TVD Ticket Giveaway: Osaka Monaurail at Tropicalia, 10/31

Showmanship. James Brown set the bar pretty high for most of us and made it look pretty easy while doing it, but it doesn’t come easy. The Godfather of Soul virtually defined showmanship for the 20th century. His bands were always dressed to the nines and danced together with tight, choreographed moves, while delivering the most irresistible in-your-face funk and soul of the century. The stage is about ownership. Once you step up there, it’s time to testify. Most bands get about an hour to deliver their sermon and it becomes the intersection of passion and artistry.

Enter Osaka Monaurail from Japan. Rolling nine-deep in matching suits, spinning trumpets, and a lead singer doing the Mashed Potato, they’re known as Japan’s premiere funk orchestra and have been burning up stages since 1992. If you want to get a taste of what a classic soul revue might have been like in the ’60s then check out this video for their song “(She’s A) Riptide.” The group is currently on an exclusive 3-city US tour with a stop in Washington, DC on October 31.

Osaka Monaurail’s frontman, keyboard player and bandleader Ryo Nakata talked with us about his band, his favorite artists, who he’d love to work with and what we can look forward to on their first ever show in Washington, DC at Tropicalia on Halloween with Black Masala.

Please tell us a bit about Osaka Monaurail and what you do?

Osaka Monaurail is a Japanese funk band. I don’t mean we play Japanese funk, but we are Japanese and we play funk! We got together in 1992. So, it’s been more than 22 years. We are currently a nine-piece band. And I am the lead singer in the group.

You’re on your first US tour, right? Does playing Washington, DC, aka “Chocolate City,” have some particular significance for you? It’s the home of so much jazz, soul, and rare groove. The venue where you’re playing, Tropicalia, is located near the U Street Corridor, Marvin Gaye’s old neighborhood and Duke Ellington’s childhood home.

Yes, this is our very first tour ever in the U.S., and I am very excited. It will be my first time visiting Washington, DC. I heard and read much about the U Street District, Howard University—of course Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack attended it. Go-go music, etc. But I think I haven’t studied enough. I gotta learn more. Oh, one more thing, Mr. Sir Joe Quarterman is from Washington, DC, and we played the same night a few years ago in England. His song “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” is almost like a rare groove anthem. Is this song big in DC? His album is now available on CD for Japan on my label!

Judging from the videos I’ve watched on YouTube, concert goers are in for a real visual treat as well as real showmanship, high energy, and some polished choreography. Does the music provide you with the energy to go that hard for a whole set?

Thanks for watching the clips! I guarantee, what you saw on Youtube will be what you see on stage next week. We play in uniforms, the trumpet players twirl their horns. I will be dancing on the stage too. Well, that’s how I think about funk.

When did you start Osaka Monaurail? What was happening for you at this time that inspired you to start this group?

We started out back in 1992 with many of my friends at the university. Originally, I came up with the idea of forming a Funk group when I was sixteen or seventeen. But I couldn’t find musicians because I lived in the country in Nara, Japan. Also, I lived in Canada for one year when I was seventeen. I lived in a small town called Jasper, Alberta, in the Rocky Mountains. It holds a few thousand people. I couldn’t find musicians there either. So, I had to wait until I am a university student and moved to Osaka where I could find many musicians.

I was playing trumpet in a jazz big band. We were playing Count Basie music. So, most of the guys who joined my band were jazz musicians. I was nineteen then. Some of the albums that I was listening when I was sixteen circa 1988: “CD of JB” and In The Jungle Groove by James Brown. By the way, I was surprised that you used the term “rare groove” in one of the previous questions. I had assumed American people don’t use that term. Only British or European people understand that concept, no? Excuse me, I was wrong then.

One of the big things for me as a teenager was one TV/radio commercial by a whiskey company that featured Ray Charles. He did his new version of “What’d I Say” with a touch of New Jack swing, which was very hot, of course. That grabbed my ears although my favorite group at that time was Yellow Magic Orchestra, one of the early electronic groups in the ’80s. So, my first biggest R&B artist was Ray Charles.

Tell us about some influential artists you’ve worked with in your career. What does the future look like for you and the group?

You mean Marva Whitney. We toured with her in Europe and Japan several times. To me, working with Marva was a dream come true. That goes for Mr. Fred Wesley too. We did just one show in Japan with him two years ago. In the rehearsals and in the concert, I was so nervous. My mouth was dry. So, in that sense, I didn’t “enjoy” the show. But I am so proud that we did it with him. And I think we did a good job.

I am already very thankful that I still do what I want to do, that is to tour around the world playing music. What can I say about playing with my heroes and heroines? I plan to have a mini Japan tour with Ms. Martha High and record her album in 2015. Also I am looking forward to touring in Japan with some more soul legends. Yeah, that’s what I do and that’s also want to do: to tour and to do some studio works with soul legends as well as working on our own materials or touring in Osaka Monaurail alone. Thanks to my partner DJ Pari from Richmond and my booker Heikki Eiden from Germany.

“Funk” and “soul” have so many meanings for so many that it can be challenging to give an objective definition of what they mean. Anybody can get a definition from the internet or a dictionary, so I’ll ask you for a personal definition. I’m particularly interested in what they mean to you as a human being from the country of Japan.

To me, one of the best moments ever in the history of Funk is the first downbeat of the song “Soul Power,” when Jabo Starks played the down-on-the-one and Bootsy Collins just played the two notes. January, 1971. It is magic, how that just one stroke of half a second can still make me wanna dance just right there, as soon as I hear it. No matter what, I forget what I am doing or what I am thinking about, and I wanna be dancing to the music. Another song I think of as a funk national anthem would be “The Breakdown” by Rufus Thomas. So, funk is happy music that makes people dance. Plus, needless to say, funk has the other side of its face—it’s music from the late 60s, very hard time: Dr. King’s assassination, Vietnam War, etc. Things were changing, and music too.

How many US cities are you visiting on this tour? What else are you looking forward to on the trip? I love to visit birthplaces of artists I admire and famous recording studios if only to sniff the air and taste the atmosphere of where legends did their thing. Is this true for you?

We are visiting only three cities in the US on this tour: Minneapolis, Richmond, and Washington, DC. Then, we go to Mexico to play two festivals there and fly to Europe. I think we have ten or eleven gigs in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. We are doing fifteen or sixteen shows in three weeks. And there are travel-days in between. It’s always like this. We rarely have off-days on the road for sight-seeing. I have never visited any historical places or anything like that in Europe. Even when I do have time, I would rather rest in the hotel room and get myself ready for the show the next day.

However, I think you got the point. When I am in the US, there must be some music-historical places I really should visit. I should think about that. I once visited Augusta, Georgia and visited James Brown’s radio station. But it was when I was 25 and I was backpacking. Like the club Bohemian Caverns, that is where Donny Hathaway used to play, correct? I gotta visit there! But the truth is, I really don’t want to walk around before the show. If I do, it would hurt my legs and I won’t be able to dance well! I’ll check it out after the gig.

Since The Vinyl District celebrates and promotes vinyl culture-past, present, and future—I have to ask if you dig for rare grooves on your tours? Do you play records and DJ back at home?

No unfortunately I don’t DJ. I hope to have more time in life and experience the other side of the same vintage music culture. It must be fun!

Do you think there’s a resurgence in funk and soul music recently or do you just see the music as a continuum?

I think I am basically on the “resurgence” side. I am from Japan. Most soul and funk listeners in Europe and Japan are on that side, whereas people in America, I think, see it as a continuum. Is this correct? (Excuse me for speaking too approximately.) And, I do not see a big resurgence recently in funk. There was a big one in the ’90s. I think there was a smaller one in 2000s following Amy Winehouse and some others. People say, there is a resurgence of Afro-beat recently. I should be looking around for a “resurgence.” In other words, I always have to know “where the party is at” so we can find work.

However, sometimes I think I should rather try not to care whether there’s a resurgence or not. This is something that is eternal. This music will never die. It will last longer than me anyway. So, I just enjoy the beauty of it. I also enjoy the process of learning. I may not be the best musician in town, but I will play just a little better tomorrow. That’s a good feeling. Did I answer your question?

Yes, indeed! Many thanks for your time Ryo!

Osaka Monaurail perform at Tropicalia in Washington, DC on Friday, October 31 with Black Masala followed by Pura Vibra Fridays with Congo y Castro. Tell us why we should send YOU to Friday’s show on us, and our friends at Tropicalia and Osaka Monaurail will choose the 2 most enthusiastic voices on Thursday at 9AM for 2 pairs of tickets each (2 total per person)! So…go! Leave a comment below!

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  • b3playr

    オーサカ-モノレール!  Today’s my birthday and I would love to see this band to celebrate!  I never got to see Marva Whitney, so this would be one degree of separation closer to the experience.  It’s not the Shinkansen, it’s the Osaka Monaurail!

  • Jonathan Sper

    You should send me to the show because I am student of the funk, and you will make my 12 year old son (he’s a drummer) jealous – I’ve been showing him your you tube clips. I caught the bug bad about 15 years ago with Galactic and the original Addison Groove Project. Now it’s the New Mastersounds; The Pimps of Joytime; Earfunk; The Motet; Turkuaz; Orgone; Soulive and so many more. I have been hitting festivals and local shows to dance my ass off as often as possible and seeing Osaka Monaurial on their first trip to DC would be just brilliant.

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