Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

SANDII and the SUNSETZ

Japanese rock group growing out of Makoto Kubota and Yuyake Gakudan ('gakudan' orchestra, 'yuyake' sunset), formed '74 as the Sunset Gang. Sandii (b Sandy O'Neale, 27 Dec. '51, Tokyo) was promoted from backing to lead vocalist, and by '80 Sandii and the Sunsetz had consolidated as lead vocalist Sandii, Makoto Kubota (b 11 Jul. '47, Kyoto, Japan) on guitar, keyboards, percussion, guitarist Keni Inoue, bassist King Champ Onzo, and drummer Hideo Inoura; all sang. By the beginning of the '70s Japanese rock had emerged from aping American and British acts; a group like Happy End could germinate, blossom and go to seed in the space of a few short years ('70--73) leaving one certified masterpiece, Windy City Roman, as its legacy; Van Dyke Parks figured in its production, but that is not to diminish its Japanese qualities. Makoto Kubota fell right into this period of fresh creativity, his albums beginning with his solo Machiboke ('Waiting In Vain') on Toshiba '73; then Makoto Kubota and the Sunset Gang released Sunset Gang followed by Hawaii Champloo on Trio '75; this second album included a cover of the Okinawan musician Shoukichi Kina's 'Haisai Ojisan' (later also covered by the collect- ive known as French/Frith/Kaiser/Thompson). Kubota scored a minor hit with 'Haisai Ojisan' in Japan and would play on Shoukichi Kina and Champluse's Blood Line album on Time '80, reissued by Polydor '89 (which initially became a collectors' item because of Ry Cooder's presence on the sessions, later because of its own quality). They were established sufficiently by late '75 to support Eric Clapton, then promoting 461 Ocean Boulevard (while they promoted their second album). The Sunset Gang went on to record Dixie Fever (the first album on which Sandii appeared), followed by Lucky Old Sun '77 and Second Line '79, the last two of which appeared on Nippon Columbia.

Sandii's first solo was Eating Pleasure '80 on Alfa, produced by Haruomi Hosono of the Yellow Magic Orchestra (and of Happy End before that); she guested on YMO's Xoo Multiples the same year. Sandii and the Sunsetz' Heat Scale '81 on Alfa was followed by the more successful Immigrants '82 on Alfa, by which time they had fused Western rock and techno-pop with Japanese and Okinawan traditional elements. While trading on the striking looks of their lead vocalist, they were also creating songs of the calibre of 'Dreams Of Immigrants' (magnificently surreal backbeat rhythm track) and 'Open Sesame' (the epitome of techno-folk). Viva Lava Liva '84 on Sire was a compilation of material from Eating Pleasure, Heat Scale and Immigrants in remixed or live variants. Next came Banzai Baby '86 on EMI. 'Sticky Music' (a top ten in Australia) was revisited in French on Yen's two-disc Graduation remix and rarity anthology, a signpost to one of the singularities of her career: her ability and readiness to sing in many languages. She also duetted with Stephen Duffy on (the misnamed) 'Something Special' '86 from the film Knights And Emeralds on 10 Records. Sandii and the Sunsetz' Rhythm Chemistry '87, One Love '88 and the compilation Orientation '89 were all on EMI; there was growing disenchantment with their musical direction, not least because they were being groomed for an American audience and losing their special identity. Speaking of the process, Sandii told Mojo '95, 'We just couldn't put our minds together to go in that direction but we tried anyway. It didn't work out.' The group disbanded; Sandii and Makoto Kubota began making albums under her name beginning with Mercy '90 on Toshiba, lacking the rock edge of the best Sunsetz work but included a fetching cover of the Ei/Nakamura evergreen 'Sukiyaki' and introduced new audiences to the work of Singaporean songwriter Dick Lee and the high camp cover artwork of French artist Pierre et Gilles; it incl. a no. 1 hit in Malaysia with 'Ikan Kékek'. Pacifica '92 on Eastworld had a greater worldview, reflecting her upbringing in Hawaii; Come Again and Joget To The Beat appeared on the same label; more experimentally, Airmata '93 on the Sushi label explored melayu and dangdut, Malaysian and Indonesian popular music genres. Airmata (meaning 'teardrops' in Malay) was produced by Makoto Kubota with assistance from Lilik Aribowo and S. Atan, who added his trademark accordion work to their sound. Dream Catcher '94 on Epic/Sony looked closer to home and melded musical influences from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan, complementing Atan's accordion and Mamadou Doumbia's West African-styled electric guitar on tracks such as 'Every Day' and 'Oh La Terre'. World Remix '94 appeared on the same label a few months later, remix albums being big in Japan, that year also seeing Sandii's Pictures on Eastworld, a compilation including 'Sukiyaki', 'Sayonara' and 'Aloha Mai-Iaorana- Pacifica', and featuring material from '87--92. Asia Blue '95 on Epic/Sony featured Makoto Kubota in a trio with Mac Chew and Jenny Chin, an accomplished piece of work hopping from genre to genre which is what much of Kubota's production work from '89 onwards had done. Beginning with Detty Kurnia's Rayangan on Teichiku '89 he went on to work on her Dari Sunda and Goyor Panong both on Sony (the former also issued by Riverboat, the latter by Flame Tree in Britain), Elvy Susaesih's The Return Of Diva on Sony, Aishah's Aishah on Sony, Chris Ho's fetchingly titled Punk Monk Hunk on Singapore's Pony Canyon label, Campur DKI's Indonesian album Dangdut Or Not on Sony, the Singaporean singer Dick Lee's Asia Major and Orientalism (both on WEA) and Rikki Nakano's Rikki on BMG (Japan). Kubota even collaborated with Debbie Harry on a song called 'Winner Take All' for a Sony CD-ROM game '95. Sandii and Makoto have pushed back boundaries for years, often with a full palette of musical ideas.