Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra is, in my opinion, the be-all end-all of Japanese ska. They’ve been on the scene since 1988, and since then, they’ve managed to stir up the music industry considerably with their contributions. Though best known for their ska, they also mix it up with forays into jazz and rock.
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra [which is often reduced to "Ska Para" or "TSPO" by fans] is a relatively large band, comprised of 10 members. The four-piece horn section is made up by a trumpet, trombone, tenor and baritone sax, rounding out a full sound with plenty of depth. Of its 10 members, six are original members from the group’s formation in 1988, including the super-cool trumpet player who goes by “Nargo.” Only nine of the band’s members are shown in the photo above.
Ska Para’s repertoire is vast, but they are perhaps best known for their back-to-basics heavy ska, which usually lacks vocals. They’re very high-energy but have a stylistic appeal that keeps it from getting too perky. The video for their single, Tongues of Fire:
In spite of the fact that TSPO is known as a fantastic live band and one which usually forgoes lyrical undertakings, many of their best-know hits have been tunes with singers. One of my favorite feel-good songs, Sekai Chizu [Map of the World]:
To me, though, TSPO makes their cool status in all the covers and adaptations they’ve done. They have, more than any American band I can think of, brought loved and recognized songs to ska and given them new life. Their ska rendition of the theme from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon was masterful; their version of Duke Ellington’s 1935 classic In a Sentimental Mood went over really well with me. The one that will be instantly recognizable for most of you readers out there is this — The Love Theme from The Godfather:
While there are many other prominent ska bands in Japan, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra is without doubt the best known and the best respected of them all. Their career has produced a number of hit albums, compilations, singles and live recordings. TSPO comes with my highest recommendation for anyone looking to get into Japanese music.
Check out their website and keep the beat going.