Japanese band Chai do a whole lot all at once.
In 2020, the quartet — made up of identical twins Mana (lead vocals and keys) and Kana (guitar), drummer Yuna, and bassist-lyricist Yuuki — watched the Black Lives Matter protests unfold half a world away. Yuuki crafted a set of direct chants, buoyant calls to action, and the rest of the band filled out the song with pulsing, electro-inspired music. Then the band took the tune, “Action,” and built a bright, frenetic, personal and single-take video to go with the song — see it on YouTube or at chai-band.com/global/
“This was all of Chai’s ‘Action shot’ in one take,” Mana said through a translator. “It was super fun with tons of moments from shouting to laughing. … We wanted to convey the ‘interesting’ and ‘fun’ behind the meaning of the word ‘Action.’ ‘Action’ is more than words.”
The video reveals a lot about the band. Chai will take on serious issues while being true to its art. That translates to songs and videos full of meaning and jerky dance hooks, chromatic flashes, joy, frenzy and a DIY aesthetic devoid of industry trends. The mix can be dizzying (get a dose of it when Chai performs Friday at the Sinclair).
Like the “Action” video, Chai exists on multiple levels. The band appeals to people who want to dance and shout like they were listening to a 22nd century version of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” The band also works if you want to climb up or down into those levels and explore how and why art works. For instance, Chai’s obsession with color gives the women a distinct look and it also dissects how cultures use color.
“In Japan, we often wear pink at a young age but gradually stop as we become adults,” Mana said. “It’s loud, bright and stands out, so it becomes a color that is hard to wear. But to us, pink is a special color.
“I never want to forget that feeling I held as a child when asked by mom, ‘What color did I like?’ and without hesitation answering, ‘Pink.’”
“Even if that’s a different color for you, I want people to confidently wear the color that they like,” she added.
The music echoes the messages in the images.
Listening to “In Pink,” from Chai’s 2021 album “Wink,” the track evokes innocent childhood pleasures and complex ideas. The locked-in groove and dreamy melody could come from a kid’s cartoon or a Spanish discotheque (or a lost P-Funk album). The simple refrain of “I know you said pink is too young/But I know you like this beat so much” speaks volumes.
A great route for falling for the band is going from the video for “Action” into the intricate beats, buzzes and hooks on “Wink” (truly genre free, the album is pop, disco, synthwave and art rock). But if you need one more video, try “Nobody Knows We Are Fun,” which means just what it says.
“To those who find society hard to deal with, it will be a waste if you miss out on knowing how much fun we are,” Mana said. “(That) was the feeling behind creating this song.”