Minyo Crusaders Embraces the Dynamism of Folk Music on 'Echoes of Japan'

Photo courtesy of Mais Um

Japanese folk music meets Latin and African grooves on Minyo Crusaders' ennui-busting debut Echoes of Japan.

Echoes of Japan
Minyo Crusaders

Mais Um

26 April 2019

In a world where music is portable and personal soundtrack selection is almost a complete constant - present at work, at home, on the go, and anywhere in between - it can be easy for a kind of musical ennui to set in. Spotify can only facilitate so many weekly discoveries, and old favorites always eventually cross that fine line between nostalgic and stale after a few dozen plays.

It is for this reason that we, as a society, need groups like the Minyo Crusaders.

The word "minyo" refers to traditional Japanese folk music, but its self-proclaimed Crusaders are blazing trails around the world and back. Debut album Echoes of Japan sees them graft sounds from Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean to their own roots. At the risk of sounding like clickbait, the results may surprise you.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this sounds hokey. On paper, it smacks of a novelty act, a rehash of Hibari Misora slapped together with watered-down bossa nova. In practice, though, the Minyo Crusaders commit, finding exciting new meeting points between different cultural aesthetics, building connections eccentric enough to put a Rube Goldberg machine to shame. The beats of opening track "Kushimoto Bushi" alternate between kicky cumbia and steady taiko rhythms, while the equatorial warmth of brass backs soaring vibrato from the lead singer. Electronic keys draw a neon line down the center, a contemporary touch that further solidifies the Minyo Crusaders' style as belonging in the here and now, even though so much of it is from the elsewhere and then.

It's harder to put a finger on the different influences going into some of the other tracks, like "Hohai Bushi", and that's a good thing on a so-called world fusion album. Afrofunk melodies, bluesy riffs, and jazzy horns add flexibility to structured minyo sounds, and the resulting balance of flexibility and precision exemplifies what makes Minyo Crusaders' work so different from any possible peers.

At the same time as the group goes all in, the Minyo Crusaders have fun with their music. Squeaky toy sound effects and a playful simplicity to the synths on reggae track "Otemoyan" keep the atmosphere tropical and light behind the gravity of the lead singer. Isolate the main vocal track of "Mamurogawa Ondo", and you have something reverent, transcendent; add back in the full Latin big band instrumentation, and you have rumba heat.

There is a particular beauty to closing a cappella track "Sumo Jinku", then, as the group finally plays it straight. Coming from a tradition that dates back to the 18th century, the jinku features a single voice, rising and falling, unencumbered technique with palpable emotion behind it. The perfect palate cleanser, perhaps, for an album that explores everything from Ethiojazz to boogaloo.

On Echoes of Japan, the Minyo Crusaders put forth a point of view that does more than simply layer expressions of one culture with those of another. This is a group that embraces the dynamism of folk music. Even at the album's most lounge-ready moments, the group finds itself in undiscovered soundscapes. The Minyo Crusaders are not afraid to innovate, and the skill with which they do takes them leaps and bounds ahead of being a novelty act. They're ready to shake up any and every worldbeat playlist in earnest, and such boldness makes them a group worth a full listen.






'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.