Photo by Tsuneo Koga
After two decades, the wheels are very much still turning for Osaka Monaurail, Japan's premiere funk orchestra, which has grown from a university combo to one of the world's leading groups in the genre. Nine musicians on stage in sharp uniforms inspired by 60s
fashion; trumpets are spinning in the air; leader Nakata dancing "Mashed Potato"; from James Brown funky dancers to jumpin' be-bop instrumentals.
In 2012, Osaka Monaurail celebrated their 20th anniversary by touring many cities in Japan, Europe, Canada and Australia, appearing at top venues, nightclubs and festivals including the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July. In 2013, the group is performing in seven European countries, Australia and of course Japan.
Formed in 1992, all the member were students at Osaka University and were members of the same jazz society where they had fun playing and learning jazz, especially the music of Count Basie. "Our team then was known as one of the best university/college bands when it comes to playing Count Basie tunes. I was playing the forth trumpet part in the big band. However, after I had dropped
out as trumpet player - I couldn't hit higher notes, I decided to do what I'd wanted to do ever since I was sixteen, which was to have my own funk band." The group was named after the 1975 funk classic, "It's The J.B.'s Monaurail" by the J.B.'s (misspelling intentional.) It originally held more than twenty people including many horn players, two guitarists and a percussion player, but soon after, the band was cut down to a 13 piece group. After a couple of university gigs, they had played in local bars and nightclubs in Osaka around 1994-1995. Signed to RD Records in 1999, OM released its first album entitled "What it is – What it was" in 2000, followed by nine albums: three more albums on RD Records; four albums on P-Vine Records (signed 2006-2009); and the latest "State Of The World" on King Records (2011–present). In Europe, the last three albums are available on Unique Records (Dusseldorf, Germany).
Since the summer of 2006 Osaka Monaurail had toured with a soul/funk legend, Marva Whitney, known as one of the James Brown's original Funky Divas. Her hits include many Funk classics such as "It's My Thing," "Unwind Yourself" and "Sunny" (duet with Mr. JB).
The partnership became arguably one of the most exciting collaborations in funk in modern era and left two albums "I Am What I Am" and "Live In Japan," three European tours and two Japanese tours. (Sadly, Marva Whitney passed on in December, 2012.)
In November 2012, Osaka Monaurail played a show with Fred Wesley, the world's funkiest trombonist, whose carrier expand from James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic to the Count Basie Orchestra. It was one-night special show - OM played as a backing band to the man, and performed more than a dozen of funky classics by Mr. 'Friendly Fred' Wesley.
Nakata runs his Shout! Productions label and continues to contribute to soul/funk in Japan. His company has been responsible for: reissuing a string of Soul/Funk albums and movies such as "Superfly" (1972), "Coffy" (1973) and a few more movies; subtitling "Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song" (1971), "Badasssss" (2004) and "Soul Power" (2009); most recently releasing "Edification of Weldon Irvine" (1976) on DVD.
The group has experienced many member changes. However the most of the current line-up have been in the group for more than ten years. Osaka Monaurail as of 2013 are Ryo Nakata (vocals and keyboards); Kentaro Yamagata and Teihei Awaji (trumpets); Shimon Mukai (tenor saxophone); Dan Hayami & Yuichi Ikeda (guitars); Dai Nakamura (bass); Soki Kimura (drums).