Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2010
Night owls arriving in Japan often lift an eyebrow at the country’s reggae bars, usually run by “Japanese rastas” with full heads of Jamaican-style dreadlocks and mouthfuls of irie “yah man” greetings.
An even more anthropologically intriguing subset of this phenomenon is the Japanese reggae bar run by South Asian émigrés to the country. One of the friendliest club proprietors in Japan, Kamal (he goes by a single name), celebrates 13 years behind the bar of Garam in Shinjuku this month with a full lineup of events and refurbished interior.
One of Garam’s regular parties, Esroy World, is planning a special edition for the club’s anniversary next Friday, which also happens to be the birthday of Jamaican expat vocalist Prophet 21. A longtime member of the Jamaican community here, the singer pulls off a passably gruff, Shabba Ranks-style dancehall delivery.
Other expat royalty due to perform live include reggae singers Izaba and Monique Dehaney, while behind the decks will be selector Double-H, who also runs the Jammers Record reggae specialist vinyl shop in Shibuya. Domestic booty shakers Alaska Punpun and Jamfly will be on hand to show off their Jamaican dance moves and generally keep punters off guard.
With 13 years in Kabukicho (during which he’s raised two teenage boys), the Bangladeshi Kamal believes that now is a good time to explore the notorious sin district. “The yakuza used to be everywhere, kicking sleeping drunks in the streets and making the place feel heavy,” he says. “But since Governor Ishihara launched his crackdown five years ago, it’s changed a lot. Business may be down, but it’s mellower now…”
Meanwhile, there’s something huge to celebrate on the club jazz front. After transporting the crowd into the stratosphere with his stellar set last year at Duo, jazz vibraphonist/vocalist sensei Roy Ayers returns to Unit next month.
A living legend whose talents are legion, Ayers carved out a space in the jazz-funk fusion scene in the ’70s before reinventing himself as a house music act in the ’80s and ’90s. The fact that in recent years he’s played Tokyo venues ranging from posh supper club Blue Note to concert hall Duo to house temple Yellow speaks to his ability to appeal to a diversity of crowds.
Ayers’ last gig showed that he still has the chops, and his backing band is second to none. The upcoming SkinniPants event is promoted by tech-house gang Redbox, together with the crew from DJ magazine Wax Poetics. Support acts will include Japanese psychedelic jam band Dachambo.
Esroy World. Reggae: DJs Double H, Jason X, etc. Live: Prophet21 & Izaba and more. From 8pm, men ¥3,000 w/1d, women ¥2,500 w/1d. Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3205-8668. http://www17.big.jp/~kamal/Garam-I.htm
Skinni Pants Indoor Festival. Club jazz. Live: Roy Ayers, Dachambo and more. Mar 13, from 9pm, ¥6,000. Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5459-8630. www.unit-tokyo.com