The Japanese CATMAN

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Moisty Atsushi in Tacos Kokopelli. Photo: Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan

Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan caught up with Moisty Atsushi and tells why the Japanese singer songwriter behaves like a vintage Jamaican ska cat.

“Hi. This is Captain Moisty, reporting. Testing, testing, sound testing,” he blurts out in the microphone – imitating the late David Bowies’s Major Tom in “Space Oddity”.

Moisty Atsushi describes himself as a cat-suit donning musician with a near-obsessive passion for 1960s Jamaican music.

“I love ska and reggae – their earlier versions. But I seldom play Bob Marley or Desmond Dekker. I haven’t made an appointment with them yet in heaven and I’m too lazy to learn their songs,” Moisty tells the Friday night crowd in Tacos Kokopelli – run by the eccentric Dallas Fellows, who incidentally dishes out one of the best Tex-Mex fares in Phnom Penh.

“I’m like a cat. I watch YouTube videos then eat, play guitar for 20 minutes, and then sleep through the day. That’s why I wear a cat-suit,” says Moisty, who migrated to New Zealand from Japan in 1999.

In New Zealand he formed his own Auckland-based ska band – Atsushi and the Moisties. The Moisities have played in numerous gigs and supported overseas bands, as well as acting as backup band for Jamaican ska singer StrangeJah Cole and Canadian ska singer-songwriter and guitarist, Chris Murray.

Lately, Moisty has been hard at work creating his own version of vintage Jamaican sound and has come out with an album titled “skaAcoustic”. He also has been touring Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand and has performed thrice in Phnom Penh.

“It’s great coming back to Phnom Penh. The weather’s wonderful at this time of the year and I won’t sweat like a pig in my cat-suit,” he announces before playing the lead riff from Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, to announce the arrival of the catman.

Catman Moisty’s performance is a mish-mash of cleverly crafted tunes all played with minimal breaks, and full audience interaction. It’s all happy, uplifting ska or reworked numbers with a ska and vintage Jamaican-edge in them.

He does the cat strut onstage while strumming out his reggae barre chords – four beats to a bar, with the offbeats on bar two and four.

He belts out Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”, them moves on to Dennis Brown’s “Money in My Pocket”. In between his continuous repertoire, he peppers and juxtaposes them with his own ska compositions like “Time is Limited aka Shu Be Du Be Du” and “Nothing Ever Changes”.

Moisty’s songs are of love and peace, hopeful change and loneliness. In “Yesterday Has Gone”, he sings:

“Yesterday’s gone, gotta move on,
Keep on moving, don’t look back,
Wipe off your tears tonite, gotta move on,
You gotta fight for your way and you gotta move on, gotta move on…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Moisty’s latest solo album.

According to Timothy White, the late Rolling Stone magazine writer, ska emerged around 1956 when Jamaican bands began covering American R&B hits and took the nuts and bolts of the sound and melded them with energetic jazz conceits.

Ernest Ranglin, the stellar jazz-rooted Jamaican guitarist who backed up Bob Marley’s Wailers told White that the word ska was coined by musicians “to talk about the skat! skat! skat! scratchin’ guitar strum that goes behind”.

For Moisty, ska is everything and his favourite band is The Skatalites – Jamaica’s premier ska band since 1964 who backed artists like Bob Marley, Toots and The Maytals, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe and most of the singers of the day.

“I was fascinated by the recordings of The Skatalites in the early 1960s and I used to spend a lot of time dissecting them – how the drums and bass worked and how the guitar was equalized. Then I put these parts into my practice,” he tells an RNZ radio interview sometime back.

“I also went to Jamaica to see the big studios like Randy’s [run by Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin] and Tuff Gong [founded by Bob Marley], and I told myself wow, I’m hooked,” he adds.

Japanese catman Moisty Atsushi could be here to stay, in Phnom Penh.

“It’s so easy to get gigs here, unlike Bangkok. This city is like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Everyone’s so welcoming. I love it here,” he tells the crowd in Tacos Kokopelli.

Moisty’s “skaAcoustic” CD is available for $5 at the venues where he performs.

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