Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Rising from the East

Bally Sagoo is one of those rare musicians and DJs who can take something as ethnically cramped as a Bollywood hit and make it an international sensation. I don’t remember when I first heard about him, heard his music, but Sonia passed this cassette on to me when she was leaving Japan in 1998. I guess this story would be more interesting if I knew where she had come across it.

Music was one of the most productive ways I was able to survive the two years I lived isolated and on display in Japan. Being a very visible ethnic minority in an overwhelmingly homogenous society was sometimes hard to bear. Even worse was the ghettoization with the other foreigners with whom I had even less in common. Every time Joanna would declare that we were best friends, I would always correct her with the adverbial phrase in Japan.

Funny that out of the foreign friends I actually made during my time in Japan, Joanna is the only one I’m still in contact with.

I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Sonia, one of my longest-held and dearest friends from our days of under-employment at the International Office at the University of Texas at Austin. We kept in touch across several countries and continents over the many years, but since she married and started a family, we’ve barely spoken.

It was nice that our time in Japan overlapped for about a year: my first year in Shimonoseki was her last in Kumamoto. We only got together maybe four times during that year, but that was plenty for us to get into trouble.

When I visited her in Kumamoto over Thanksgiving, I very easily convinced her to shoplift a trinket that she desperately wanted but didn’t want to spend money on. I can’t even begin to sort out the international insensitivities we indulged in while staying in Nagasaki during Golden Week. Who knew that sleeping in public at a strip mall was considered taboo in Japan? And that was only after we horribly offended a few war veterans at a bar the night before by telling them they were responsible for Japan being so fucked-up these days. Ah, good times when alcohol and the truth flowed freely.

I had been listening to world music for a few years already, but during my time in Japan and afterwards, I managed to increase my collection considerably. Bally Sagoo’s “Rising from the East” was a catalyst, especially when I began to recognize some of these songs at the Indian restaurant I frequented in Kokura, Kitakūyshū. This cassette was a good soundtrack to those crazy times in Japan.

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