Formed by two Japanese women – Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori – in the early '90s, the band’s moniker translates loosely to “crazy food” in Italian and is pronounced CHEE-bo MAH-toe. Honda and Hatori were both born in Japan, moving to New York in their youth to pursue different interests such as art and cuisine, but found themselves immersed in the city’s burgeoning underground music scene. The two met while working with punk band Leitoh Lychee, and went on to form their own legendary duo.
The band is truly eclectic, a hybrid of hip hop, rock, funk, and more. In Japan, it’s often classified as Shibuya-kei, a genre blending jazz and pop music, originating from the trendy Shibuya district of Tokyo.
Although well-known in Japan, Cibo Matto found most of its success right here in New York City. The band grew popular as they navigated the music scene with their trademark kooky lyrics, spunky courage, and undeniable talent.
As a half-Japanese woman myself, I’m enamored by Hatori and Honda – their ability to overcome stereotypes associated with Asian women, to just go out there and do their thing, is immensely groundbreaking and admirable.
For example, Cibo Matto is known for singing about food, especially on their debut Viva! La Woman. Their wacky food lyrics are metaphoric in nature, penned by Honda because she struggled to express herself lyrically in English. By using food symbolically, she was able to communicate more complex emotions with a simpler vocabulary. This resourcefulness in the face of unfamiliarity shows how ingenious Cibo Matto really is. Ingenious and hilarious:
"Licking finger, I wondered, ‘Where she got the chicken?’/ I know my chicken, you got to know your chicken," Honda sings earnestly on their aptly-titled single, "Know Your Chicken."
Their most famous track, "Sugar Water," is accompanied by a brilliant video directed by Academy Award-winning Michael Gondry (he wrote the screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!). It plays out like a visual palindrome, with a split-screen showing the same footage, one playing forwards and the other backwards, only to meet smack dab in the middle.
As the band gained prominence, Hatori and Honda started collaborating with other incredible musicians like the Beastie Boys and the Gorillaz. They nabbed a guest spot on none other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even joined Sean Lennon (son of Yoko and John) for their second release, Stereo ★ Type A, their latest album to date.
Sadly, Cibo Matto broke up for a 10-year period – but came back together after the March 2011 earthquake that shook Japan, participating in a variety of benefit concerts for the victims.
They’re currently in the process of putting together a third album, but in the meantime I’m content listening to their old songs and getting super jazzed for their set at the BUST birthday bash!
Make sure you get your tickets, ‘cuz it’s going to be a night to remember (seriously, check out the full line-up here) – and you’re going to want some seconds of birthday cake.