The latest release by Maïa Barouh French-Japanese rap artist on Saravah Records crashed with a bang into my inbox last week. ‘Aida’, meaning ‘between’ in Japanese, deftly straddles a number of genres. She expertly demonstrates her talent in producing an album filled with French rap, Tokyo underground, electronic, tribal, and some very folksy sounds. She is also a classically trained singer and a flautist to boot. I sensed straight away that I was in for a musical treat…and I was not wrong.
The album kicks off with a catchy and toe-tapping track, “Tokyo Ondo”. Sung in Japanese, we are introduced to a beautiful earthy-sounding flute, crisp pounding bassline, and Maïa’s traditional Japanese folk sound using pentatonic scales. We get a rare musical delight where Rap meets Japanese folk. For you music geeks out there, the Tokyo Ondo has been used by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Professional Japanese Baseball team) as part of their ‘Umbrella Dance’ tradition every time a player scores a home run!
Next up is “Hafu” (the last track is the same – but in English). In true AIDA style, this track is sung in French. Hafu, a Japanese word meaning of Japanese parentage and something else, in Maïa’s case, French, bursts into life with a deep and punchy bass together with some fired-up rap vocals. A touch of Little Simz style to start, but then into her familiar and energetic style. The chorus is edgy, seamlessly fusing orchestral instruments with electronic, giving us much more of a taste of what’s to come.
“Ringo (apples or apple petals)” follows next in what is a complete contrast musically. It’s like Japanese folk chillout rolled into one or ambient cinematic music. The vocals have a beautiful Japanese wispiness and Maïa demonstrates this using the traditional singing technique of Amami, a southern Japanese island. Her father, Pierre Barouh, the French writer-composer-singer, is sampled on the track. It glides in a surreal way, capturing her youth and memories, and only until you watch the video or if you understand Japanese, do you get the real meaning behind the lyrics.
“Sushi” returns to Maïa’s familiar style, electronic pop with a quirky sound. This track is sung in French, following the ‘Hafu’ pattern of one in Japanese followed by one in French. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it! Sushi is about feminism and racism – ‘Having a rather typical physique, I often felt uncomfortable in front of sentences like “Are you Japanese? I love Japanese women!“, “Asian women are so feminine…” I wanted to denounce this in my own way…’
“TAIRYO”, continues with the cinematic, trip-hop style and meanders for a very peaceful and reflective 3 minutes. Constantly being reminded of how fabulous this mix of flute, Japanese French rap and traditional folk really is. The danceable “ChinXoise” explodes with a fun, quirky Tokyo sound whilst “Nuage Nu” and “Take The Boat” are still very danceable contenders with some nuanced drum and bass elements. Exit opens with former PM Theresa May’s immortal words “Brexit Means Brexit” and then goes on to ask if you want to “brexit with me” in a song full of danceability, threaded through with quieter moments of concentration. Maia uses the flute on this track to great effect. “Hanakasa”, is a truly powerful piece of music. Tribal pounding drums, melodic flutes, and masterful French and Japanese vocals ebb and flow from the frenetic to the quiet and serene. The closing track is the English version of “HAFU” but I think the French version seems to carry more weight. You decide!
Written by Juan Brooks
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