" Vocalist Momo of Charan-Po-Rantan performs at the Japan Society in New York on October 29. Photo: AFP
Their head-to-toe cute factor brings to mind fellow crowd-pleasing Japanese musicians Dres Marcelo Brozovic Hrvatske , but for the two sisters who form Charan-Po-Rantan say their inspiration comes not from pop idols but the circus.

With songs driven by an accordion, Charan-Po-Rantan has created a sound that marries J-pop with klezmer, the festive music of Ashkenazi Jews, and the theatrical atmospherics of vaudeville.

Making their New York debut, the sisters in Charan-Po-Rantan - which loosely translates as sloppy - appeared in poofy dresses of wildly arranged fabric strips and matching purple and red top hats that could have come out of Dr. Seuss.

Charan-Po-Rantan represents in some ways an alternative to the alternative scene in Japan - the duo moves musically beyond the sugar-sweet keyboards of mainstream J-Pop but is even further removed from anything consciously hip, with the sisters unperturbed by stylistic comparisons to Disney.

""The number of people in underground circles has been growing in recent years (on the Japanese music scene), so it's easier now for people to get into music they didn't know,"" said Koharu Matsunaga, 26, the duo's accordionist and main songwriter.

""We don't see ourselves as out of the mainstream. We've been told before that the music is 'fantasy' or Disney; that may be how people see us, but we're not trying to chart that line,"" she told AFP.

Koharu - who carried an accordion-shaped handbag to the interview as her sister, 22-year-old singer Momo, brought along her ever-present toy stuffed pig with sewn buttons for eyes - said that Charan-Po-Rantan let its ideas flow freely, with no behind-the-scenes producer dictating their sound or look.

Koharu said that the sisters' mother designed their costumes and that the accordion first enticed her during a childhood trip to the circus. ""In the circus, there are lots of different people and nationalities all gathered together, so we wanted to make a band that encompasses a bunch of different genres and styles.""

No banal pop lyrics

The duo's New York debut, held Thursday night at the Japan Society, also displayed a playful touch of irony.

Momo explained to the crowd that the sisters wanted to play a Japanese game and then performed a vocal-and-accordion rendition of the theme from Super Mario, the classic video game of the Italian plumber.

Koharu, initially uninterested in lyricism, gradually started to write grimly about her personal life, including, as she says with a laugh, a repeated situation in the past of men hitting her up for money.

""I really disliked typical J-Pop because it was too straightforward and simple -- 'I like you,' 'I feel lonely,' 'I'm happy,'"" she said.


by Olatunji Saliu

ABUJA, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Colorful cultural performances, choreographed traditional dance, music, and art displays heralded the frenetic pace of activities at the opening of Africa's major arts and crafts expo in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja.

Ostensibly intended to show the strength and cultural diversity of Nigeria and Africa, the colorful opening session Tuesday was an all-comers affair.

Although for more than a week, the place had become a mecca of sorts for shoppers, mostly foreigners, the formal opening, held at the venue of the expo in the Abuja city center, was particularly ceremonious, attended by at least 17 African countries and 26 Nigerian states.

Tagged African Arts and Craft Expo 2017, the ongoing 20-day exhibition is said to be the largest in Nigeria.

It started a decade ago as a regional platform for the exchange of ideas and expertise in production, packaging, and marketing of indigenous arts and crafts.

Organized by the Nigerian Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC), the carnival-like opening session featured various art performances from different ethnic groups in Nigeria. It was attended by local officials, foreign diplomats, and exhibitors.

The expo, first held in 2008, usually attracts shoppers from all parts of the world to the most populous African country.

Shoppers at the expo are treated to various local and foreign music loudly oozing out of large sound systems planted in strategic locations of the expo venue.

Welcoming shoppers and dignitaries to the expo are a group of performers decked in the traditional Scottish Power Pipe Band costumes, donning the Nigerian national colors and dishing out traditional songs from their flutes.

Oluwatosin Nzube, a first-time shopper, said she was impressed with the local arts and crafts on display.

"Apart from that, I have made new local and international contacts here and I hope they will help my business to grow in future," Nzube said.

At least 20,000 to 30,000 arts and crafts enthusiasts from across the globeare expected to attend the expo.

So far, no fewer than 2,000 art lovers have been visiting the expo ground on a daily basis.

According to its organizers, the expo is expected to forge regional and continental exchanges, far-reaching economic activities, and people-to-people friendship and understanding.

Segun Runsewe, head of the NCAC, said the government agency was keen on reinventing the Nigerian economy far away from oil, its mainstay.

"We want to use culture to replace oil," Runsewe said.

He noted the colorful and well-attended exhibition would bring about adequate networking among art and culture enthusiasts, as well as open the window of Nigerian arts and craft to the world.

Exhibitors from Cameroon, Senegal, and The Gambia, among other African countries, displayed works of arts depicting their culture.

Antiques and other art works like painting, batik designs, woodworks, locally made shoes were richly displayed at the opening.

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