The Furious Afrirampo

Text by Douglas Hargrave

The Japanese sisters of Afrirampo are a force to be reckoned with. Onstage, the duo emit a wild, raw energy that could generate enough electricity to power a small cabin. They sweat, sing and scream at each other, swallow microphones and get your heart pounding. Their stripped down blast of rock and roll is matched only by their appearance: the fiery little red dresses and striking red makeup. It’s no wonder Afrirampo count bands like Sonic Youth and Acid Mothers Temple among their fans. Indeed, they are artistically inclined: their album art is nothing short of amazing, and they’ve even released an incredible hardbound photobook of the two entwined in dark spaces wearing nothing but bright red paint. SOMA recently had a chat with Oni (guitarist and singer of Afirampo) in Japanese.

How did you decide to just use guitar and drums? Pikacyu and I had instruments, and we wanted to do something together, so we headed into the studio. After our music developed a bit, we looked for bassists many times with no luck. We’ve got a good chemistry musically and onstage, and no one can fit between us. Two is enough!

How do you find the audiences in America and Europe compared to those in Japan? We get asked this a lot. In America and England, people are much livelier and react to the music. They dance, yell and get into the vibe. They get drunk and wild. Of course there are people who drink too much and are a pain in the ass, but when people are into the music we are more relaxed and put on a better show. In Japan, people tend to be more focused and shy. They are polite when they talk to you, whereas in a place like London there are no formalities or barriers between us and the audience.

I heard you’ve done some solo work. How was that? I did a lot of solo performances with acoustic guitar before I became so busy with Afrirampo. The music had a completely different feel. It was quite mellow. When I’m at home I tend to listen to much quieter music than what we play now. I love classical, Inoue Yousui, Mongolian chanting and a traditional type of Japanese music called minyo. Pikacyu does all kinds of stuff on the side. She’s involved in fashion, plays the keyboard and even the violin, although she’s not very good at it (laughs).

What are the details surrounding your photobook? Do you have any artistic influences for your striking fliers or album art? Our good friend John Harte is a photographer and we just decided to take some pictures for fun. We painted ourselves with red paint and glitter and did the whole thing on a whim. The results were shown to a publisher and they wanted to put it out. It really wasn’t planned from the beginning. Pikacyu and I have been doing stuff like this ever since high school. We used to cover ourselves in paint and make life-sized body prints on paper. Pikacyu did a lot of the artwork for the albums, and we have friends take photos for us. Like our music, we don’t really have any influences. We just do things as they pop into our heads and let things come naturally.

You have a very distinct look when you play. How did this come about? We love red. Red is the color of burning. It’s a color that humans react to. We always wear red dresses and do our own makeup. At first we just wore our own clothes but people started giving us outfits to wear, which we enjoy. I think how you dress is very important when you are onstage. Once we played in Los Angeles wearing everyday clothes and no makeup and the show completely bombed.

Some of your songs are available at the many karaoke boxes here in Japan. How do you feel about this? When we put out our major label release Urusa in Japan, there was talk of doing karaoke. We were completely for it! Pikacyu and I love karaoke, and we have gone frequently since we were in grade school. We love to sing Utara Hikaru, Amuro Namie and Speed. Having our own songs in there makes us happy! Have you done anything interesting lately? Recently the daughter of a friend of ours who works at Club Bridge in Osaka passed away at the age of six from a terminal illness. Her mother called us all over and invited many musicians to the funeral. We all sang along with a brass band and made music all day. It was such a beautiful, happy occasion and certainly like no other funeral I’ve ever been to.

Do you have any releases coming up? A while ago we spent a month out in Africa, living with the Pygmies. It was fantastic! We were only there a short time but we experienced many things. There was no electricity, no gas, but the food was great! The bananas were amazing. So sweet and rich. When we got back to Japan we were shocked at how thin and artificial they tasted [here]. We spent a lot of time dancing and singing with the Pygmies, and we are self-releasing some of the music we made with them on our independent label. We really enjoyed our time there so the music is special to us.

What do you think about America? Have you seen Super Size Me? We’re really worried about the lifestyles of Americans, and people who live in cities everywhere. In a city like Los Angeles, people have no consideration for nature… They build houses on top of graves! People are so cramped together and are all business. The food is terrible and everyone is in such a rush. I really think we need to get back to nature, back to the earth. When you are born and raised in the city, you are so happy to be out in nature. It’s natural!