Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro
According to funk lore, back in the 1960s James Brown ensured disciplined in his backing band by maintaining a careful watch on his band members’ timing. If a musician missed a note, skipped a beat or otherwise deviated from Brown’s methodically planned funk attack, the musician would be fined; another transgression, and the musician’s tenure would be under threat.
Naokazu "Bobsan" Kobayashi, the dapper guitarist and bandleader of Japan’s premier funk outfit Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro, is a big fan of James Brown and his seminal funk and soul style. But he stops short of implementing the type of ruthless discipline for which Brown was infamous. “We don't have any similar incentives,” Bobsan says. “There's a lot of freedom to what we allow each other to do.”
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro formed in the Japanese city of Saitama in 2003 while the original members (of whom three, including Bobsan, are still playing in the band) were studying at university. While the band’s name is evocative, its significance is more in what it can mean to the observer and listener. “The name is free for each listener to take on their own meaning,” Bobsan laughs.
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro take their musical cues from James Brown, The Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament/Funkadelic and the Motown and Stax artists of the 1960s and 1970s. Before immersing himself in the funk genre, Bobsan was playing in a Red Hot Chilli Peppers cover band, augmented by what he describes as “some hard rock music.”
It was through listening to and playing Red Hot Chili Peppers that Bobsan and his band mates switched from a rock’n’roll to a funk and soul path. “We liked Red Hot Chili Peppers because they weren't pigeon holed into a certain style or a genre,” Bobsan says. “They were funk, punk, rap, rock and many other things. That unique mixture allowed them to create their own genre called the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and that's what was cool about them.”
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro played their first gig at a local festival in Saitama, inauspiciously on a stage mounted on the back of a two ton truck, and to an audience who may not have been aware what was about to hit them. “We played funk music for these old folks,” Bobsan laughs. It was around this time that the members of Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro discarded their tatty rock’n’roll attire in favour of cool, jazz couture. The band’s fashion aesthetic, Bobsan says, is anything but contrived.
“Yes, it's the same as waking up and brushing your teeth in the morning. It's the norm. It's standard. It's very important,” Bobsan says.
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro have built a solid reputation in Japan, with overseas interest building via the band’s vibrant performances published on the Internet. While the band have a loyal local following, funk remains a niche interest in Japan.
“Funk is still not that well known and not really a big scene,” Bobsan says. “I'd say it's still on the build. But you can hear the elements of funk in pop music here, so I think many people would've heard it, but just don't really recognize it as funk.”
Airplay on commercial radio remains sporadic, though Bobsan says interest continues to grow. “We do get played on radio, although most music here requires words to be played on the airwaves,” he says. “We have had our music used in jingles and such a lot on TV. Our status is still on the build, to be honest.”
In 2009 Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro made their first trip overseas, venturing to Australia. Such was the positive reaction of crowds that the band returned in 2012 and 2013 (as part of the Falls Festival) and they’ll be back again for this month’s Brunswick Music Festival.
“I think we all knew that our music could reach people beyond Japan and we could make people dance. I think the great reaction we got in Australia told us that we weren't wrong. Everyone is a lot more open and accepting in Australia. Not just towards different types of music, but to other cultures.”
BY PATRICK EMERY