Monday, March 12, 2012

The Basics: Sambomaster

This week I'm featuring Japanese bands in an effort to maintain awareness for the recovery efforts in Northern Honshu (the main island of Japan.) The earthquake happened on March 11, almost a year ago. Please donate a few dollars to the Japan Society here.

I'll admit, I was pretty leery when I first saw this band's name. It was on while I was traveling to my semester abroad in Nagoya, the Detroit of Japan. My first reaction was "Hey, they're pretty good. Too bad they'll never make it in America with a name like that." As it turns out, Sambo is actually a type of Russian martial arts. And Sambomaster actually has a decent American following.

If you're American and you know about Sambomaster, it's probably because you watch Naruto. This is an interesting phenomenon, because in almost every single live video of this band I have watched, there are at least three gaijin (foreigners) in the crowd. But Sambomaster is a real band, and had a following before some producer stuck them onto an anime soundtrack.

Unlike the pillows, who are all about writing some truly well-crafted pop songs, Sambomaster has something to say.

While they may look completely unassuming (particularly lead guitarist Takashi Yamaguchi) the band plays with an intensity and passion that would pair them comfortably with many of the artists featured here or on Ninebullets: Cowboy Mouth, Two Cow Garage, Tim Barry, The Alabama Shakes. Really, that would be a dream concert for me right there. They've become popular in a field of musicians whose songs are even more vapid than American pop. Not only do they know how to play their own damn music, but it's so obvious that they actually care. And they know it -- their first album was called Atarashiki Nihongo Rock no Michi to Hikari, or The Light and Pathway to New Japanese Rock.

Here's my favorite track from that album (it's a hard choice.) I also appreciate the Scott Pilgrim-like nature of the video:

The song title translates into "We Will Live Like Flowers That Blooms in the Moonlight." The chorus pretty much epitomizes the band's attitude towards life (feel free to direct complaints about the translation to me):

君の名は必ず叫ぶから                            Because I will always call your name                                       
僕の事 信じちゃくれないか                     Why don't you believe in me?
あふれ出す涙の日々はただ                     Every day my tears overflow              
月に咲く花のように僕ら送ろうぜ              But we will live like flowers that bloom in the moonlight
I don't care what you say. It's a Herculean feat to be that poetic and still write an anthem like that -- in any language. And it never hurts to inspire courage in the face of adversity.

It's also fitting to feature Sambomaster this week, because Yamaguchi is from Fukushima Prefecture. He, along with some other artists from the region, wrote a popular song dedicated to Fukushima.

Yamaguchi is known for his intensity and ramblings. In live performances, he'll often stop playing in the middle of a song and start ranting. Here, the song starts about two minutes in. He's speaking too quickly for me to really understand what he's saying, but he's basically telling the crowd how awesome they are.

For more information on the song (and a translation of the lyrics) go here.

The good news is that you can get all of Sambomaster's albums on Amazon for fairly cheap. And if you live near a Book Off, you can probably find it for cheaper.

For those of you who are curious, here's Sambomaster's official site.

And don't forget to donate to the Earthquake Relief Fund.

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