My post from last August entitled "10 Asian Bands You Should Know" was one of my most popular - popular enough that I felt compelled to write a follow-up post on the same subject. For one, the research that went into writing it unearthed far more than ten candidates, requiring some culling, and since then I've stumbled over countless others, making the original ten seem like a paltry representation of the musical cream of a continent that's home to over half of humanity. So here we go with Part 2.
Notice the slight change of title. I opted to open things up to include solo artists, as the term 'band' is unnecessarily limiting. I've also done my utmost to cover countries that weren't included in last year's list. Here we go again!
1. Faiza Mujahid
Origin: Lahore, Pakistan
Recommended for fans of: Karen Zoid, Lily Allen, Cyndi Lauper, Sarah McLachlan
Paralleling Malala Yousafzai's emergence as a global figure in the fight for women's rights has been the emergence of Pakistan's new leading lady of rock music, Faiza Mujahid. Born and raised in the musical hothouse of Lahore, home to icons such as the late Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Sufi rock legends Junoon (a band often referred to as the U2 of Pakistan), the young star has quickly become a fixture on Pakistani TV and radio thanks to her catchy pop-rock anthems and her promotion of women's rights through her music. Her latest single 'Uth Oye' ("Wake up") was accompanied by a critically acclaimed video by Pakistani filmmaker Fatima Shah, which features literacy crusader Farah Deeba, acid attack victim Sabira Sultana and the members of Pakistan's national women's field hockey team in one of the most triumphant feminist music videos in recent memory.
Origin: Taipei, Taiwan
Style: Thrash Metal
Recommended for fans of: Sepultura, Slayer, Lamb of God
As I noted in my original Asian band post last summer, Taiwan's complicated and often traumatic history and its present-day crisis of identity have helped engender a diverse and vibrant modern music scene. Of the island's musical exports, none have achieved the notoriety of Taipei's premier thrash-metal hellraisers Chthonic. Founded in 1995, Chthonic combines heavy metal theatrics with lyrics in Mandarin, Japanese and a handful of Aboriginal Taiwanese languages and incendiary political messages and have courted their share of controversy over the years. (Their antics have included burning the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) flag in commemoration of the 2/28 Massacre of 1947.) Outspoken in their advocacy of Taiwanese independence from China, land rights for Taiwan's Aboriginal tribes, Tibetan and Uyghur liberation, feminism (bassist Doris Yeh is a noted women's rights activist) and animal rights, Chthonic have been banned from mainland China on multiple occasions, while their popularity - in China and elsewhere - continues to rise.
Heavy metal may not be able to bridge one of Asia's most protracted geopolitical impasses, but at least it's worth a try. And given this band's uncanny ability to broach topics that have long been taboo in the region, Chthonic might just be the ones to lead the way.
3. Miila and the Geeks
Origin: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Punk, No-Wave, Riot Grrrl
Recommended for fans of: Bikini Kill, X-Ray Spex, PJ Harvey, Cibo Matto
The girl-punk scene in Tokyo and Osaka still appears to have plenty of life to it. Among its latest exponents are Shibuya kids Miila and the Geeks, who consist of vocalist-guitarist Moe Wadaka, drummer Kaoru Ajima and saxophonist Ryota Komori. Sound-wise they're an amalgam of Stooges-era garage rock, late-seventies No Wave punk in the spirit of DNA and Teenage Jesus, the Olympia, Washington scene of the early nineties that gave the world Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney and the rest and a dose of Shibuya-kei glam. Komori's sax gives the band a sound akin to vintage X-Ray Spex, while Wadaka's sexy vocals are reminiscent of a young PJ Harvey. A relatively new addition to the Tokyo music scene, Miila and the Geeks have cultivated a strong following in Japan but have yet to branch out overseas. Time will tell if they can follow in Cibo Matto's footsteps.
Origin: Hong Kong, China
Style: Hip Hop
Recommended for fans of: Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Kanye West, Eminem
Tong Sung-ching, aka MastaMic, is a one-man machine dedicated to raising the bar for Cantonese language hip hop and gaining respectability for the Hong Kong scene. Active since 2005, the 28-year-old MC has already been dubbed Hong Kong's "Freestyle King" and is currently the city's best known rapper. In addition to his prodigious rapping talent, MastaMic has also earned recognition for his scene-building activities, namely the establishment of the 'Justice League' - a motley assortment of musicians, break dancers and graffiti artists - and Hong Kong's first hip hop news community at www.urbanation.hk. While rap in Asian languages may not yet have earned respectability outside the region, Cantonese rap is certainly no longer considered a joke in Asia's World City. And much credit is due to this guy for fighting on its behalf.
Origin: Thiruvananthapuram, India
Style: Alt-Rock, Jam Rock
Recommended for fans of: The Police, Phish, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Asian Dub Foundation
Rock music in India has long enjoyed an outsized following in the country's southern states, with prosperous southern cities like Bangalore and Chennai being home to sizeable indie rock scenes. Of Kerala's current crop of bands, the most celebrated has been the Thiruvananthapuram-based band Avial - a name taken from the state's signature spicy vegetable curry dish. Founded in 2003, the quartet of vocalist Tony John, guitarist Rex Vijayan, drummer Mithun Puthanveetil and bassist Binny Isaac stands out among south Indian rock bands for their almost exclusively Malayalam-language material and their infectious blend of traditional melodies, rich politically charged Malayali poetry and hooky jam rock. Their name perfectly captures their sound: rich, complex, sometimes fiery but always delicious.
Origin: Ampang, Malaysia
Style: Alt-Rock, Post-Punk
Recommended for fans of: We Are Scientists, The Killers, Deadmau5, Manic Street Preachers
Censorship notwithstanding, Malaysians are still a musical bunch and there are plenty of bands around, especially in cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur. Among the most celebrated bands at present is the KL quartet Pesawat ('Airplane'), whose punchy, bilingual (Malay and English) indie rock anthems have gained them a substantial following both at home and in neighbouring Indonesia, and earned them a spot at the 2010 Music Matters festival in Hong Kong alongside Jason Mraz and other international headliners. The band's love of all things aviation-related is a tad awkward in the wake of their country's worst ever air disaster, but their musical chops are undeniable. It will be interesting to see, though, if they lose the aviation fixation in light of the MH370 tragedy.
Origin: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Style: Hardcore Punk, Deathcore
Recommended for fans of: Slipknot, Murderdolls, Napalm Death
While Pol Pot has been dead for a decade and a half now and the Khmer Rouge are long gone, the colossal blow to Cambodia's cultural life that they dealt is one the country is still struggling to bounce back from. Cambodia remains an extremely poor country, and even in Phnom Penh musicians struggle to make ends meet. That said, there are signs of a musical renaissance in the country, particularly within the capital city's hardcore punk scene, with a new crop of fierce young bands like No Forever, the Anti-Fate and Sliten6ix giving voice to some of the country's pent-up anger. Of these, deathcore band Sliten6ix has garnered the most attention for their extreme sounds and confrontational lyrics. If there's any band active in Cambodia today that truly encapsulates this traumatized country's lingering pain and anguish, it's these guys.
Style: Death Metal, Black/Pagan Metal
Recommended for fans of: Children of Bodom, Burzum, Dimmu Borgir, Tengger Cavalry
More recently, Lion City has seen the rise of a small but significant heavy metal scene, spawning a . Singapore's metal community stands out not only for its energy but also for its ethnic diversity, and appears to have an outsized following among the youth in the city's Malay and South Asian minorities. Of Singapore's recent metal exports, the two most electrifying acts are the terrifying grindcore ensemble Wormrot, who have gained substantial international exposure thanks to a recording contract with the British label Earache (of Napalm Death and Carcass fame) and the hypnotic 'Vedic Metal' group Rudra. Originally formed back in the days of LCHC in 1992, the Indo-Singaporean band is the South Asian answer to the Viking Metal of Scandinavia, combining Indian classical sounds with Sanskrit Vedic literature with brutal death metal riffs.
Singapore may be a world away from Oslo or Reykjavik, but the spirit captured by Rudra is much the same as that of their Nordic counterparts. It's as though there's a direct correlation between orderly, law-abiding societies and thriving death metal scenes.
Origin: Moscow, Russia
Style: Space Rock, Post-Rock
Recommended for fans of: Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Magma, Mogwai
In the early 1990s the Tuvan Republic's iconic kargyraa throat singing enjoyed a period of world music cachet thanks to albums by Philip Glass, Kronos Quartet and others. In the meantime, exiled Tuvan folk rocker Albert Kuvezin joined forced with renowned Russian electronic composer Ivan Sokolovsky to form the band Yat-Kha (named after a distinctive Tuvan-style zither), a unit that remains one of the Russian Federation's most innovative rock bands. Combining throat singing with synth and guitar-driven space rock reminiscent of vintage Hawkwind, Yat-Kha has over the past few decades featured a rotating cast of premier musicians from the Tuvan region and elsewhere and earned plaudits from the likes of Brian Eno and Russian music journalist Artemy Troitsky, who famously lauded Kuvezin as one of "two unique voices on earth" together with Luciano Pavarotti.
Unlike Pavarotti, Kuvezin is still around, as is Yat-Kha - still channelling Tuva's ancient traditions into the 21st century.
10. Side Effect
Origin: Yangon, Myanmar
Style: Alt-Rock, Pop Punk
Recommended for fans of: Green Day, Blink 182, Foo Fighters....aw hell, anyone likes to see rock 'n' roll triumph over totalitarianism!
It may well be that a decade of Metallica, Motley Crue and Coldplay knock-offs have paid off in grand style in Myanmar, as the country has seen a veritable explosion of homegrown rock music since its military rulers began loosening their grip in 2012. Myanmar's long deeply underground punk scene is now so prominent that a German film crew recently shot a documentary about the scene, entitled Yangon Calling. Of this new generation of angry young Burmese bands, the one that's garnered the most international attention thus far has been Side Effect, a Yangon-based pop-punk unit who have successfully crowdfunded their way to the 2014 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas - a triumphant first for a Burmese band. Based on their sound, one can only imagine they've paid their dues in Yangon bars doing Blink 182 and Green Day covers, but their exuberance is that of a country taking its first tentative steps into democracy. Chee kyu ba de, boys - you've made it!