This is the second in the new series revisiting some classic albums and old favourites.
Japan’s Sandii had already been around for several years as the singer in the band Sandii and the Sunsetz when she made the groundbreaking album Mercy in 1990 for Toshiba-EMI. Before that she had begun to use Okinawan sounds in her music with the Sunsetz but Mercy was a real turning point which saw her going solo on an album with many influences from other parts of Asia. Mercy proudly showed off its Asian sensibility – not least to Japanese who had been too much in thrall to Western music. The album was produced by her then partner and long-time collaborator Makoto Kubota and by Singaporean Dick Lee who also wrote the title song.
There was real excitement that this was an album to push East Asia into the ‘world music’ scene and it was a big step forward musically for Sandii. The well-known Japanese songs ‘Sakura’ and ‘Sukiyaki’ were on the album, but a rap was added to ‘Sakura’, and ‘Sukiyaki’ was given an Indonesian flavoured arrangement. ‘Hello’ was co-written by Sandii and became a popular opening song for her live shows. As well as mixing up the musical styles she sang in several different languages including Italian on the unaccompanied closing track. Perhaps best of all was the outstanding ‘Ikan Kekek’ – originally a Malay folk song – which drives along with enormous rhythm and energy and it became a hit single in Malaysia.
Mercy is a very fine album but it wasn’t the end of the experimenting. Two years later Sandii released Pacifica, an album in similar vein but with the addition of influences from Polynesia. Her next album Airmata was a set of melayu and dangdut classics made in Indonesia. Dream Catcher from 1994 was again produced by Makoto Kubota and took things further still with more dangdut, rap, and a plethora of Asian pop styles and with singing in English, French, Japanese and Indonesian. By 1996, however, and the release of the album Sandii’s Hawaii, she was concentrating on exploring the music of Hawaii where she had spent much of her childhood and this is something she has continued to do ever since. She still releases Hawaiian albums and runs ‘Sandii’s Hula Studio’ in Tokyo. She also appeared at last weekend’s Fuji Rock Festival.
It’s now almost 20 years since I met Sandii for the first time in a restaurant in Kobe on the afternoon of a concert she was doing in the city. I was writing an article about her for Kansai Time Out magazine and was a little nervous as I’d never before sat down with a musician to do a lengthy interview. She immediately put me at ease and her positive attitude to life still resonates years later. She answered all my questions thoughtfully and even asked me some questions of her own. Her facility with languages – evident on Mercy and the other albums of what she calls her Pacifica period – also meant that she answered all my questions in fluent English. At the concert that evening she surprised me again by singing an Okinawan song just for me, having heard of my interest in Okinawa earlier that day. All of Sandii’s work is of interest but that period in the early 90s beginning with Mercy is a special one.