Blasian Model Finds a Career in Singing: Safarii

14.3.13 ShaSha LaPerf 8 Comments



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.
Safarii consists of three members: AK, Oki, and Sophia. There isn't a ton of information about the group members outside of birth dates and blood types. The group formed in 2007 and released their first single, "Namioto" in 2008:




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.

8 comments:

  1. I came across Safarii a couple of years ago and remember searching the internet for any information on Sophia. I also found out that she was half-Ethiopian. I couldn't really get into Safarii's music though.

    And I'm pretty sure Ethiopians are considered Black. I've never heard that the subject of them being so is debateable...but I guess this is something that happens in the US? Certainly not in the UK or in most African countries (Ethiopia is really important when it comes to pan-African relations). I'd understand questioning her Blasian status if Sophia's African parent was from Morocco or Libya (I'm referring to the indigenous population here as there are indigenous Africans who are not Black).

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    1. Yeah Safaraii is a bit of a hit or miss group for me. I do like a few of their songs, but they probably wouldn't be one of my fave groups. I never really got into Def Tech either, so I guess I'm just not feeling the music style itself?

      There's so little information about Sophia. I think she's one of the few Japanese artists that isn't from black American origins the way Crystal Kay or Nesmith from EXILE are. If fact I couldn't even find out if she was actually half black, half Japanese, which is something again is usually listed with mixed race celebrities in Japan. I guess Sophia isn't enough of a celebrity for people to really post info on her. The Ethiopians I've come across (in the states) have identified themselves as black, and I think of Sophia as black/Japanese. But I didn't know if I was putting labels on her that may not have be completely correct, which is why I added the little note at the end. :)

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  2. Her voice reminds me of A.I., really deep and she sings in a low key. I feel like if they worked with a good producer, they could become more popular, but that might also require them to sell-out and loose their 'jawaiian'-roots? Lol I hope they keep working at it though! Lots of luck positive vibes to them..!

    Also, I love her face..! Dat bone structure~

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  3. Ive heard of people having this argument to whether Ethiopians are Black or not. I guess it depends on who you ask,but most of the ones like the ones you've come across acknowledges their Blackness as well of their culture.

    Ive always been a longtime fan of Japanese culture,but I've become just as much of fan of their entertainment. I love their dramas( Hate that Mysoju.com is gone). They're very good..not cheesy or juvenile. Since were talking about Japanese music, I'll state my thoughts about it. How did the world miss out on groups like Jawaii and others? Similarly to what I said about the dramas, some of the groups I've listened to were hot. I though that this was a cute sounding song with a pop folksy twang in it. I like the music. Funny how Jawaii went to Hawaii and did this. The mood of the song seems relaxing, makes you want to play in the beach kind of feel.Japan has a lot of talent in that country. Its unfortunate that too many people have overlooked it.

    One thing that people say about Japan is that it seems to be a more inviting compared to other Asian countries. Although it remains a homogeneous country,I do notice a couple of things: that they aren't as quick to let good things go and that they are a country that are quicker to display diversity in their entertainment that others. I guess that is why you see some of everybody going/wanting to go there. A friend of mine went there a couple of years ago and plan on going there again.

    I was reading a recent story about a Korean girl band that was recently disbanded. Though we may never know the true reason why it happened, there was a Blasian girl by the name of Michelle Lee. Some of her fans feel that maybe she was the cause( her racial makeup) of the demise of the break up. Though Im not a fan of Korean entertainment, I will have to agree with some of what some of those folks said. Whether it was/wasn't racially motivated, they just screwed their credibility of diversity up.It may not have been racially motivated,but on the back of the minds of some of Michelle's fans, they will always( as some of them are doing now) seeing this guy who played a fast one on the fans concerning her.

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  4. Congratulations on your engagement!

    This post just reminds me how hopelessly lost I am when it comes to the Japan music scene, and Japanese pop culture in general really. I just can't get into it. I tried but meh. Might help if my Japanese was better.

    I'm interested in Sophia now though. She's gorgeous, It's exciting to see blacks/blasians in Japanese media I'll say that.

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  5. Not sure what I was expecting but its not what I was expecting. I like their sound. Thanks for the introduction I'm checking them out on YouTube ;0)

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  6. OMG this is so awesome! I'm ethiopian myself and I LOVE japanese people, culture etc!!!! I can't believe she's ethiopianaaaah awesome :D

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  7. Regarding whether she is black or not. Being Ethiopian myself I can tell you that all the different people (yes, even though its one country, it is a country consisting of 80 million people, and we do have different people or tribes) are black. Yes, since we are from the Horn of Africa there has been a lot of mixing between us and people from Yemen or the Arabian peninsula, and there is also one particular people of Ethiopia who are historically descented from Saudi Arabia. Anyway, Ethiopians are black people and please don't forget it lol, I mean all black people don't look alike. It's like saying that Swedes totally look like Italians or Russians, come on they're still white right?

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