Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The tasty return of Cibo Matto | Back on the menu

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There's been a lot of talk recently about how the '90s are back, much of it by me. One thing I've forgotten to mention in my hasty excitement for a return to the days when my man crush on Jared Leto wasn't creepy was that the '90s were pretty much a complete bum-out. Everyone was stomping around all day in gross boots and giant socks, and we all had our hair tied up in tight scrunchies that constricted blood flow to the brain. No wonder the music was so grim.

Somewhere around the middle of the decade, bands in New York City remembered that music was supposed to be fun. Chief among them were Cibo Matto, the Japanese-American duo who popularized the polyglot fusion concept that was also, coincidentally, sweeping the restaurant scene. In fact, they actually were singing about food most of the time, on songs like "Birthday Cake" and "Know Your Chicken." (Cibo Matto means "crazy food" in Italian, I'm obliged to point out). They were brash, ballsy, fun, cooler than hell, and surprisingly funny.

The band's 1994 debut Viva! La Woman was hungry for experimentation as well, sampling from the genre buffet, incorporating elements of hip-hop, punk, lounge, and dance music. The same omnivorousness applied to their friendships and collaborations: Yuka Honda, the multi-instrumentalist, and Miho Hatori, the spitfire vocalist, partnered variously with members of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, R.E.M., the Beastie Boys, Sean Lennon (a one-time member of the band and romantically linked to Honda), Luscious Jackson, Medeski Martin and Wood, Tricky, Gorillaz, Stephin Merritt, and pretty much anyone else who registered on the decade's hip radar. Until they called it quits in 2001. That's practically the entire pop-musical decade encapsulated by one band.

Earlier this year Hatori and Honda reunited for the first time since then to perform a handful of benefit shows in the wake of the Japanese earthquake disaster. They had so much fun doing it that they decided to start recording new songs and go back on the road.

"It's such a very difficult time for Japanese people right now to have this big shock," Hatori explains on the phone from New York. "We feel like it's kind of like the earthquake broke a lot of things — our country, emotions as well. Let us be together."

Coming back together after such a long break was easy, says Hatori. "We were doing it for a long time before, it was in our blood and body. You remember how to sing immediately, it's in my head. Of course it's definitely a new challenge for us, because this time it's different. I feel like it has a very positive energy. Yuka and I have a chemistry that is still there. It's like, in a way, I don't know, if you for example are having a kid" — she laughs — "you don't know what's going to happen, what kind of personality your kids will have. It's been like that. Sometimes it feels same feeling. Cibo Matto is like our kid, in like a metaphysical way."

That kid has learned a few new tricks along the way, ones they're eager to show in the new material they've been writing for a planned album. "I think it is definitely a continuation of Cibo Matto, a kind of mixture, a melting pot of music. Plus a lot of beats, too. The beats elements is very strong."

Those beats were always part of what made the band fun, and also helped to bridge some of the divide between the indie and hip-hop worlds. "I love Tribe Called Quest and De la Soul," says Hatori. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to come to New York. Or Dee-lite. I was like, 'New York is like that, they're having so much fun.' "


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