What’s on my Cherry Blossom Playlist?

A personal exploration of the music history behind my favorite songs for spring!

Sareena Dubey

Set to the backdrop of billowing cherry blossom petals and a Tidal Basin burgeoning with people, Masayoshi Takanaka’s song “Beleza Pula” interrupts the peace with the sharply spoken phrase “Beleza Pula, Malandro!” The distinct birdlike sound of the cuica contrasts with the soft background vocals which trail the upbeat melody formed by the percussion and strings. Suddenly, the vocalists quiet, and the beat of the surdo drum steadies in anticipation of the electric guitar. Tanaka’s Yamaha SG guitar slices through the bountiful medley of instruments amplifying the melody. “Beleza Pula” is truly a wonder considering how it came to fruition in the 1970s from a Japanese musician’s foray into the world of Brazilian music. It’s a perfect song for my curated collection of designated cherry blossom viewing music: an assemblage of groovy tunes with interesting backstories. In this article, I will delve into some of my favorite songs for this special time of year, along with the stories of how they came to be–starting with Takanaka’s fascinating journey toward the creation of “Beleza Pula.”

Masayoshi Takanaka was born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan. He began informally playing in bands as a teenager in the greater Tokyo area, even wearing his school uniform to one of his stand-in gigs. Takanaka started his professional career in 1971, playing guitar for pioneering progressive rock bands in Japan like Sadistica Mika. He began his solo career in 1976 after Sadistica Mika split and released his first album, Seychelles the same year. The sound of Seychelles is tropical in essence and traverses between the genres of rock and jazz. Takanaka followed that tropical sound to Brazil in his fourth studio album Brasilian Skies, released in 1978. He traveled to Rio de Janeiro to record a portion of the album, which marries the sounds of bossa nova, samba, jazz, and rock. At times the album can feel somewhat contrived, but it is part of its charm. Takanaka is not a trained jazz musician, nor does he feign to be one. Instead, on Brasilian Skies, he created an eclectic mix of sounds that subverts expectations of genre. “Beleza Pula” is the first song on the track. Another upbeat song I would recommend in the spirit of cherry blossom viewing is called “Sweet Agnes,” which comes from Takanaka’s 1977 self-titled album. 

The next song on my list is “Guarde Minha Voz” by Sandra de Sá. The cheerful cadence of “Guarde Minha Voz” pairs well with Sá’s deep vocals. The song is a part of Sá’s exploration of Brazilian boogie funk in her Vale Tudo album produced in 1983. This incredible record included the participation of influential musicians such as Serginho Trombone, Claudio Stevenson, and Tim Maia. All artists of the música popular brasileira genre which tailed bossa nova and incorporated Brazilian regional music with pop, funk, jazz, and rock. Sá’s discography demonstrates her willingness to experiment with genre and style, which led her to move away from this style after completing this album. Therefore, this album represents a unique phase in Sá’s music career as well as an essential part of the Brazilian boogie funk genre. Honorable mentions from this record include “Trem da Central” and “Vale Tudo,” the namesake of the album. 

“G Blem Di” by Togolese singer, Akofa Akoussah is an upbeat folky song with a funky twist. The trumpet playfully interacts with the Akoussah’s smooth voice similar to a duet. The song was produced on her self-titled album which was recorded for release in 1976. The album features a range of songs from slower ballads like “I Tcho Tchass” to upbeat funky tunes like “Tango.” Akoussah’s musical journey began at an early age led by her mother and older sister. In her late adolescence, Akoussah worked with local groups including Rocka Mambo. Akoussah’s career blossomed in the late sixties when she connected with famous musicians and artists such as Bella Bellow and Ambroise Ouyi.  Most recognizably, Akoussah collaborated with the legendary Manu Djibango on an album in 1986 titled “Manu Invite… Akofa Akoussah.” Akoussah was also well-known for her advocacy and social work. Prior to her death, she was the president of the National Union of Artists and Musicians of Togo. 

The last song I want to introduce on this list is “Hanen” by the Tunisian band Carthago. Hanen was originally released in 1979, but was recently rereleased by the record label Habibi Funk in 2016. Hanen is a groovy fast-past track with dreamy vocals that is sure to elicit at least a foot tap even from tepid listeners. It is a wonderful mixture of traditional Tunisian rhythms with Western Disco and Funk influence. Carthago was created in the 1970s after the demise of the musical groups Daltan and Marhaba Band. The band grew a following playing across Tunis and Sousse. Their more popular song “Alech” is also worth mentioning. 

Before the quickly-nearing end of cherry blossom season, I hope some of you find the time to listen to one or two of these springtime tunes!  The playlist of all the songs mentioned throughout this article is linked below.​​https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHXA68nX1O0ZNJOl3nfUzxfnNh8O_Y64W

Image: Album cover, Masayoshi Takanaka, Brazilian Skies, 1978

Sareena Dubey is an M.A. student in the Global, International, and Comparative History program. Her focus is on long-term immigrant settlements in the West originating from South and Southeast Asia.  Her research specifically explores the resulting cultural practices, intra-ethnic hierarchies, social movements, and outside interventions on and within these communities. In her free time she enjoys collecting records, and cuddling with her dachshund called Disco.

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