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Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (???????????????, Tokyo Suka Paradaisu Okesutora), commonly abbreviated by fans as Skapara or TSPO, is a Japanese ska and jazz band officially formed in 1988 by the percussionist Asa-Chang, and initially composed of over 10 veterans of Tokyo's underground scene. At the time, the band's sound was unlike that of any of its contemporaries in the then fledgling Japanese ska scene, and over the course of the past 21 years, their innovation has proved to have been very influential on Japanese music as a whole. Its sound, the product of the musical influences of its numerous members, is an eclectic mix of traditional ska, jazz, and rock. In the vein of many other more traditional ska acts, many of Skapara's songs are purely instrumental. Since its inception, the band has gone on several nationwide tours of Japan, and have toured extensively worldwide. They have collaborated with several vocalists outside of their band, including Shiina Ringo, Akira Kobayashi, Kyoko Koizumi, Schadaraparr, PUFFY, Yoshie Nakano and Tamio Okuda. They also performed the Japanese theme song to the PlayStation 2 game Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, entitled Black Jack, as well as numerous songs for the PlayStation game Incredible Crisis released in 1999.Early BeginningsThe band’s first release was 1989's eponymous six track EP, released on vinyl by local independent label Kokusai Records. That record’s acceptance, coupled with the band’s already notorious live shows, got them a deal with Epic Records. At this time the 'classic' lineup of the band included: Asa-Chang (percussions), Tsuyoshi Kawakami (Bass), Tatsuyuki Aoki (drums), Yuichi Oki (keyboards), Marc Hayashi (guitar), Tatsuyuki Hiyamuta (alto sax/agitate man), Gamo (tenor sax), Atsushi Yanaka (baritone sax), Nargo (trumpet), Masahiko Kitahara (trombone) and Cleanhead Gimura (vocals). Yuhei Takeuchi (alto sax) was part of the original lineup, but left in 1990, though he has re-joined the band live on several occasions.


Skapara's Intro (??????) was released in 1990, and includes their first big hit, Monster Rock. Within a year, the band was playing Tokyo’s respected Budokan arena in front of 10,000 screaming fans. After their second album, World Famous (?????????), original guitarist Marc Hayashi left the band and was replaced by Toru Terashi. Their third album, Pioneers, marked the last recording of the band with founder Asa-Chang, who decided to pursue a solo career. Fantasia was recorded as a 10 piece with no permanent replacement on percussion.While the band worked on their fifth album, vocalist Cleanhead Gimura lost his ongoing battle with brain cancer and died. Grand Prix was released in 1995 as a tribute to the singer. This record continued the band’s progression into a more pop-oriented sound, and it featured a number of guest musicians and singers. As far as live performances, Tatsuyuki Hiyamuta essentially became the front-man for the band, though it should be noted that depending on the specific piece being played, any of the band's members can be front man or singer.1996 saw the release of Tokyo Strut (??????????), which toned back the pop stylings of Grand Prix. This marked the first appearance on record of new percussionist Hajime Ohmori. During the band’s visit to Thailand, Alto Sax/Agitate Man Tatsuyuki Hiyamuta was involved a motorcycle accident, suffering damage to his legs. He missed out on some shows, but after recovery decided to continue performing, in many cases carrying a cane, or just sitting down while playing. Shortly thereafter Toru Terashi left the band.After this album, the band decided to leave Epic Records, as there was a feeling that the label had not been able to properly convert their popularity into record sales. They signed with indie label Avex Trax, who also created an exclusive imprint for Skapara, Justa Record. The band recruited Rui Sugimura (brother of Cleanhead Gimura) as a full-time singer. This would become the band’s most prolific period, with a number of releases, including the Arkestra album, various 12” and 7” records (which included remixes from Arkestra songs as well as completely new tracks), the Hinotama Jive EP, the soundtrack to the video game Incredible Crisis, and several tribute album appearances. The band embarked on an ambitious tour of Japan (documented on the DVD Ska Evangelists on the Run). Since no official guitarist had been hired yet, they toured with the two guitarists that worked on the album: Takashi Kato (of Lost Candi) and ???? (of El Malo).During the Arkestra tour, original drummer Tatsuyuki Aoki died in a train accident. He was temporarily replaced by Tatsuya Nakamura (Blankey Jet City and Losalios). At the end of the tour, Kin-Ichi Motegi (ex-Fishmans) also filled in. Rui Sugimura left in mid-1999 as well. Takashi Kato became a permanent member of the band.


2000’s Full Tension Beaters was a full on Ska record, and their first album to be released outside of Asia (by Grover Records in Germany). Even though Motegi was still working as support drummer during this recording, it was the first record with the band’s most stable line-up, consisting of Yanaka, Gamo, Nargo, Kitahara and Hiyamuta on the horn section, Oki on keyboards, Kawakami on Bass, Ohmori on percussions, Kato on guitar and Motegi on drums. The lineup would remain the same until 2008.For their next record, Stomping on Downbeat Alley, the band invited three guest singers: Yusuke Chiba (Thee Michelle Gun Elephant), Tajima Takao (Original Love, Pizzicato Five) and Tamio Okuda (Unicorn). The album and singles were a huge success and a gig at Yokohama Arena (with all three guest singers) was released as Downbeat Arena. The band also embarked on a European tour which was documented on the DVD Catch the Rainbow.High Numbers was a more low-profile release, having mostly instrumental tracks, along with Kin-Ichi Motegi’s first lead vocal track, "Ginga to Meiro". 2004’s Answer was a similar affair.For 2006’s Wild Peace, the band once again recruited three guest vocalists: Chara, Hanaregumi, and Hiroto Komoto (The High-Lows). As with Downbeat Alley these singles became huge hits, and the band also recorded a DVD at the final show for the tour, with all three singers. They once again toured Europe with this record. The DVD Smile was released to document this tour.Perfect Future soon followed, with more jazz leanings, and only one guest vocalist, Fumio Ito (of Kemuri). Kin-Ichi Motegi also recorded a vocal track for this album. A few months after the release of Perfect Future, Tatsuyuki Hiyamuta decided to officially leave the band in order to concentrate on healing his legs, due to the accident suffered in 1996. This leaves a big void in the band’s live performance, as Hiyamuta’s role was that of agitate man, talking to crowds and essentially operating as front man. The band has decided not to replace him, thereby remaining as a nine piece.In early 2009 Paradise Blue was released, with the first line-up difference in almost a decade. This marks the 20th anniversary since the band’s first EP was released, and they have been busy touring Japan in support of the album.2010 saw the release of World Ska Symphony, featuring guest vocals from Tamio Okuda, Crystal Kay, and Kazuyoshi Saito.They played Coachella on April 12, 2013.

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