Music for Music: Fernanda Takai
Fernanda Takai: Toy Instruments, Real Music
By Dan Ursini © 2017
I first heard of Fernanda Takai, the Brazilian-Japanese vocalist and musician, one day on YouTube, trying to check on guitarist Andy Summers. He is the ultimate journeyman, with a career that began in the late sixties with Eric Burdon and the Animals and which peaked in the eighties with the Police. He’s great at partnering and his 2012 partnership with Takai resulted in some of the best music of his career. They did an album, Fundamental, whose title track is a masterful blend of Brazilian music styles since the dawn of bossa nova. Takai’s warm, confident vocal centers and completes the song and the album.
Takai’s career is one of considerable ambition conveyed in surprising terms. She fronts a group, Pato Fu, whose music synthesizes rock, reggae, and pop from all over, presented straight and clean as their “Eu Era Feliz” demonstrates.
Takai’s singing is always serene, measured, and honest. She is so musically adept she can accommodate any kind of music with this style. Of course, she sings in Portuguese. I regret that I don’t understand it. But that does not diminish my pleasure in the music. Like a lot of people, I grew up listening to songs like the Stone’s “Satisfaction” where the title was the only word I could figure out. I have always had faith that the meaning of the song penetrates through the music.
A few years ago, Takai and her band shot off in another direction, releasing an album done with toy instruments. They have since done much music using tiny guitars, basses, keyboards, and mallet instruments. Some of the results are astonishing, especially their version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
This song has rarely been copied since Queen released it in 1975 because it was the last word in a musical category that Freddie Mercury also invented: prog/glam/metal/opera/theater. Plus they did 180 overdubs. Hard to match.
Takai and her band take this song on a long gentle flight elsewhere, one that evokes Christmas and carnival and hobby shops.
There’s theater, but it’s children’s theater—with hand puppets doing comic vignettes. Takai’s vocal expresses a poignancy implicit in the lyrics that the original version bypassed.
This is music that reaches across all the usual limits of culture and language and age. Fernanda Takai is that rare musical visionary with an all-ages following.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: email@example.com
Fernanda Takai photo credit: 26 Premio da Musica Brasileira