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She's already come out swinging

April 23, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

COMPETITION for primacy among rappers in the baile funk/grime/crunk scene is hardly what you'd call intense -- outside of Brazil, where the music was created, and a small but dedicated following of plugged-in beat junkies in the United States, most people don't even know the bass-heavy, sample-crazy, hyper-hybridized hip-hop fusion even exists.

In a fittingly cross-cultural twist, the music's most high-profile import to the Southland isn't even Brazilian. She's 24-year-old Tokyo native Tigarah, who is conquering this niche of the music industry one myspace "friend" at a time; she has nearly 12,000.

The rapper's first American performance -- at San Diego's Beauty Bar this month -- went over so well, radio station 91X FM invited her in for an interview the next day, never mind that Tigarah has yet to finish an album or even sign a record deal. In just under two months, her renown has spread across the Web (at and, where her alternately kittenish and blustery rapping streams free.

Imagine Gwen Stefani, Anglo-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., Hello Kitty and crunk stalwart Lil' Jon put through a distinctly J-pop immersion blender and you'll come close to understanding Tigarah's signature sound -- rapped in Japanese, of course.

"My style is totally new generation," says the rapper, who pulls into Hollywood to perform at Cinespace on Tuesday. "My music is totally fresh: new beats, new rhymes. My fans say they've never heard of this kind of music before."

She studied sociology and politics at Tokyo's prestigious Keio University but jettisoned any future as a political ambassador after researching the plight of Japanese immigrants to Brazil.

One side effect of the Brazilian connection: Tigarah first heard of baile funk, a sub-genre of sexually aggressive hip-hop inspired by Miami Bass, and immersed herself in its culture during consecutive trips to Sao Paulo and Rio, where she met her producer, Mr. D.

"When I was a teenager, I had a dream to be a politician," she says in halting yet precise English. "But [now] I don't think it is a way to make this world better. Music -- it's powerful. I think music is the best way I can make the world better."

Just don't mistake her empowerment-themed songs such as "Girl Fight!" and "Japanese Queen" for feminism. "Girls just want to have fun," Tigarah says from a Los Angeles studio where she is recording tracks for her album, "and anybody should have confidence no matter what anybody says. I put in the message that anybody can be a Japanese Queen. This is about passion and energy!"


Zero 7: A certain ear for new talent

ENGLISH chill-out electronica group Zero 7's third CD, "The Garden," won't hit record store shelves until June. But that didn't stop it from becoming the most played album on KCRW earlier this month (the radio station ranks artist airplay by album instead of by song). "Morning Becomes Eclectic" host Nic Harcourt has already sung its praises, calling "The Garden" "an instant classic" without any apparent irony.

As a matter of course, the multi-instrumentalist duo has enlisted unknown, unsigned guest singers who come recommended by friends of friends. Take breathy Australian chanteuse Sia Furler. She made her debut on Zero 7's breakthrough "Simple Things" CD, and after ditching her surname a la Cher, she's gone on to crack the U.K. top 10 as a solo artist -- Sia's single, "Breathe Me," won her a cultish stateside following after it was played during the emotional closing montage of HBO's "Six Feet Under" last year.

Judging by blogger buzz, Zero 7's newest collaborator, Jose Gonzalez, seems likely to follow in her footsteps. The Swedish folk singer of Argentine descent, who possesses an eerie vocal resemblance to '70s-era Jose Feliciano, has been likened to Elliott Smith and touted as the "next Nick Drake" in indie rock circles.

"I should get a job as an [artists & repertoire] man and earn some real money," says Zero 7's Sam Hardaker, laughing.

He's dismissive of the idea that the core group (Hardaker and Henry Binns) has become a launching pad for other artists. But Hardaker doesn't dispute its amorphous nature -- and indefinite size.

So is Zero 7 a duo? A quartet?

"I don't know what we are," he says. "We sort of mutate into different forms when we need to. Isn't there some kind of superhero that's like that? Sia, Jose and us are a band when we're touring."

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