Monkey Majik

  • Written by 
  • Tuesday, 10 December 2013 00:00
Monkey Majik Photo courtesy of avex International Holdings, Ltd.

Japanese/Canadian Band Monkey Majik

Ambassadors of Goodwill

Monkey Majik is a bilingual hybrid band made up of the Canadian brothers Maynard and Blaise Plant on lead vocals and guitar and two Japanese members, tax and DICK. In addition to being one of Japan’s top-selling groups whose music has been featured in television programs, commercials and movies, they have gained the attention of The Black Eyed Peas co-founder will.i.am and have had the extremely unique opportunity to perform for the Emperor and Empress of Japan. Their 2011 earthquake and tsunami volunteer efforts were documented by MTV Japan. DNA, their newest album, continues to blend Eastern and Western pop and rock influences, and they are preparing for their next Japan tour. TJ talked with Blaise and DICK about their career and their relief efforts in Sendai.

TJ: As I understand it, you live in Sendai. Do you have plans to move to Tokyo?
BLAISE: Well, we really enjoy the warmth. It’s an amazing place. It’s like “the undiscovered country.” There is a lot of old school tradition and culture that we really, really love. We also built a community there with all our friends. We started there and we want to keep going from there so we have no plans on leaving. We’re going to be based in Sendai until we die, I think!

TJ: Tell us about the band and how it got formed.
BLAISE: Maynard came to Japan 16 years ago to teach English for three years. During his last few months, he, his English teacher friends and his martial arts teacher cut a record and sent it to Sony Music. Sony really liked it. The guy who got the demo tape quit Sony and started his own label
with us. Unfortunately, the two other foreigners returned home. Maynard went back to Ottawa for a holiday and told me about what he was doing here. I had written songs as a hobby so he asked me to join the band. We wrote a couple of songs and thought, “Hey! The chemistry is good.” We came to Japan to get things going and met our bassist, Misao Urushizaka, in Aomori and drummer Takuya Kikuchi, who we call “tax,” in Sendai. That’s when the band started. However, in 2005 our bassist left to follow other dreams he had. That’s when we met Soul Addiction’s bassist
DICK. He’s a big funk man very soulful. We brought him to a bar and at first he said he didn’t have the time to join the band. After a few more drinks he started saying, “Well, you know, maybe...” And as we got him real drunk, he said, “OK, shall we start Monday?” He gave Monkey Majik the whole groove and the
rest is history!

TJ: DICK, is it diff icult working with foreigners?
DICK: No, these guys aren’t foreigners! (Laughs.)

TJ: Which do you prefer: singing in Japanese or English?
BLAISE: I like them both. Tax, who writes the Japanese lyrics, writes beautiful poetry and I think it’s the best way for me to learn Japanese, not phonetically, but poetically! He writes such powerful lyrics that really dive deep into people’s hearts - into the soul. His words never attack people and are universal. I enjoy singing those words in Japanese because the meaning seems to be a lot deeper and more spiritual, but in English, I don’t screw up the lyrics so often! I do enjoy mixing the two.

TJ: I see you had a chance to play with will.i.am. How was that?
BLAISE: Yeah, that was great! He’s interesting, diligent and has a lot of ideas. Will.i.am is really passionate about his relief work and he’s visited a lot of other countries. He was worried about what was going on in northern Japan, and for him to come down and to really reach out to the kids was pretty amazing. I met him through VERBAL from m-flo, a top Japanese hip hop band who we collaborated with years ago. During the earthquake, VERBAL and his team started helping out in two of the biggest hit areas from the tsunami - Tagajo and Shiogama. Two months later will.i.am came to Japan to do some relief work. VERBAL mentioned to him that we were doing relief work and we could give him a better idea of what took place. The American Embassy contacted me, but Maynard was in Canada, and tax and DICK were busy with their families, so he and I did a talk in a live house in Sendai. One of the fans in the audience put us on the spot by yelling out, “There’s no way I’m leaving this place without will.i.am and Blaise doing a song together!” I was all worried and will.i.am was sitting there asking, “Have you got something?” So I started playing something old I had that I thought would be easy or interesting for him to hip hop with and he started free-styling and going off.

TJ: So you lived in Japan throughout the entire process after the tsunami?
BLAISE: Yes, I was in Sendai when the earthquake occurred. I was at my friend’s office taking a lunch break from recording. A few weeks before the big earthquake a lot of tremors were kicking in. You’d go to a restaurant with friends and it would shake, and you’d say, “Wow! Another earthquake!” And the following day you’d get a few more. It was a build-up and when the big guy hit we were sitting in the office saying, “Whoah. This is a big one!” It just kept getting worse and it became what it became.

TJ: Did you feel a huge impact when it hit?
BLAISE: Absolutely. You can’t really explain it. We were in a room that shook so hard and so loudly. We stopped and sat there and started to pray. That’s how much intensity it had. It went right to the soul.

TJ: Where did you go after the earthquake?
BLAISE: When the earthquake struck, Maynard had just arrived in Sendai from Tokyo by train, and tax and DICK were at their homes. We couldn’t contact each other because all the power went out, so Maynard went to my house. It was basically destroyed, so he came over to my friend’s office and we were relieved to see we were all safe. We were able to use social media to contact our band members and families back home in Canada to make sure everyone knew we were OK. The next day we began relief volunteering to help out as much as we could but in Sendai there weren’t any volunteer centers set up yet. We went north in Aomori to Hachinohe and that’s when we found the first volunteer center. We did a lot of cleaning up - shoveling dirt and tearing out tatami mats soaked with water. We went to different communities listening to people’s stories, cleaning up their homes, and no one knew we were Monkey Majik helping out, which was nice because we didn’t want to get off track from what was important. Of course, it was very sad listening to the stories of people who had lost their families and friends. You’d get very emotional at times but what was great was that communities were getting together and really working strongly with a positive attitude to get the cities rebuilt. It was really an emotional experience and it still is because people are still trying to get back on their feet.

TJ: So I understand you were Goodwill Ambassadors at the 80th anniversary of friendship between Canada and Japan in Ottawa. Is it true that the Emperor was there?
BLAISE: Yes, the Emperor and the Empress were both there. We are very honored to be recognized as cultural ambassadors. It was a wonderful experience to go to Ottawa to perform in front of the Emperor and Empress and have lunch with them. This was one of those things that only happens in your dreams! They are wonderful people and it was such a great honor to meet them. tj

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