Blasian Model Finds a Career in Singing: Safarii
It's been a while since I've written anything on music. Funny, I actually knew about this group a little while ago and have one of their songs on my MP3 player, but completely forgot about them until a day ago when I was looking up J-urban music on YouTube. It's actually the first time I got a look at the group and their videos. So let's chat about Safarii.
|Image from Sony Music Japan.|
Since their debut, the group has released just two albums. Their last single was released in 2011, but they are currently working on new music according to their blog.
So there are two things that make Safarii a pretty unique group. First is having Sophia as a member. Sophia is half Ethiopian*, though I wasn't able to find out of this was from her mom's side or her dad's side. In a Japanese interview, Sophia admitted to having of a complex about her mixed heritage as a child though she didn't elaborate on it. But before becoming a member of Safaraii, she was a model for Woofin' Girl and Luire magazine. I've mentioned these magazines before as they were both B-kei magazines. But the magazines were also interesting because they employed Black and Blasian models, Sophia being one of them. In fact these were the only magazines that seemed to employ such models. While it's common to find full-Japanese models or models mixed with white or Asian heritage in popular magazines like CamCam and Vivi, Blasian and Black models like Maiko, Sakiko, and Dora would rarely appear unless perhaps ads for B-kei clothing shops like Babyshoop or ANAP.
Unfortunately both Luire and Woofin' Girl are out of print. When I heard the news, I actually did wonder what happened to those models that were plastered all over the magazines, but a Google Search left me with very little information--plus most of the models only went by first names. You know how many chicks there are named Sakiko!? LOL. I think they may still model for some b-kei type clothing stores, but they haven't been able to branch out the way their colleagues have.
And this is what makes Sophia so interesting. It's not that uncommon for Japanese mag models to cross over into TV or music. Models like Yamada Yu have done both and recently model Mizuhara Kiko was featured on the m-flo song, "No Way." But Sophia is the first Blasian model to do so. So it was cool to see at least one of these ladies from the days of Woofin' Girl be able to transition into a new career.
And I can't say that Sophia is the only interesting member of the group. AK is big into surfing while Oki was a boxer. Despite their seemingly different backgrounds, the two got together to make music. They met Sophia through a friend, recognizing her as a model. Realizing she not only had a great presence, but also a voice, they asked her to join the group. Sorry my Japanese is really rusty, so forgive me if the story is a little off.
The other thing that makes Safarii unique is their music style. The group considers themselves to be a "Jawaiian" band; a mix of Hawaiian music and reggae. Reggae is pretty huge in Japan with artists like Lecca, Moomin, and Pushim dominating the Japanese reggae scene. And Hawaiian music also has it's own following as well. Safarii is probably the second mainstream group to have this music style, with Def Tech being the first. So their music style isn't particularly common. The song "Falling" blends the ukulele sounds that's generally associated with Hawaii with a reggae beat and song style:
However, Safaraii has ventured into a more R&B sounds as well like with their song "Saigo no Koi":
And yes a lot of their videos are beach related. They love Hawaii, they love reggae, where else would there videos take place LOL.
Despite their mainstream release with Sony, the group hasn't done so well on the Oricon charts. Some of that I attribute to the J-urban burst which started to start losing steam around the time of their debut. Few artists that would be consider J-urban (hip-hop, hip-pop, R&B, reggae, dancehall, etc.) have been able to really do well on the charts these days. And although Def Tech has done okay on the charts (some of this was also do to a lot of commercial and TV show tie-ins), the Jawaiian music style is still a very niche thing, probably more so than reggae. So unless they can get a really good commercial tie-in, I don't see them being a super huge success.
With the addition of Sophia, the list of Blasian talent in Japan is becoming pretty impressive. But again, the majority of this talent is coming from those who are in "black" media like dancers or rappers or J-urban singers with the exception of Jero. And the fact that the majority of the Blasian models disappeared when the magazines went out just reminds me that Japan does try to be open, but they still have a ways to go before being totally accepting. LOL I haven't seen any new cases of blackface lately cuz you know I'd be ranting about it again. But hey, not every country is going to be open. At least we are seeing some Blasian acts in Japan, not to mention the popularity of folks like Beyonce and Ne-Yo. We still haven't seen too much Asian talent getting the spotlight in the states. But back to Safarii. Despite their not-so-great sales, the group still hasn't given up and I'm looking forward to hearing new music from them soon.
* Now I have to admit that I am somewhat ignorant of the Ethiopian population. I understand that they are pretty damn diverse and the subject of them being "black" is debatable. And I'm open to making any opinions of those that do not feel that Sophia would be considered "blasian" in this case. But for this article I am labeling her as such.