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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Third World Wonders; Cibo Matto and Cornershop work magic

I LOVE WATCHING stereotypes being ground into dust. Adding to the pleasure is the sound they make--a blissful skronk of befuddlement colliding with preconceived notions. Within just a few days, I caught two bands that expertly twiddled with mainstream expectations while making some of the most interesting music I've heard in a long time. I'm talking about Cibo Matto and Cornershop. Both consist of transplanted Asians thriving in music scenes of their adopted countries. Cibo Matto hails from Japan, but lives in New York. Cornershop is led by Tjinder Singh, an Indian expatriate living Britain.

Both performed sets a week away from each other at the Great American Music Hall. Cibo Matto was manna for root-hogging beat junkies. While Yuka Honda's bank of keyboards and samplers blurted out loops, samples and reverbed basslines, vocalist Miho Hatori bobbed her head and squawked about beef jerky, hot-pepper ice cream and sex. The duo was New York City cool personified, without the self-immolation of a Sonic Youth. Honda and Hitori were later augmented with bass and drums for "Candy Man" and "Know Your Chicken." "Artichoke" received an exquisite, fog-thick rendering that extended aural pleasure. The event ended with a surreal sigh: a mind-bending cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" that segued into Sun Ra's immortal "Space Is the Place." As Mika Takahashi commanded feedback from her bass, Honda hunched over her keys and Hatori repeated the "space is the place" mantra.

In Gurinder Chadha's first movie, I'm British ... but, the director aims her lens at Indian immigrants living in Britain, capturing the ways in which they cope with the cross-cultural bumps and ever-present racism. Cornershop's singer, Tjinder Singh, who named his band after the popular work site many Asian immigrants choose, once caught flak for burning Morrissey posters outside of the record company in protest of Mozzer's right-leaning songs "National Front Disco" and "Asian Rut." At last Monday's show, political statements were relegated to musical ones. Sitarist Anthony Saffrey removed his shoes, sat on a madras rug and tuned his instrument. A bank of synths and a Mini-Moog rested within arm's reach. As a percussionist and drummer took their spots, Singh strapped on an acoustic guitar and launched into the epochal opening track "6 A.M. Jullander Shere."

Throughout the night, Singh switched between guitar and dholki (an African drum), English and Punjabi. Percussionist Pete Hall worked his congas in a trancelike state, adding vibrance to the atmosphere. Cornershop's infectious dance track "Wog" was letter-perfect. "First I was a foreigner, then suddenly everything was cool forever," Singh proclaimed. "This Western Oriental's going full circle."

On two separate nights, Cibo Matto and Cornershop carved out their own distinct identities--not Asian, British or American, but a fluid third netherworld located somewhere in between. I'd say it's futuristic, but it's already here. Cibo Matto returns with the Free Tibet show on June 15 and Cornershop opens for Porno for Pyros June 19 at the Trocadero.

Layin' Low in the Cut

Fans of turntable science should keep Friday (May 31) open, because that's when the Okada house, an Asian American dorm on Stanford, will present "Unity Thru Music: The Science of the Blend." Participants include the Invisible Scratch Pickles (with Q-Bert, Apollo and Shortkut), the Beat Junkies (with Babu, Icy-Ice, Symphony and Rhettmatic) and Daly City's Just 2 Hype. The action begins at 10pm in the East Wilbur Courtyard.

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From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of Metro

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