Blame It On The Bossa Nova

February 11, 2021 By mk

Music takes an important role in Murakami’ life and novels.

Last week, Murakami gave an interview on Shukan Asahi Magazine and said “This is a difficult time, as the world faces the pandemic. However, at any time, people need something they can enjoy.” and noticed that he would host a live radio show on this Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2021) entitled “Murakami Jam ~ Blame It On The Bossa Nova”; Tokyo FM will stream it with English subtitles on the next day.


Murakami chose Bossa Nova because it is sophisticated and suitable for Valentine’s Day. He is a big fan of bossa nova since he was young.

When he was a high school student, he bought “Getz/Gilberto,” one of the most outstanding bossa nova albums played by Stan Getz, João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim. According to Murakami, “The miracle happened at that time, not a moment before, not a moment after.”

In the interview, Murakami said “When I wrote a text, the first thing I do is rereading it by myself. If the text doesn’t flow musically, I don’t like it. If the text lacks a rhythm, I will rewrite. As text without musical flow is not easily readable, I revise the text many times until the text flows without resistance, then finish it.”

In Norwegian Wood, Reiko played Bossa Nova two times and change the feeling tone of the characters.

After telling her desperate story with her student and wishing rain poured, Reiko played Bossa Nova.

Reiko went back to her cigarettes and pulled the guitar out from under her bed and started to play—first, “Desafinado” and “The Girl from Ipanema,” (Norwegian Wood, Ch.6)

After one-month travel and devastated days of Watanabe, Reiko visited him and played Bossa Nova.

she picked it up, adjusted the tuning, and played Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado.” It had been months since I had last heard Reiko’s guitar, and it gave me the old, warm feeling. (Norwegian Wood, Ch.11)

In Sputnik Sweetheart, bossa nova was naturally embedded in a daily scene; Sumire and K listened as BGM at an ordinary coffee shop.

From the small speakers on the ceiling of the coffee shop, Astrud Gilberto sang an old bossa nova song. “Take me to Aruanda,” she sang. I closed my eyes, and the clatter of the cups and saucers sounded like the roar of a far-off sea. Aruanda—what’s it like there? I wondered. (Sputnik Sweetheart, Ch.2)

In the 1990s in Tokyo, setting time of Sputnik Sweetheart, bossa nova was revived in club music movement. Unlike the time of Norwegian Wood in the 1960s, the names of the places sang in bossa nova became a realistic holiday destination for young people.

In 1997, Murakami published “Portrait in Jazz” essay collection. One of my favourites in this book is on Horace Silver’s “Songs for my father”; Murakami’s memory with his girlfriend when he was a high school student.

She said, “That’s a nice jacket,” even though she wasn’t particularly interested in jazz. It was autumn, the sky was clear, and the clouds were so high up that we had to strain our eyes to see them. I even now remember it well. Buying this record must have left a solid impression on me.

I treated the records with as much, if not more, care than my girlfriend. I touched them, smelled them, and stared at them for as long as I could. To me, each record was a treasure, like a precious ticket to another world. No matter how good the music inside is, people today probably don’t hug the plastic case of a CD (Do they?).

It is beautiful. We can still read it as if it is part of his novel. I like his way to record such beautiful memories that many people had had in the previous century, without annoying nostalgia but just as a simple sketch of daily life.

In the 2005 essay collection “It Don’t Mean A Swing (If It Ain’t Got That Thing)”, Murakami wrote Stan Getz had “happy encounter” with bossa nova in the process of his continuous devotion to pursuing a utopian landscape that nobody had seen before, after the tough time due to conflicts with the world.

The happy encounter happened as an unexpected side effect of Charlie Byrd’s journey; the US government sent Byrd to South America to promote American music in 1961. The trip made great historical outcome with the bossa nova records that Byrd brought back from Brazil. Byrd introduced them to Getz and Getz liked it. Then things happened.

This episode encourages us to convince that happiness can come in an unexpected way. That would be what Murakami tried to give a message with bossa nova at this difficult time; regardless we hug a record or not.

For Murakami Jam, Murakami stated “60 years have passed since its birth, bossa nova is now played like a lingua franca. Not only in Brazil, but each country also has its own bossa nova and we see special charms and interpretations in bossa nova played by Japanese artists.”

Murakami Jam will be hosted by Murakami with Miu Sakamoto (vo) featuring Junko Onishi (p) Group, Lisa Ono (vo), Kaori Muraji (gt) and Yosuke Yamashita (p) as a special guest.

To start the project, Murakami contacted his friend, Junko Onishi to ask for music direction. She is one of the most talented jazz pianists in Japan. In Absolutely on Music, the conversation with Seiji Ozawa in 2011, Murakami said “I’m a big fan of Junko Onishi. The quality of her play and that of other young Japanese jazz musicians is tremendously high.”

Lisa Ono is a Brazil-born bossa nova singer and has released more than thirty albums since 1990. Murakami said: “I am a fan of her. She brings the air of Brazil“.

Kaori Muraji is a classical music guitarist. Murakami said: “I really look forward to listening to how the classical music guitarist plays at bossa nova session; she plays melodies like singing a song“.

Yosuke Yamashita is regarded as a legendary jazz pianist in Japan and known with his piano style. Now aged 78, he still influences many musicians of younger generations.

Miu Sakamoto is a singer and radio personality of Murakami Radio Show. Her name, coincidentally the same as the character in Sputnik Sweetheart, is named after “mutant” by her father, Ryuichi Sakamoto. In 2013, she sang Desafinado in the tribute album to Getz/Gilberto.

Valentine’s Day is originally a Christian holy day. However, it is accepted without a religious context in Japan. So, there would be no religious ritual in Murakami Jam, but be with good music and talk by the author.