Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Love big-band sound, but searching for a more modern take on it’s powerful sound? Check out this mouthful, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. The band’s sound is as complex and diverse as their name.

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra was born in 1985 in an electric burst of ska, jazz and rock creating a brand new sound in the current music scene. Tokyo music scene veteran Asa-Chang decided to form a new sound combining ska and jazz. Chang began the process of recruiting members. Skapara, as the band is commonly abbreviated, was formed with an initial number of 10 members, all of which were also veterans of the underground Tokyo music scene.

At the time the group was founded they were bursting on the scene with a first-time sound. Chang had formulated a music machine that combined the Jamaican rhythm of ska and the soulful brass sounds from jazz and combined to create a sound, which would influence up-and-coming bands.

The group, who’s sound is almost entirely instrumental featuring guest vocals occasionally, has been recording for 23 years and has had 16 rotating members. The current line up contains 6 of the original members with a few new additions. In 1989 the original line up launched their self-titled debut album on a 12” vinyl. They funneled the success of the record into gigs and a growing fan-base.

Since their ‘89 debut, the group has released 17 records, an astronomical 32 singles and toured internationally multiple times. Their innovative sound has gained them a world wide following and influenced forming ska bands on the Tokyo music scene. So why was the Orchestra’s sound so new and influential?

The group’s sound is instrumentally dominated with the occasional vocals. The band relies on beats and rhythms for their sound. The lack of vocals allows all your attention to focus on the vast array of instruments used in each track.

Some tracks open with an electric sound that could be out of video game while others hook you with an old-time piano you’d expect to hear in a saloon scene from a prohibition film. Regardless of the opening musical hook the band always moves into a catchy big band beat.

The group uses the usual drums and bass to create a rhythmic foundation for each track while they start up their ear-catching melodies with guitar and keyboards. Each track is impressive enough with these simple instruments but Skapara does not end there. They up the anti when they add in the big band brass sound. The use of saxophones, trombone, and trumpet accents the melody with a brash, up-beat rhythm, which takes the band’s sound to the next level.

The band does not simply stay within the confines of big band sound. They stretch the boundaries and play with the general guidelines of the genre. Tracks like “Pride of Lions” plays around opening with a guitar riff with a heavy modern rock feel. They keep the modern rock feel through out the song but add in the brassy big band sound to create a mish-mash of orchestra and rock band.

On other tracks like “Wish Upon The Sun” begins with an electric burst of synthesized keyboard and moves into an intro, which could be an Irish rock band along the lines of Flogging Molly with chanting over the riffs. The group keeps the electric rock vibe throughout the track while adding in their jazz undertones.

You can’t deny that big band music has a head bobbing rhythm to it; add a few pops of electric synth and catchy rock guitar riffs and you’ve got the internationally loved sound of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.




Posted by Amber Clark on 09/09/2008