More Than Murakami: Straying from Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami became a household name after releasing the ever-popular coming of age novel Norwegian Wood. This sensual and tragic story centers around Toru Watanabe’s life in Tokyo amidst the student movement that took place in the sixties. Norwegian Wood became a hit in the West, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. alone. Murakami demonstrates how a coming of age story is one that is nostalgic at its core and more than often harbors tragedy-stricken characters.

As a fan of both Japanese literature and the bildungsroman genre, as well as someone who quickly became a fan of Haruki Murakami, I finally decided to read Norwegian Wood, his most recognized work. The book had been recommended to me countless times and I began to ask myself just how great it is in comparison to his other works.

When I finished reading, I was surprised at how disappointed I was, despite still having enjoyed it. It was beautifully written, but something was still lacking. The book had become so glorified, most likely for its depth and beautiful prose. However, in comparison to his other books, something about Murakami’s portrayal of certain characters painted a picture of instability and insecurity, especially for the female characters. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I feel Murakami exaggerates a bit too much.

Despite a range of talented writers, Japanese literature had become dominated by Murakami and this one book is what the West most frequently associated the genre with. It’s almost a crime to limit yourself to one writer in a genre where the sky’s the limit.

The hangover from Norwegian Wood led me to order a few books from some of Japan’s finest modern authors. I decided on three books, although if I’m honest, choosing which three felt like Sophie’s Choice. I finally decided: Banana Yashimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi, Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, and Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Goodbye Tsugumi follows cousins Maria and Tsugumi as they prepare to spend one last summer together in their sleepy coastal town, bidding farewell to their childhood home. I wasn’t a stranger to Banana Yoshimoto’s simplistic yet equally existential style, but Goodbye Tsugumi took me by surprise. Through the author’s minimalist imagery, the mundane is celebrated and appreciated. This narrative stayed with me long after leaving the page.

Next on my list was Coin Locker Babies. This postmodern novel follows the lives of two young boys abandoned by their mothers at a Tokyo train station. Known for his visceral horror stories, Ryu Murakami explores themes similar to those found in Haruki Murakami’s work. Ryu Murakami’s style deviates, however, in its exploration of the darker facets of life in Japan. Coin Locker Babies is an exceptionally told story for those who seek a coming of age account with a splash of dark comedy and surrealism.

Finally, The Housekeeper and the Professor centers around a brilliant mathematician who, due to an accident, suffers short term memory loss. The story follows his interactions with a lowly but irritated housekeeper and her son. Ogawa’s brilliant use of mathematical terminology is intertwined into the book, along with her usual earnest tone. This book is a much lighter read than the rest, but still manages to make the reader question the world they live in, even in the most ordinary moments. Ogawa leaves you wanting more each time, but that’s just part of her charm.

Japanese bildungsroman novels zone in on the psyche and moral growth of their characters, subjecting the readers to an often turbulent journey. They’re rewarding but also difficult to digest at times. Just as anyone would attest, no human life is devoid of adversity. If you’ve ever sought out the perfect coming of age story, one with a cut-and-paste happy ending, it’s simple: there just isn’t one.

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in brief: deadly typhoon, Iranian women’s victory and religious violence in Burkina Faso

Oct. 10 became a historic day, as Iranian women were allowed into a football stadium for the first time in 40 years. The decision came after FIFA threatened to suspend Iran over their male-only policy that has been governing the country for decades. The Guardian reported that the death of Sahar Khodayari earlier this September had a major impact on the FIFA directive. The 29-year-old woman set herself on fire in fear of being jailed after dressing up as a boy, trying to attend a football match. Her tragic death fueled a national outcry, but resulted in more than 3,500 women finally obtaining their first ticket to a football game.

Two people were killed and nine remain missing as a result of the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in decades. Since the hit on Oct. 12, more than one million people have been urged to leave their homes. While Japan is frequently hit by typhoons, BBC has described Typhoon Hagibis as the worst storm in 60 years. It was reported that 270,000 homes have since lost power caused by flooding from the heavy rains. The last typhoon to have caused serious damage was back in 1958, killing over 1,200 people.

Sixteen people were shot dead while attending prayers in a northern Salmossi village mosque in Burkina Faso.  As reported by Al Jazeera, the armed gunmen who are yet to be identified entered the mosque on Friday evening and opened fire. It resulted in an ongoing climate of panic as citizens started to flee the area. For the past few years, the region has been struggling with ethnic and religious tensions advanced by armed groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. More than 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since January due to extreme violence, the United Nations said on Friday.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


A beginner’s guide to Kawaii metal

An introduction to what may be your next cardio workout playlist

A fresh wave of metal, known as Kawaii metal, began its musical journey seven years ago in Japan. This new subgenre of metal had no difficulty finding its own spot in the music world. Its style has brought something unseen to the metal scene—a uniqueness that gathers fans of varied metal genres and subgenres to mosh.

Kawaii metal is defined as a combination of Japanese pop, power metal and thrash metal. The power metal aesthetic in Kawaii metal brings an upbeat melody with clean, soft and usually high-pitched vocals. The trash metal element, on the other hand, adds complex instrumentals and aggressiveness with deep vocals and screams. Both sub-genres fuse double-bass drumming and complex guitar riffs to form Kawaii metal. The final sound component of Kawaii metal is an energetic and unique melody which combines soft and deep vocals. This sub-genre differs from the male-dominated metal scene as it uniquely introduces feminine voices to the world of heavy rock.

Kawaii metal lyrics tend to differ from the typical, overly-covered topics in metal. The bands prefer to convey empowering and positive lyrics focusing on love rather than death, on life’s pleasure rather than pain, and on social problems rather than murder. One aspect specific to this sub-genre is its mandatory Japanese aesthetic. Kawaii metal singers wear cute, girly school or maid uniforms during their performances. The band’s choice of attire helps the band members develop their stage characters, which makes Kawaii metal performances unique to each band.

One of the most well-known Kawaii metal groups is BABYMETAL. This band is composed of three singers and four musicians who are the centre of attention when it comes to Kawaii metal. When the group was formed in 2010, the lead singer—nicknamed Su-metal—was just 13 years old, and the two other singers, Moametal and Yuimetal, were only 11, according to news website Inverse.

The group developed a goth Lolita look with a concept centered on the uniqueness of their music. This concept is based on the “entity” invented by the band, the Fox God. The Fox God is a spirit—nor human, nor animal. According to the band, the Fox God selected the girls of BABYMETAL to be part of the group because they had no prior knowledge of metal, making them perfect in the eyes of the Fox God. As a rule held by the Fox God, BABYMETAL is never to reveal their future plans to the media or answer any questions regarding new projects—instead, in interviews, they simply say: “only the Fox God knows.” During the summer of 2014, BABYMETAL embarked on a world tour.  This has helped Kawaii metal pierce through to the international music scene. Since 2014, the band has won 23 music awards.

Not all listeners accept this style of metal as innovative. In fact, some metal fans don’t consider the genre to be representative of the spirit of metal as it appears as a musical act or pop show. Some Kawaii metal groups, including BABYMETAL, have made it their goal to truly differentiate themselves from the pop music industry and instead represent the metal community as best as they can. Recently, BABYMETAL has had the honour of opening for Lady Gaga, Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses and, currently, Korn and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ on both of their U.S. tours. BABYMETAL also wrote and played the song “Road of Resistance” with DragonForce, according to BABYMETAL’s website.

BABYMETAL’s Japanese tones and exciting guitar riffs attract many curious listeners and Japanese bands to follow suit. Notable Kawaii metal groups at the moment are Doll$Boxx, BAND-MAID and LadyBaby. To stay true to the Japanese-pop aspect of Kawaii metal, all of the abovementioned bands have a specific concept and theme to attract and develop a specific target audience. Kawaii metal is a great go-to genre to get your body moving if you’re looking for motivation to study, exercise or do chores. For those who wish to explore Kawaii metal further, Twitter is a good place to start, as you’ll find an active community sharing new groups and songs.

Explore Kawaii Metal


from BabyMetal:

  • Megitsune
  • Ijime, Dame, Zettai
  • Headbanger
  • Catch me if you can

from Metal Resistance:

  • Karate
  • Road of Resistance
  • Awadama Fever



  • Nippon Manju
  • Age Age Money
  • C’est si bon Kibun


from Dolls Apartment:

  • Monopoly
  • Take my Chance


from New Beginning:

  • Thrill
  • Don’t let me Down

from Brand New Maid:

  • Don’t You Tell ME

The Genji Pianists play beautiful music for a good cause

On Sunday evening, the second-ever Ghibli Night, featuring the Genji Pianists, welcomed fans of music and Studio Ghibli films, for a night of delicious eats, nostalgia and all around good vibes. Marusan Comptoir Japonais, a small restaurant on Notre-Dame, hosted the event. Both trained in classical music, Sho Takashima and Saki Uchida make up the piano duo Genji Pianists. Originally founded by Takashima and formerly named the Genji Project, the group previously included musicians playing violin, cello and guitar before the musicians went their separate ways. Wanting to continue the project, Takashima found Uchida.

“We both found out we had this huge passion for music, and we realized that there weren’t that many musical events in town that were about Japanese culture, Japanese music,” said Uchida. Uchida said she noticed there was a large Ghibli fan-base in Montreal, so it made sense to have a concert showcasing the music from Studio Ghibli films. Studio Ghibli Inc., an iconic Japanese animation studio, is known for creating incredible films with highly-developed characters, creative worlds, accompanied by emotional and riveting music. Films such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro, to name a few, have gained popularity in recent years in North America.

“It’s like the Disney of the [Eastern] world,” said Uchida. Having both grown up watching the films, the duo spoke fondly of listening to Ghibli music. When asked about the difficulty in learning the music of Ghibli, Takashima said, “it came naturally. It was like when you see the scores and know right away the scenes.” Besides wanting to share their love of their culture and Ghibli through music, a big part of their shows is to raise awareness about the people in Japan still suffering from the impacts of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Proceeds from all their concerts, Ghibli Nights included, go to Kizuna Japon, a Montreal-based group that allows you to donate to several non-profit organizations.

For Takashima and Uchida, giving support to Japan is of vital importance. Born and raised in Japan, Takashima explained how she experienced the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. When she moved to Montreal in 2012, she began the Genji Project to entertain people with beautiful music, but also to spread awareness about the tragedy in Japan and all the people who were affected by it. “We felt we had to help in some way, to spread love for music and love for Ghibli, but also to raise awareness and money for charities that sends money to Japan,” she said. Although they haven’t decided which specific charity to donate to yet, they are looking at the Fukushima Children Fund, which donates money to children suffering from radiation and living in radiation-active areas in Japan.

The Genji Pianists at Ghibli night. Photo courtesy of Sho Takashima & Saki Uchida

As Takashima and Uchida took their seats side-by-side behind the electric piano, while clips from the film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind were projected onto a blank wall behind them. I felt goosebumps down my arms as I listened to them play. Their final song, the most recognizable one and the main theme song from Howl’s Moving Castle, gave me flashbacks to my first experiences watching these films and the joy they continue to bring me.

Takashima described a previous performance when, as they played music from Princess Mononoke, Uchida commented on just how beautiful the song was. They both laughed as they remembered the moment. Their admiration for the music is evident and just goes to show that these movies are classic and will always have an impact on viewers.

The Genji Pianists play a variety of shows and musical styles, from classical music to anime televisions series and video game theme songs. Follow the Genji Pianists on their Facebook group to stay in the loop.


Tales from Abroad: Osaka Love Letter

Exchange isn’t just about studying, but growing together

It’s been a while, but it’s great to be back home.

As I finish writing this piece, I’m safe and sound, but exhausted. This dose of the flu has increased my distaste for this sub-zero weather, and now I’m craving sugar-infused caffeine.

The habits I’ve become so accustomed to are coming back. Gone are the days where I can buy a pair of delicious rice balls (onigiri) and a canned coffee between class periods, or hear that eerily Westminster-themed eight-tone Japanese bell that heralds the start and end of a long school session.

But with all of this nostalgia slipping away from my memory, I digress.

It’s been weeks since I returned to Montreal and the chaotic rush of the winter term is underway. It’s surreal to be riding on these retro blue-hued subway cars and hearing unsolicited random conversations of mixed English and French on the side. While I’m happy to be here, I still yearn for the little details that I’ve gotten so used to in my daily commute living in Japan: those catchy melodic jingles played in-between stations, those futuristic touch-screen ticket machines, the variety of people I see—from the kinds of the suit-and-tie businessmen to the flawlessly fashionable youth—all scrambling to get to their destination (not to mention those friendly and super-accurate train announcements).

Talk about reverse culture shock.

Last fall, I lived as an exchange student in this small, cozy, town of Hirakata, a corridor town between Osaka and Kyoto in Western Japan. The school was Kansai Gaidai—a global university with a local Japanese flavor, housing a student population of 15,000 or so. It was a surprise for me to be chosen alongside fellow Concordia students to fly over and study there. Words cannot suffice how different everything was, from the architecture, to the lifestyle, and—perhaps what stood out for me the most—the hospitality and attitude of the student community.

Within the confines of the classroom, for someone who had minimal experience of learning Japanese, the language classes were intensive, challenging, and stimulating. The lecture courses helped us reflect on the social issues happening in Japan and in Asia within a global context. With extra-curricular activities, meetups, and other related social events on top of that, it is not surprising that student life can be hectic and sometimes stressful in Japan.

I’m thankful that everyone has been extremely supportive, in good times and bad times. The student community is what makes Japan unique—because despite how challenging things can be, it’s reassuring that everyone’s got each other’s back.

From the students—Japanese and foreign—to the teachers, and to the people I meet everyday:  there is a genuine desire from all to learn from each other in a strangely euphoric way that I’ve never seen before and is hard to put in words.

Everytime I walked onto campus and into the glass-walled student lounge of Building 7, I always witnessed the space evolve into a makeshift meeting spot for students from around the world to chat about virtually anything under the sun. For instance, a five-minute conversation about cats with a friend can turn into a two-hour discussion about how youth from other countries aspire to survive in difficult times. There’s tension, there’s seriousness, and there’s a willingness to listen and understand; but there’s also laughter, spontaneity and fun that I’ll admit I truly miss seeing, witnessing and participating in. They sort of resemble those 18th century coffeehouses in Europe—except that instead of newspapers, they have smartphones: exchanging contacts, swapping photos and arranging times to hang out outside school.

It’s these random conversations, no matter how mundane, no matter what language, that becomes the catalyst in forming and fostering deep friendships. We may be students by occupation, but we’re also the youth who are on the crossroads of carving our own paths, our own futures—and hopefully, something better than the status quo, together. It’s this forward looking point-of-view that really got me, and it’s something that I’m currently trying to integrate in what I do everyday back home. I can only do so much, but I can try.

Living in Japan is a wild, challenging, and fulfilling journey into the unknown and unpredictable. You never know what’s in store, but there’s never a dull moment. There’s an outburst of energy, life, and enthusiasm that’s injected into everything. It breaks away from the norm of what we’ve been so used to. It doesn’t matter if your Japanese is bad or your English is good or vice-versa: it’s that collective desire and strong interest for everyone to connect that’s important. It is this sense of community that makes this journey all worthwhile, and even now that most of us exchange students have already returned to our own home countries, I remain optimistic that this will not be the end of our journey and our friendship.

There’s a reassurance that wherever you are in the world, you’re not alone. There are people who have a great heart and desire to support each other for a better future. I guess it’s that sense of hope that we may so often forget, and it gives me much more faith in humanity than I ever had.

While I am still experiencing a distorted sense of homesickness, I still look forward to sitting down to take a bite of a sweet icy maple-flavored taffy in the spring. Except this time, I hope that I will not be alone, but together with the newfound friends I made in Japan and around the world. We all continue to grow and move forward beyond the four walls of the classroom, and into the ever unpredictable future in store for all of us.


Paddling the “pink canoe” into dangerous waters

Japanese artist’s vagina kayak highlights sexism in obscenity laws in the country

Megumi Igarashi is an artist of a different kind. She has created a piece of art which has caused a stir worldwide, led to her arrest, and demonstrated the deeply sexist nature of her homeland, Japan.

The oeuvre in question is a bright yellow kayak with multicolored writing. What makes it special is the opening for the passenger, which is shaped in the form of the artists’ vagina. Through a crowdfunding initiative, Igarashi was able to use 3D scanner on her lady parts and 3D printer to create the boat.

Problems arose when the kayak’s 3D data was distributed to the donors who made the work possible. According to a report from The Japan Times, Iganashi was arrested in July of last year for “distributing obscene data”. She was released a few days later after pressure from thousands of people via a signed petition.

The artist was arrested once more in December, along with Minori Watanabe, after displaying the kayak in the window of a sex shop. Although Watanabe was released later in the day, Iganashi stands charged with three counts of distributing obscene data.

Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashi, poses inside of her kayak, fashioned after her vulva. (Press Photo)

If convicted the artist faces up to two years in prison and a fine of $20,000 USD.

Freedom of speech, as understood in Canada, technically applies in Japan as well. According to the Japanese constitution, ch. 3 Article 21, “Freedom … of speech, press, and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.”

In practice, according to The Japan Times, a variety of “obscenity laws ban pictures of actual genitalia, which normally are obscured in pornography.”

In other words, the home of tentacle porn, does not allow depiction of the genitals…sort of.

It should be noted that Iganashi’s depiction of female genitalia is nothing new for the artist. Her personal web page is filled with various anime-esque models based on this form. Also, the form of the kayak itself is difficult to recognize. The audience almost has to know what they are looking at in order to see a vagina.

What the artist’s crime seems to be is becoming famous—and being a woman.

According to an interview with the artist in The Daily Beast, Japan is home to at least one penis festival.  For example, the city of Kawasaki holds an annual “Festival of the Steel Phallus” in which penis shaped shrines are paraded through the streets. These types of events are not deemed obscene even though they portray male genitalia.

Japan is not necessarily against the portrayal of genitalia, only the female form.

According to her interview with The Daily Beast, it is specifically the taboo around female genitalia that Iganashi is working to normalize: “she ‘wanted to make [it] more casual and pop’ by creating accessories like vagina-shaped lampshades and smartphone cases”.

One can only hope that Iganashi is victorious in her quest, and that the people stand with her and pressure Japan into releasing a valuable voice in the work towards sexual equality.

Student Life

Explore Japan without leaving the 514

This is what we call budget travel

Young people are always encouraged to travel the world. We’re told to expand our horizons and have exciting new experiences. Unfortunately, with part-time jobs and student loans, travelling across the world is not always an option.

Luckily for us, Montreal is a booming multicultural metropolis filled with people from around the globe. To travel to Japan, a country I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a child, all I had to do was explore my own city. No plane required!

I started my journey in Montreal’s Chinatown. Amongst the Chinese shops and restaurants on busy de la Gauchetière St., you can also find a variety of other Asian cultures thrown into the mix. As I walked the crumbling cobblestone streets, I thought to myself, what’s the first thing one must do when visiting Japan? Shop, of course! Tokyo is known to have some of the best shopping in the entire world, including the Shibuya shopping district, home to the popular Harajuku quarter. Harajuku is where high fashion meets Japanese youth street style—a culture that was popularized in North America by singer Gwen Stefani in 2004 when she began her ongoing obsession with the Japanese subculture.

Tucked away on Clark St., I stumbled upon Kawaii, a small Japanese boutique that definitely lives up to its name (kawaii means “cute” in Japanese). After walking in, it immediately felt like I had been transported to a gift shop in Harajuku. Even though the store was smaller than most Starbucks coffee shops, it was filled to the brim with everything from plush toys to cell phone accessories to fuzzy onesies. I found myself excitedly proclaiming “Oh my god, this is so cute!” more than a grown man ever should. I spent a while browsing the beauty products (including something called “baking soda” skin cleanser, eyelid tape, and bulk packs of face masks) before realizing I needed to leave immediately before spending all the money in my wallet. It may be a far cry from the crowded streets of Shibuya, but I managed to leave with a new cell phone case and a newfound appreciation for Hello Kitty.

While “kawaii” things are great, Japan has more to offer than cell phone accessories, like their rich and expansive history dating back to 30,000 BC. Continuing my trip, I tracked down a shop that features more traditional items to quench my thirst for culture.

Collection du Japon, located at 460 Ste-Catherine St. W., was exactly what I was looking for. The store’s owner helped explain some of the treasures to me, obviously picking up on my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture. They have everything you could possibly need to make your Japanese staycation feel like the real thing: traditional bento boxes (compact containers for home-packed meals), authentic kimonos and karate uniforms, a huge selection of teas and beautifully-crafted tea sets, classic Japanese artwork, porcelain dolls, language and origami books, and so much more. I almost didn’t know where to look first, since every cluttered corner brought another surprise, every item more intricate than the last.

A busy day of shopping works up a pretty big appetite, and I was ready for some delicious cuisine. Imadake, at 4006 Ste-Catherine St. W., is a Japanese resto-pub, also known as an “izakaya.” In Japan, these establishments are typically frequented by men getting drinks after a long day at work.

As soon as you walk in to Imadake you feel like you’re part of the action. “Irasshaimase!” the staff shouts as each guest walks in, which loosely translates to “welcome.” The dimly-lit pub, with its unique murals and a huge chalkboard wall, makes for a cool and relaxed environment perfect for dinner or drinks with friends. One thing this place is not? Quiet. Every few minutes, a booming voice would call out “When I say sake you say bomb!” leading to more shouts and table banging in response. A sake bomb, as it turns out, consists of a glass of beer covered with chopsticks topped with a shot of sake — an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. After the aforementioned chant, the drinkers must bang the table until the shot falls into their beer, then chug it. Obviously, I had to try one for myself. When in Rome—or in this case, Japan!

Besides Imadake’s long list of beers, sake, and cocktails (like the “Hello Kitty,” made of vodka, strawberry, guava, and lime juice, which I obviously ordered), the food was just as enticing. With a huge bowl of ramen, a staple in a Japanese diet, goma-ae (spinach topped with sesame dressing), and dumplings on the menu, I didn’t even know where to start. And for dessert, a delicious bowl of vanilla mochi ice cream left me craving more, even though I could hardly eat another bite.

What better way to end my excursion than by checking out some “local” cinema? The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because the 31st Japanese Film Festival of Montreal happened to be taking place at Cinéma du Parc, and offered free screenings of Japanese movies. One of the films, a documentary directed by Takashi Innami titled The God Of Ramen (2013), followed the day-to-day life of  Kazuo Yamagishi, the man who makes arguably the best ramen in Japan, over the course of a decade. People would line up for hours outside the legendary restaurant, East Ikebukuro Taishoken, which Yamagishi opened almost 50 years ago. Thanks to my love of the dish, I knew I had to check it out. The movie was about more than just noodles; it was a heart-warming and emotional tale about a man who has dedicated his life to working hard, and his struggle to keep up with the public’s demand as old age and poor health start to take over. I expected to leave the theatre craving another bowl of delicious steaming hot ramen, but instead left feeling oddly heavy-hearted.

As I sat on the metro on my way home from my trip around the world, it started sinking in that it was back to reality, and back to Canada. Sometimes it’s nice to pretend to be far, far away, even if you’re only a short train ride from home. Maybe next week I’ll pay a visit to France.


World music review: Asia

7he Myriads (Russia): If you think space disco is a kind of theme party thrown by Russian cosmonauts, then you’re missing out on quite possibly one of the most enjoyable new hybrid genres, and the dual-continental band positioned squarely at its forefront. 7he Myriads, formed by Vitalic Teterin and Alexey Krjuk in 2007, are more than just an electronic group. Adding Yunusov Ilgiz to the band, the Ekaterinburg (Asia) natives draw upon disco, funk, deep house, rock and electro, while combining live instrumentation with electronic staples like the ever-trusty laptop and MIDI keyboard. Now based in St. Petersburg (Europe), the intergalactic rock threesome released their debut album ∞ in 2010 and an EP, Running Man, soon after. Although they haven’t released another album since, they’re constantly updating their SoundCloud online where you can stream almost 30 tracks for free.

The Raghu Dixit Project (India): Combining traditional Indian vocal styles and instrumentation with unconventional musical styles including funky basslines, reggae rhythms and crisp, clean electric guitar, the Project is more than just a name—it’s an “open-house” for musicians and artists to come together and express their craft, regardless of genre, style or nationality. While the majority of his music is inspired by Shishunala Sharif, a saint from Karnataka, India famous for his poetry, Raghupathy Dixit’s lyrics, which are mostly in his native tongue, speak to the masses and deal with everyday experiences and emotions. The self-taught composer and musician believes Indian folk music is not a genre, but a state of mind. “We’re all untrained musicians,” said Dixit on his website, “and singing a song, because it’s innate, is a basic instinct.” The RDP’s debut self-titled album, available to stream online, includes eight full-length tracks that were composed over the past 12 years. The quintet that currently makes up the Project also has a new album in the works.

Morphy (Singapore): This collective, represented by vocalist and guitarist Lilia Yip and supported by Eugene Wong on synth and bass, lead guitarist Alexius Cai and Chua Yingtze on percussion, is not for those who enjoy mainstream folk music. The ambient, electronic, folk-pop band melds genres and risks melding your mind with their psychedelic ambient potpourri of sound. Stepping beyond electronica, the band uses traditional instruments from all areas of the world, including the wooden folk flute, and the African thumb piano, also known as the mbira. Their seemingly rule-free composition stems from their open approach to their music, inviting musicians from all corners of the globe to contribute to their sound. Their first album Pink Ashes (2004) set the pace for what was to come in their 2010 release Just Like Breathing, which featured U.K. guitarist Timothy Lloyd. Their presence in the scene, however, is reminiscent of their music—rather ambient—so if you want to hear them, you’re going to have to do some digging.

Kabul Dreams (Afghanistan): Here in the Western world, the music market is oversaturated with rock bands trying to make it big. Afghanistan’s first rock ‘n’ roll band, Kabul Dreams, is only three years old. They have become somewhat of a novelty on a global scale, purely due to the fact that they’re the first ever in their country, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a listen. While their sound ranges from generic to melodic, they do have talent and a whole lot of gusto. As the self-proclaimed voice of Kabul youth, their ciphers deal with post-Taliban messages of peace, unity and love. Groovy. Although the trio lived outside Afghanistan during Taliban rule—singer Sulyman Qardash in neighbouring Uzbekistan, bass guitarist Siddique Ahmed in Pakistan, and drummer Mujtaba Habibi in Iran—they moved back to Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed from power. What’s interesting about these three Afghan boys is that they come from different areas of the country, so they all speak a different native language. Instead of trying to work with that, they decided to sing in English.

Niraj Chag (England via India): This British musician of Indian descent has spent his life in London. His family’s strong ties to their heritage and homeland inspired him to create what BBC Radio 1 host DJ Nihal calls “some of the most beautiful British-Asian music ever created.” Chag composes in multiple languages, including six different languages on his debut album Along the Dusty Road (2006), after which he was awarded the “Best Underground Act” award at the U.K. Asian Music Awards. His next release, The Lost Souls in 2009, drove home this fusion artist’s talent, blending major South Asian styles with Hindi and by combining over 50 vocal layers on one track alone. The songs themselves are relaxed; it’s the type of music you can picture yourself listening to while smoking fragrant Mu‘assel from an ornate hookah in some tucked-away lounge amongst the crowded streets of New Delhi.

Eli Walks (Japan): Producer extraordinaire Jeff Lufkin has long had his hands in Japan’s thriving popular music scene—it’s a family affair. Both of his sisters are established musicians; Olivia is a fairly successful J-pop songstress, while Caroline is a vocalist for indie rock’s Mice Parade. Lufkin had an early affinity for heavy metal, but after his sisters introduced him to electronica à la Kraftwerk and Massive Attack, he searched for a method that would allow him to meld the two, and found it in club music. Lufkin worked as a producer, guitarist and composer in Japan, but moved to L.A. and birthed the moniker Eli Walks, as he studied sound design, engineering, and mastered Ableton Live at the California Institute of the Arts. His 2012 debut, Parallel, is delicate yet abrasive, overlapping atmospheric dance music. This is music to fill your ears; it works equally as an isolation soundtrack/solo travel companion or setting for a chill, alternative dance floor. He will make his Fuji Rock Festival debut this summer alongside the likes of Radiohead and the Stone Roses.

BoA (South Korea): K-pop girl groups have steadily grown in popularity, breaking into Western and Japanese music markets on the heels of BoA (Beat of Angel), or Kwon Boa, the reigning “Queen of Korean Pop Music.” BoA’s dance electropop first hooked South Korea in 2000 after she caught agents’ eyes while accompanying her older brother to a talent search. In 2002, she became the first South Korean musician to break Japan since the World War II entertainment trade embargo, opening the doors for girl groups like the Wonder Girls and 2NE1. BoA secured a fan base in the U.S. with the 2009 release of her self-titled English debut album and after spending much of 2010 touring the states and promoting her single “Eat You Up.” The pop starlet is it still maintaining her presence in Japan and South Korea, but is also set to make her Hollywood debut in the dance flick COBU 3D, so brace yourself for a K-pop invasion.

Modern Dog (Thailand): As the victors of the Coke Music Contest in 1992, college mates Modern Dog were instantly thrust into a world of bright lights and flashing cameras to sell over 500,000 copies of their debut album. Their introduction to the Thai music market may seem near effortless, but their sound was over a century in the making. For years, Thailand borrowed music from its neighbours India and China, resting at a crossroads of traditional Greek and Roman trade routes. But Thailand’s popular music format, known as “string,” wasn’t developed without the influence of American R&B, shipped overseas courtesy of American and Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam. Modern Dog broke through the sticky sweet boundaries characteristic of string and brought heavier, American influenced experimental rock featuring English and Thai lyrics. With That Song (2004), produced by Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian), and a 2006 U.S. tour, they tried to break into the Western world, but failed to gain much steam. Still hailed as the leader of Thailand’s indie rock music scene, Modern Dog paved the way for alternative rock’s presence in popular Thai music and have sold over two million albums to date.

Hedgehog (China): Despite China’s well-documented, swelling population, it has never been considered a major producer or consumer of popular music. Due to state restrictions, cantopop and mandopop commercialized love ballads pollute the radio waves, for an alternative hasn’t yet broken into the mainstream. Inspired by Western bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, a black/thrash metal scene developed among youth in the ‘90s, and heavy rock music has now grown in popularity in Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing’s Hedgehog was born out of those same punk/grunge roots, and they developed a fan base playing shows underground in 2005. Fans now flock to their shows to see Atom, the petite yet aggressive female percussionist, peeking through a mop of hair, behind a towering drum kit. The guitarist, Zo, sings most lyrics in Mandarin and English, and they recently recruited a new bassist, Xiao Nan, for their 2011 U.S. tour with Californian synth pop collective Xiu Xiu. Hedgehog recorded their upcoming 2012 release, Sun Fun Gun, in New York with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s John Grew and Russell Simins, and the album’s first single is now available for free download on Bandcamp.

Hiromi Uehara (Japan): Hiromi Uehara is known as one of the world’s most talented, game-changing musicians for her ability to bring raw, emotional rock to the piano—a relatively peaceful instrument. She began playing the piano at six years old, joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at 14, and has now broken into the more mainstream alternative Western market. Hiromi first worked as a jingle writer in Japan, but travelled to the United States to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music to study jazz piano. Since the release of her debut album, Another Mind (2003), she has travelled the world, developing a reputation for her inventive, high-energy fusion of classical and hard rocking jazz. With the Hiromi Trio Project, she will bring her latest release, Voice (2011), to this summer’s Fuji Rock Festival and both Montreal’s and Toronto’s jazz festivals.

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