Tom Smith introduces Fairy Tail’s FUNKIST
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the funkiest of them all? Judging from its silence, the mirror cares not for such matters. But, if a name alone means anything, then Okinawa’s seven-strong unit FUNKIST may just be the answer.
Their small sub-tropical island, south-west of mainland Japan, is only half of the influence behind the band’s sound. Okinawa has long been a hotbed for cultural mash-ups throughout history. Before the heavy U.S. military presence following World War II, it showed evidence of cultural impressions from various places, particularly those of Chinese, Australasian and Thai origin, which shaped the island’s unique customs, martial arts and cuisine. Without such influences, karate, champloo and the island’s token alcoholic beverage awamori would certainly not exist.
More recently America’s muscled its way into Okinawan culture, resulting in a much higher number of bands drawing inspiration from eastern and western music than found in mainland Japan. Examples of such artists include Orange Range (from this Naruto
opening) and HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR (used in that Bleach
opening). Both are from Okinawa, and both draw feature elements found in American hip hop and metal. To keep the island’s American population happy, there are a large number of radio stations and clubs that play only western music in Okinawa. I was there for two weeks and the only Japanese songs I heard were traditional ones played on a sanshin. Compare that to Tokyo, where my ears were bombarded with AKB48, Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu tunes on a daily – perhaps even hourly – basis.
FUNKIST comes from the same Okinawan mixing-pool, though this band’s point of reference takes a slight African and Caribbean approach. Their vocalist Someya Saigo is half South African; his mother a ballet dancer and his Japanese father a flamenco guitarist. Naturally, he grew up up listening to music of all sorts and this upbringing has left its mark on the band’s sound.
Someya’s roots also took the band to whole new places – literally! FUNKIST managed to tour Japan, Macau and a country rarely visited by Japanese bands, South Africa. They managed it all independently too, to promote their first two indie EPs; Okinawa
and SOUL Japarikan
(see what they did there?). Soon after, Japan began to take notice, and after their single ‘The white world’ reached number one in Tower Record’s J-indie chart, it was only a matter of time until they signed a major label, soon leading to FUNKIST making their anime debut in Fairy Tail
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news. Due to poor health, flute player Youko Kasugai had to leave the band soon after recording ‘Snow Fairy
’, the opening song from Fairy Tail: Part 1
. From here on, the flute parts often took a less prominent role in the FUNKIST’s funk. Though, the opening from Faity Tail: Part 3
’, is still rather flutalicious – both tracks appear on the band’s album FUNKIST CUP
. Regrettably, Youko lost the fight to her illness on 13th October 2011. However, the band continues on and can still be found releasing records and touring Japan to this day
Fairy Tail: Part 3 is out 16th July on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.