I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mayumi Itsuwa -- Tabako no Kemuri (煙草のけむり)

(cover version)

The first time I heard Mayumi Itsuwa's(五輪真弓)"Tabako no Kemuri" (Cigarette Smoke) was through an episode of "Sounds of Japan" which devoted its entire 30 minutes one week to the singer-songwriter's lovely voice. Since the episode aired in the early 80s, all of the material basically consisted of her more French-sounding tunes, and then came "Tabako no Kemuri". And I was floored when I heard Itsuwa sing the song in flawless French. At first, I thought someone had gotten their tapes screwed up, but it was truly Itsuwa on the recording.

However, as I was to find out many years later, that French-sounding "Tabako no Kemuri" was actually a very early release by Itsuwa from October 1973. In fact, it was her 4th single. On hearing the original Japanese version, there was a jaunty beat to it (complete with honky-tonk harmonica) that was different from folk or aidoru, and certainly not enka nor Mood Kayo. It was something more along the lines of the music of Western singers of that time such as Carole King or Joni Mitchell, so I think I would peg it as one of the examples of New Music.

Itsuwa was indeed the writer and composer behind "Tabako no Kemuri", a tale about two people meeting in a presumably dark and perhaps seedy bar and not being able to see each other through the clouds of cigarette smoke (something that can no longer be imagined in Toronto 2015). However, the fellow who invited the young lady to the rendezvous casually implores her to be the key to unlock his dark heart. Despite the ominous lyrics, the song is rather genki as if the couple were on a happy shopping trip in a small town.

The above video features Itsuwa on the old Fuji-TV show, "Yoru no Hit Studio"(夜のヒットスタジオ)playing an even speedier version as if she were channeling Akiko Yano(矢野顕子). I'd always seen the singer in conservative pantsuits on her 80s album covers, so it was interesting to see her in something more hippie-ish back in the day.

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