The latest release by French-Japanese rap artist Maïa Barouh on Saravah Records hit my inbox hard last week. ‘Aida’, which means ‘between’ in Japanese, deftly straddles a number of genres. He expertly displays his talent in producing albums filled with French rap, Tokyo underground, electronic, tribal and some very simple sounds. He is also a classically trained singer and flutist. I immediately sensed that I was in for a musical treat… and I wasn’t wrong.
The album starts with a catchy and catchy song, “Tokyo Ondo”. Sung in Japanese, we are introduced to the earthy-sounding flute, sonorous bass and Maïa’s traditional Japanese folk voice using the pentatonic scale. We get that rare musical pleasure where Rap meets the Japanese people. For you music lovers out there, Tokyo Ondo has been used by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (a Japanese Professional Baseball team) as part of their ‘Umbrella Dance’ tradition whenever a player hits a home run!
Next up is “Hafu” (the last song is the same – but in English). In true AIDA fashion, this song is sung in French. Hafu, the Japanese word for Japanese origins and the other, in Maïa’s case, French, bursts into life with deep, punchy bass along with some exuberant rap vocals. A touch of Little Simz style to start with, but then it becomes her intimate and energetic style. The chorus is edgy, seamlessly blending orchestral instruments with electronics, giving us more of a taste of what’s to come.
“Ringo (apple or apple petals)” follows next in stark contrasting music. It’s like Japanese folk chillout rolled into one or ambient cinematic music. The vocals have a beautiful Japanese tone and Maïa demonstrates them using the traditional singing techniques of Amami, an island in southern Japan. Her father, Pierre Barouh, French writer-composer-singer, sampled on the track. It slides in a real way, captures his youth and memories, and it’s only until you watch the video or if you understand Japanese that you get the real meaning behind the lyrics.
“Sushi” returns to Maïa’s familiar style, electronic pop with a unique sound. The song is sung in French, following the pattern of ‘Hafu’ one in Japanese followed by one in French. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it! Sushi is about feminism and racism – ‘Having a somewhat distinctive physique, I often feel uncomfortable in front of sentences like “Are you Japanese? I like Japanese women!“, “Asian women are so feminine…” I want to denounce this in my own way…’
“TAIRYO”, continues with a cinematic, trip-hop style and meandering for 3 minutes which is very peaceful and reflective. Constantly reminded of how great this mix of flute, French Japanese rap and traditional folk is. The danceable “ChinXoise” explodes with a fun and quirky Tokyo sound, while “Nuage Nu” and “Take The Boat” are still very interesting contenders with some nuanced drum and bass elements. Exit opens with former PM Theresa May’s immortal words “Brexit Means Brexit” and then asks if you’d like to “brexit with me” in a song full of danceability, interwoven with moments of quieter concentration. Maia uses the flute on this track to great effect. “Hanakasa”, is a very powerful piece of music. Tribal thumping drums, melodic flutes and skillful French and Japanese vocals ebb and flow from frenetic to still and serene. The ending theme is the English version of “HAFU” but I think the French version seems to have more weight. You decide!
Written by Juan Brooks
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