Yale: I produced a John Zorn record for my label ICON called The Big Gundown (came out through Nonesuch in 1986). And though John and I had been friends with each other before (we had worked together in a record store), the year-long odyssey of producing this record made us much closer. He had fallen in love with Japan and had an apartment there, and every time he went, he brought back lots of Japanese records. Among them some by Kina Shoukichi. I was totally taken by this music and we decided that we would travel together to Okinawa to find him so I could do a record with him for ICON. We did go, but didn't find him. I had heard he was worshipping trees in India at the time.
A year or so after I got to Luaka Bop, David pulled out his Shoukichi Kina collection and said how about this? I own about 10,000 LP's, and David has maybe a fifth of that. In his travels around the world people always give him records that he "has to have", and he always has an uncanny way of picking out the best records when he is in a store. Anyway I really got a first-hand look at the Japanese negotiation style on this one. Really knock-down drag-out, and we basically had to walk away to make it all happen.
David: Kina Shoukichi, as he is known in Japan, comes from Okinawa, but had a huge impact on the Japanese pop scene as early as the mid-`70s. He was probably the first to mix traditional intruments, asian melodies and singing with rock and reggae beats... the first real "Japanese" artist to do so. Other well-known Japanese artists such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, with founding member Ryuichi Sakamoto, were somewhat closer to Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder than they were to Asia... and The Sadistic Mika Band, whose lead singer married British ace producer Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Pretenders, etc) were also modeled very closely on Western models, but with a wicked Asian attitude. So, it took an Okinawan (Kina Shoukichi, as he is properly known, is Okinawan, not Japanese) to lead the way and make the breakthrough in Japanese pop for something truly unique and different to come into being.
On one of their later albums Ry Cooder (he's everywhere!) joined them on some killer tracks... "Jin Jin," "Flowers From My Heart," and more...
Why did we release this compilation? Well, Yale and I discovered one day that we were both fans of this relatively obscure band... and that through friends and others we could locate rare singles and early material... enough to make a good-sounding compilation. Maybe not surprisingly, this compilation was one of our worst-selling records ever. People claim it was the strange high-shrill quality of the backing singers voices that put them off, but we suspect that despite being a killer collection with some great grooves and some wonderful swinging styles, the sounds of Asia that don't fit the blissed-out New Age Zen Meditative esoteric concept are difficult for Westerners to get into.
Anyway, the group's live shows are wonderful, so catch them if you can... an experience that is almost more a rally or a celebration than a formal concert.