Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro

photos taken at Sunset Live, Fukuoka

Most of what tries to pass for funk these days sounds all so much the same. Of course the kings still reign, past and present, from James Brown and George Clinton to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Galactic, and Soulive—bands with originality and a unique sound you would never confuse with anyone else’s. But mainstream pop, rock and hip-hop have appropriated the easy loops and bouncing grooves, making it’s easy to believe funk has lost its funk unless you delve deep.

When I finally saw Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro at Sunset Live, I thought, now this is funky. Their stage act was art, attitude, style and passion. They struck me as undeniably fresh, a sextet primed to pump some new funk back into Japanese music and the world scene at large. I could vaguely hear echoes of other styles in their music, too: rock, jazz, ska, even punk. Maybe these genres aren’t so divorced from one another, but blending them into an original sound requires a special kind of spark. MMK has got that spark. Or maybe I should say fire.

I’d heard their music before and was impressed, but it’s always different when you finally see a band live. You understand who the band really is because no band can fake itself live for very long. Wearing their groovy retro outfits on the hot beach stage, they were sweating like sumo in a sauna, playing as if performing an exorcism, getting downright nasty. You could say funky.

Etymologists aren’t in complete agreement as to the roots of the word “funk.” Some believe it to be 17th slang from Oxford, England, a term meaning “panic” which may have derived from the Flemish word fonck, for “agitation” or “distress,” or from the old French word funicle, for “wild” or “crazy.” Alternatively, it may have come from a French dialect: funkière meaning “smoke” and perhaps came from the old French “fungier” or “to give off smoke.” Yeah, that’s right, going spastic to the point of giving off a bad smell (from all the sweat). By the early 20th century, this is the meaning “funk” seems to have developed when applied to the jazz-blues-roots music as played by African-Americans of the time. You had to play with physical passion. Funk is a workout, for the body and the soul.

MMK has been working out since 2003, when they were originally a university band playing Red Hot Chili Peppers covers with just four members. By 2007, they had acquired their current six members and were immersing themselves in 60s and 70s funk. They cite the 2007 Natsumusubi (Summer tie-up) Festival in Tokorozawa (Saitama) as a big break for them, one of their first major festivals. Shortly thereafter, in 2008, they signed with P-Vine records and released their first CD in May of that year. Fuji Rock hastily added them to the line-up in July. Toward the end of 2009, they were already on a tour of several cities in Australia. Their meteoric rise, however, wasn’t without some struggle. A couple of the members laugh about working in an obento (lunchbox) factory in sub-freezing temperatures to get by until P-Vine gave them a real chance.

2010 was a busy year, with about a dozen festivals and other shows in support of their 2nd album, “Uhuru Peak.” After I caught up with them at the Asian Heal Jam Festival, they seem surprised when I mention hearing occasional echoes of ska in their tunes. “We love Osaka Monorail!” They also acknowledge more obvious roots, like James Brown, the Isley Brothers, John Frusciante. On stage, they have jammed with the usual suspects: Soil & Pimp “Sessions”, Cro-Magnon and Albatrus. Off stage, immediately after a gig, apparently they talk about how they can play better. “We don’t really fight.” They don’t disappoint, either.

At present, while bassist Kondo Yûsuke takes a break, they are getting some support from Nojima Ryô. After his return, 2011 promises to be a big year. They talk about trying to release a new single every month beginning in the Spring, then maybe compiling another album with those songs. In the meantime, you’ll have to enjoy a few of their dazzling videos online. And you will want to check out one of their gigs when it comes to town. Bring a towel for the sweat. Bring your soul for the funk.





2003年に活動を開始したMMKは元々4人編成で、レッチリの曲をカバーする某大学のサークルバンドだった。2007年には現在の6人編成になり、60~70年代のファンクミュージックを演奏するようになっていた。そして2007年に埼玉県所沢で行われた「夏結びMUSIC FESTIVAL」に出演したことがバンドとして大きなステップになったという。2008年にはPヴァイン・レコードと契約し、同年5月にファーストアルバムをリリース、7月にはFuji Rockに初出場を果たした。2009年末にはオーストラリアツアーを敢行。彼らの華々しい躍進はしかし、何の苦労もなしに成し遂げられたわけではなかった。メンバーのうち二人はPヴァインと契約を果たすまでは生活のために弁当工場で寒い中、バイトしたという。

2010年は彼らにとってさらに多忙な年となった。待望のセカンドアルバム”Uhuru Peak”を携え、各地の野外フェスに積極的に出演した。藤沢市で行われたAsian Heal Jam出演直後の彼らと少し話をすることが出来たが、彼らの音について僕が「スカ」の影響を指摘すると彼らはちょっと驚いた様子を見せたが「オーサカ=モノレール最高!」と言っていたから、確かにスカの影響もあるようだ。しかし何といっても大きな影響を受けたのはジェームス・ブラウン、アイズレー・ブラザース、ジョン・フルシアンテあたりだという。ステージでは、飛び入り常習犯バンドであるSoil & ”Pimp”Sessions、Cro-Magnon、(仮)Albatrusとジャムセッションをしたことがある。ライブ終了後は反省会を開いているらしいが「メンバー同士、モメることはありません」とのこと。そうだろう。彼らのステージは毎回僕らの期待を裏切らない素晴らしいものだ。


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