Express Compact ETP-4277 Japan 1970
Track 2 – A1 Yoru Ga Aketara
Maki Asakawa was a born in Ishikawa Prefecture, January 27, 1942. After graduating high school she worked as a civil servant for a short time before moving to Tokyo to pursue a far more inspirational career in music. She started by playing at United States military bases and cabarets, where she refined her style, which she says was largely influenced by Blues queens such as Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.
In 1967 Asakawa made her debut recording, releasing Tokyo Banka with B side Amen Jiro on Victor. In 1968, Asakawa got her big break when she appeared for three days running at the Shinjuku underground theater known as Sasoriza, a project of underground playwright Shuji Terayama. She soon signed with Toshiba, and by the next year had released the very, VERY cool and slick Yo ga aketara (At the Break of Dawn) and Kamome (Gull) on Toshiba’s subsidiary Express label.
1970 saw this featured Asakawa release, which has as the B2 track, Chicchana Toki Kara. This wonderful, yet not easy to find EP, has to be my favourite from Maki, with it’s big beat drive, high energy horns and cinematic production. Every time I play this I get comments as to how hasn’t Tarantino used this track for one of his movies. It’s 70’s sex, has a good amount of sting, and would be the ideal punch for a strong femme fatale introduction. And having the slow swinging Yo Ga Aketara as the opening track makes this 7″ a real delight (that distant train at the end…I mean really, what a way to see out such a cool track). Just the thought of seeing this performed in a dark underground club of Tokyo by Maki and that time just does my head in. The smoke, the black, the neons and the distant traffic outside…not too difficult to visualize. But this wasn’t just a time for Asakawa’s musical exploration.
In 1971, Asakawa made her big screen debut when she played the stairway prostitute in Shuji Terayama’s experimental Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. It was the first film for poet-playwright Terayama, and it was about an angst-ridden teen who hits the streets after dealing with his dysfunctional family. This hard to find movie has a strong underground following due to it’s non-linear Avant-Garde vision and amazing pre-punk psychedelic soundtrack. Asakawa’s recording of Nemuru No ga kowai is included amongst the tracks, and can also be found on her 1971 Maki II album, which by the way also include covers of Gin House Blues and The House Of The Rising Sun. That great LP also happens to include the incredible psychedelic Govinda (there should be a link below)…such a stand out Asakawa composition! The next year in ’72, Asakawa would release Blue Spirit Blues, and again here her voice somehow feels so right within the warm minor chords.
In 1973 Asakawa would this time hit the small screen on the dark Japanese TV Series Kyôfu Gekijô Umbalance. From what I can put together, she appeared in season 1 episode 7, and I’m almost certain the link below is the clip from that episode, where she plays herself singing Yo Ga Aketara, on a cinema screen in a dark seedy theater, and with the dark seedy characters to match.
Over the next 30 or so years, Asakawa recorded quite a lot of records, but it wasn’t all dark moody blues and folk jazz. I discovered the Catnap album through a favourite blog, Interstellar Medium – Foriegn Lavish Sounds, which you should hit up, for a far more detailed look into the great album. Released in 1982, it’s a colourful, bold yet smooth collision of electronic jazz funk post punk plus, and for myself, it was so exciting to discover this side of Asakawa. The opening track Kurai Me Wo Shita Joyuu and also Shinkyoku B are real high lights, if I was forced to choose. This album holds up to quite high to today’s very standard standards in my opinion.
As Maki Asakwa grew older, she never stopped performing live. Just before an appearance on January 15-17, 2010 where she had a concert in Nagoya, she died of heart failure before the show could go on. She was 67.
References and inspirations…