the musical domain" (1990, p. 37.) This "asymmetrical power relations" are also true to salsa for Japanese. Salsa is for them, as E. Hanslick might formulate, purely autonomous sound. The "schizophonia" (Murray Schafer), or the spatio-temporal split between the performance and sound, is immanent to reproductive technology, the most potential medium for salsa to cross over the Pacific (Keil and Feld, 1994, chap. 10).
4.Patria Roman Velásquez comments that the European acceptance of salsa changes the social view on salsa in Puerto Rico, where the discotheque (for middle and dominant classes) that once refused it because of its association with an undesirable sector of the society welcomes "salsa blanca" ["white salsa"] (1995, p.288). OL certainly represents "white salsa" , a style acceptable to the sophisticated audience.
5.Compare this song with "Montuno" of Gloria Estefan in her millionseller album Mi tierra: "¡ [Montuno] No tiene fronteras! Es libre/ ¡ No tiene banderas! De Todos/ Es tumbao de calle y de hermandad." ["[Montuno] has no frontiers! It's free/ It has no flags! of everyone/ It's drum beat of street and of fraternity"]. Here "fronteras" and "banderas" clearly refer to those of Cuba and U.S. for the singer and the audience.
Nora: "...It was so tough! I have to pronounce correctly and he [Sergio George, the album producer] doesn't say O.K. unless the singing is clearly articulated"
Gen Ogimi (timbales): "The first thing Sergio told us was he couldn't understand what she was singing. They say that he was just astonished by her feeling." (Latina, July 1990, p. 53).
Of course the unintelligible singing is no problem as far as they play in Japan. The 'Spanish-like" (with an exaggerated "rrr" or some interjections like "sabroso, sabroso, sabroso" "Oye (Oh Yeah)!" ) is sufficient for Japanese reception of Hispanic music just like the "English-like" shout causes no trouble for non-English speaking heavy metal bands and audience. The linguistic barrier was noticed only when they started to sing for the Hispanic audience. And when this barrier was noticed, Nora recognized the importance of message (or meaning) to address the public.
7."Internationalization" [kokusaika] is so magical a word since the 1970s in Japan that no Japanese know for what purpose and for which direction it implies (Iwabuchi, 1994, p. 64ff). As it aims finally at promoting national interests, the "internationalization of Japan" is nothing other than "Japanization of the international" (see Hosokawa, 1995 p.???) . For OL, however, it is clear that the internationalization of group means overseas tours and release of album, while that of salsa points the expansion of salsa audience to non-Hispanic society. Do they believe that non-Hispanic non-Japanese salsa bands follow them? As for the internationalization of salsa, their position is peculiar.
8.What is good to the identity is to some extent valid to the locality of Tokyo, where OL was born. It consists in the apparently random combination of pre-, post- and ultra-modern architectures and vernacular landmarks, and each view ("compartment") reminds you of somewhere in the West but as a whole you must perceive it nowhere other than a Japanese metropolis because the principle of borrowing is impeccably Japanese. This is the "identity," if we can use this word, of Tokyo and OL.
9.Recent success of Japanese groups such as Shônen Knife and Pizzicato Five abroad may be affected by new image of Japan, hi-tech-kitsch Other (in particular, Pizzicato Five, which is astutely conscious of cheapness of their imitation). On the other hand, Japanese hardcore groups such as Boredoms, Eye Yamatsuka and Geni Geva are known abroad because the frontiers and barriers of "noise" aesthetics is not concerned with ethnicity but with hegemonic concept of "music" commanded by the cultural industry. They are ubiquiously marginal.
11.Philip Sweeney, a British world music specialist, defies the digitalized salsa of OL as follows: ".... it is true that the bright, CD-polished gloss of their music lacks the soulfulness and depth of great Latin originals" (The Independent, June 10, 1993). This remark reminds me of Charles Keil's rejection of CD because it has "no grooves" but just shines (1994, p.17). Aren't they vinyl fetischists?
12.Adorno properly remarks that the discrepancy between compositional technique and contents in the 19th century bears the intrusion of an extra-aesthetic factor into the aesthetic realm (1977, p. 80f). What is interesting to us in Adorno's text is that he extends the "technicalization" of musical work in the romanticism to the technologization of performance in our century: "technological development, understood at first as extra-musical, then guarded by compositional intentions, converges with inner-musical development" (p.83). For Adorno, whose aesthetic canon is German art music, composition and live performance, the technological intervention to the aesthetic represents the technocratic society of today. To apply Adorno's idea to OL, their technological perfection (of CD) is intertwined with their technical accomplishment (of performance) and both are concerned with the inner-aesthetic dimension of OL. As for technique-centered idea on performance, Tadaaki Misago, the leader of Tokyo Cuban Boys, remarks on the 1962 Machito tour as follows : "As for technique, Japanese Latin bands are mostly superior to Cuban ones. But Cuban bands have certain atmosphere or taste ..."?????
13.His comparison with enka sung by a Taiwanese singer is irrelevant because Taiwan colonically belonged to Japan (until 1945) and enka was born under the imperial regime around the 1930s and diffused to China, Korea, Taiwan and other ex-Japanese territory through radio and record. Enka is from the beginning Pan-East-Asian as same as rumba and salsa, Pan-Hispanic. Therefore it is not artificial, as Fujimura states by a misleading paradox of popular music between the phony and the authentic, for a Teresa Ten to interpret Japanese romantic songs.
14. This "hyper-realism" is conscious to the members of OL who were disillusioned by the live of Fania All Stars in the 15th Salsa festival at Meadowlands Arena (NJ) that appeared after them. One of them says, "Fania, yes big names, but did the same as in the 1971 live [album] at Cheeta" (Latina, Dec. 1990, p. 17). The public were, according to OL, not so much excited by them as by the Japanese band: OL knows what Fania has lost today. In short, OL is more Fania than Fania.
15.Even Nora was a little reluctant to interpret "Tu eres el hombre," a "salsa erotica" piece according to her classification when Sergio George proposed to record it in their first album (Music Magazine, Nov. 1990, p.164). How the sensuality of "salsa erotica" is communicated to non-Hispanic audience like Japanese is an interesting question. In my hypothesis, romanticism in certain Latin genres (bolero, balada) have been so long immersed in Anglo-American popular music through Italian and Iberian immigration since Tin Pan Alley. Sensual stereotype of the Latin in Anglo-American society (from Rufolf Valentino to Julio Iglesias) endorses the association. Japanese also receives the same stereotype from American entertainment industry and comes to perceive balada and bolero as sensual. On the political economy of passion in case of tango, see Savigliano, 1995. Luck of serious attention to pan-Latin "commercialized" genre in popular music studies shows tacit political and aesthetic attitude of academia. On the philosophical analysis of bolero, see Zapata, 1990.
While in 1976 Japanese Latin aficionados were busy with discussing whether new music called salsa was an authentic Latin music or something degenerated by or at least mixed with jazz or rock, a fan, inspired by the flashing experience of the Fania All Stars' live performance, wrote as follows: "This [salsa] is nothing other than the contemporary Latin music. It is nonsense to argue if it is real or fake. Salsa is nothing other than one estilo [=style, attention to the use of Spanish jargon] that was spontaneously borne from unique urban circumstance of New York and its mechanical everyday culture. That Japanese are argumentative when listening to music may be because they don't have music in everyday life and have had little experience to listen to music through body." (Chûnanbei Ongaku, Nov. 1976, p. 134). The quotation clearly shows the idealization of "Latin" and "music rooted on everyday life." Furthermore, that Japanese listen to music not by heart but by brain is one of the most repeated and negative self-images of foreign -- popular or classic--music lovers. Ohta,for example, closes his above-quoted article on OL as follows: "Music is no theory, no analysis. It is 'what one feels by body'". But how can the music "spontaneously borne from" New York be received as spontaneous as the native?
Such a statement implies that the music must be listened to by heart, soul, with emotion, at the same time, rejects the intellectualization of sound experience. This type of mistrust against certain attitude of pretencious critics is paradoxically found in the journals and books on non-Japanese music that are massively published every month. To put it in another way, those who don't need any theory or analysis buy and read them. The relatively large size of music journalism and the segmented readership in Japan attest the dependency of written information among the "quibbling" public. The author of the quotation himself must express his impression by addressing a letter to the fellow readers, which hardly happens to the public of Fania All Stars in New York. The journals specialized in small niche ascertain the closed circle of enthusiasts and purists of what they feel. As Peter Narváez bears out on Living Blues journal (1993), music magazines may establish a taste community and mythologize the origin.
I am grateful to Hideto Nishimura, who generously conceded his private scraps of Chûnanbei Ongaku and Latina and to Hugh de Ferranti and Keith Negus, whose critique to the earlier version of the paper was indispensable for this published text.
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Orquesta de la Luz (all from Ariola)
Orquesta de la Luz
Salsa no tiene frontera
Sabor de la luz