JQ Magazine: Japan Society Hosts J-Pop Showcase with Yu Sakai and Cibo Matto

Yu Sakai brought his ecclectic talent to Japan Society Oct. 20. (Vlad Baranenko)

By Vlad Baranenko (Saitama-ken, 2000-02) for JQ magazine. Vlad is an avid photographer.

On Oct. 20, New York’s Japan Society held a sold out co-headlining performance by hometown heroes Cibo Matto and the Japanese singing sensation Yu Sakai in his international debut. Whether an aficionado of jazz, hip-hop, R&B or pop, the catchy synth beats of the girl duo and Yu Sakai’s melodic voice left an indelible impression on everyone in attendance.

Billed as J-Music Ride, the show opened with a set of fantastic vocal performances by Sakai.  The breakout singer, whose professional music career kicked off in 2009 when his single titled “Story” became a radio hit, has quickly become one of Japan’s most admired artists, earning him the iTunes “J-Pop Best Album of 2010.” In June of this year, Sakai released his long-awaited album Yes!!, and those lucky enough to have attended the show (Yu Sakai’s only performance in the U.S.) were given an opportunity to sample many of the new tracks like “Train.”

Departing from the standard band format, the majority of instrumental sounds in Sakai’s pieces were recorded by the artist himself. At Japan Society, the artist would beatbox into the microphone to create a looping background rhythm, simulating a multi-layered chorus-like effect by sampling his own voice. He would then insert a fast paced piano tune, and the resulting melody astounded the audience, prompting whistles and applause during the song. To appease the American audience, Sakai-san surprised the concert attendees with his beautiful rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You.” In between pieces, Sakai would talk to the sold out crowd in a very nonchalant manner (he previously lived in Los Angeles), often making fun of himself and telling people to not be afraid to visit Japan. The obvious raw talent of Yu Sakai made this rare appearance a true gem, and the standing ovation from the audience at the end of his performance proved that this young artist can look forward to a bright future ahead.

Continuing the J-pop invasion for the evening, Cibo Matto took the stage next. The collaborative effort by New York City-based Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori already spans a period of over 15 years, and has enjoyed a long run of commercial success. While the duo officially disbanded in 2001 to pursue solo careers, a benefit concert for the Tohoku disaster in March of this year brought both members back together, launching an American summer tour. They are currently working on their next studio for release next year.

Their Beastie Boys-style raps and creatively layered synthesizer sounds file the duo in a genre of their own. Playing quirky songs like “Know Your Chicken,” “10th Floor Ghost Girl” and their signature “Sugar Water” during the concert allowed the audience to appreciate the uniqueness and creativity of Cibo Matto, and enjoy the amusing atmosphere of their performance. To give the audience a special treat at the end of their set, the group did a song in Portuguese and brought the night’s performances to a close. While many visibly yearned for more from of the night’s talent, the big smiles and loud cheers by many in attendance proved the concert a great success.

For upcoming events at Japan Society, visit www.japansociety.org.