Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2011
12,000 kilometers separate Japan and Cuba. Yet the Bee Gees’ influential music has spanned both countries, joining people on both sides in admiration of the British-Australian trio.
However, it was chance that drew Cuban salsa singer Rojitas and Japanese tribute group Spicks & Specks (named after the group’s first number one) together. “We had just been doing things our own way and not really playing it up,” explains leader Wataru Shimada. “We are the only Bee Gees tribute band in Japan, which can get quite lonely at times, but Rojitas’ manager somehow found us.”
A storied salsa singer who first came to Japan in 2002 for the 100th Anniversary of the Japan-Cuba Friendship, Rojitas was looking for Japanese singers to accompany him on a medley of Bee Gees songs he’d recorded for his new album Habana. As it so happened his tour was scheduled for Yokohama on March 18, exactly one week after the quake.
“I experienced the quake on the 22nd floor of a swinging building in Ikebukuro,” Rojitas says. “There was so much tension in so many senses; but we shifted the show to a relief concert and went ahead. I just focused on singing with all my heart and power for the 70 people who came even under unstable circumstances and in fear of another earthquake. It was great to see them dancing and smiling away.”
The resultant bond between the Cuban and Japanese was instantaneous, leading them to plan the forthcoming “Tribute to The Bee Gees 2011” concert. The event will see the Spicks & Specks join Rojitas on chestnuts like “Massachusetts” and “You Should Be Dancing.” Brothers Robin and Barry Gibb are offering support in the form of a video message and the sale for charity of autographed CDs and photographs.
Spicks & Specks’ Shimada says that his group, which started in high school in the ’70s, was shaped more by the Bee Gees’ early ’60s ballad work than their later ’70s disco. “In 1966 the Beatles played Japan and made a great impact, leading to the Group Sounds fad,” he explains. “The Bee Gees tended to stay in the shadow of this phenomenon, but I think some of Japan’s best-known groups like The Tigers were more influenced by the Bee Gees than anyone else.
“‘Melody Fair’ from the film Melody probably had the most direct impact. The heartbreakingly beautiful melody, happy-sad and bittersweet, truly resonates with the Japanese mind—it’s almost wabi-sabi,” he continues. “With ‘Saturday Night Fever’ they changed drastically and made an even more enormous impact on the general public. Ironically, at this time we kept our distance from the Bee Gees. We did not quite feel up to ‘digesting’ those songs. The times and the beat were getting the better of us!”
For his part, Rojitas says the Bee Gees gained millions of fans in Cuba as well. “Their music touches perfection,” he says. “Barry Gibb is a genius composer, producer and singer; Robin, the lyricist and owner of one of the most incredible voices ever; and Maurice, the master musician, able to play several instruments—the composer and arranger of the whole Bee Gees catalog.”
Rojitas adds that it was natural to turn the project into a charity event. “It was just in the middle of progress in March,” he says. “Barry and Robin Gibb announced their encouragement message for Japanese people shortly after the disaster. Also, we found out that one of the members of Spicks & Specks is a victim, too. All this naturally led us to a charity show.”
“Quite frankly, we are excited and uneasy at the same time,” says Spicks & Specks’ Shimada. “The Bee Gees and their achievements should be appreciated even more. We hope we can celebrate their music in our own way and bring it to a Japanese audience and pay a tribute to this fabulous group. We also appreciate their support and concern for what Japan is going through right now.”
Shimada and the Spicks & Specks’ manager both live in Chiba, which sustained significant but little reported damage from the tsunami. The former lost his two favorite guitars; the latter lost 11 of his neighbors.
Cuban salsa singer and guests. Aug 11, 7:30pm, ¥10,000. STB139. Nearest stn: Roppongi. Tel: 03-5474-0139.
Greatest Tribute To The Bee Gees 2011
Relief concert in Tokyo Rojitas with Spicks & Specks. Bee Gees video message and autographed goods on sale. July 17, 6pm, ¥5,500. Shibuya Duo Music Exchange. Tickets: 090-6713-0608. email: email@example.com.
Rojitas & Mihoko Fujita
Cuban salsa singer joins local jazz vocalist. Jul 24, 7:30pm, ¥6,000. Salon de Euro Etoiles. Nearest stn: Ushigome-Yanagicho.
All the tickets: 090-6713-0608; email: firstname.lastname@example.org