Cibo Matto founders Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori made the world a smaller place by means of their swank and upbeat flair for combining international concepts and musical forms with charismatic results. The pair formed an act with an Italian name and flavored their recordings with juxtaposed French and broken English peppered with Spanish and Japanese. They borrowed likewise from Latin and African jazz rhythms along with whatever else suited the moment. Although each of the Japanese-born duo emigrated to the United States independently, they met by chance in New York City and joined forces. As their music evolved, they attracted the attention of respected musicians, including Beatle offspring Sean Lennon who came to be accepted as a defacto member of the group.
Cibo Matto co-founder and keyboardist Yuka Honda moved to New York City from Tokyo in 1987 as a result of a friendship that developed between her and Lounge Lizard member Dougie Bowne. The two met earlier in Tokyo when the Lounge Lizards performed there; they remained friends and eventually married and subsequently
Members include Miho Hatori (born in Japan;immigrated to the United States in 1993; former member of Kimidori); Yuka Honda (born in Japan; immigrated to the United States in 1987;former member of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials).
Debut release, “Birthday Cake,” 1995; signed with Warner Bros., 1996; released Viva! La Woman, 1996; released Stereotype A, 1999; tours: Europe and Japan; Lilith Fair, 1999; formed a second band, Butter 08, that included Mike Mills, and Russell Simins.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros. Records Inc., 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505-4694.
divorced. Upon her arrival in the United States, Honda blended easily into the musical society of the East Village. She performed at sit-in sessions and collaborated with Dave Douglas of Masuda; hip-hop artist Sha Key; John Zorn, and other prominent locals. Honda herself became a member of the acid jazz group Brooklyn Funk Essentials, and in time her musical aspirations evolved from keyboard styles to sampler experimentation. It was the sampler, a pseudo-instrument, that expanded Honda’s creative horizons. Critics noted that the essence of Honda’s compositional talent rests in her ability to employ the sampler as an instrument of itself. She effectively manipulates the machine into a workshop of sound, from which she develops the basis of her creative compositions. She later transposes the substance of each arrangement to the keyboard, and polishes the song for performance. Cibo Matto vocalist Miho Hatori was formerly a member of a Tokyo-based hip-hop and rap group called Kimidori. Additionally, she worked in a record store and as a DJ. She moved to New York City in 1993, and inevitably crossed paths with Honda because of their overlapping interests.
Prior to their individual moves to New York, Honda and Hatori had never met, although they did not live far apart even in Japan. They crossed musical paths in 1994 and began to work together under the name of the Leitoh Lychee (frozen lychee nut). As a duo the pair quickly connected with the locals of New York’s East (Greenwich) Village in their serendipitous quest to establish a unique niche in the music world. Even at the outset, the collaboration between Honda and Hatori was improvisational in nature, and punk jam in genre. Not surprisingly, their music caught the ear of the Village denizens, and as Leitoh Lychee gained popularity the two musicians reinvented their act under the name of Cibo Matto, which when translated from the Italian means “crazy food.” Food, according to Honda, was always a keyword for the duo, and she was quoted in Time as saying that the food thing evolved because “[W]e love to eat—it was a mutual obsession.” When they abandoned Leitoh Lychee and adopted a new name, the choice of Cibo Matto proved a comfortable fit.
Linguistics and cuisine notwithstanding, the words Cibo Matto quickly came to evoke the band’s unique affinity for “techno” improvisational styles. Essentially Hatori and Honda composed musical arrangements punctuated with clipped and broken narratives, meandering between French and English, with Spanish and Japanese ad lib inserted. Honda’s talent thrived as she set to developing intricate melodies to set off the song lyrics of her vocalist friend Hatori, who also performed jazz violin styles—sometimes in dissonance against Honda’s distorted jazz guitar. As their music evolved into a trade mark style, during the transitional time when Cibo Matto took shape, it was Hatori who attempted to write song lyrics in her non-native English and unwittingly spawned the duo’s trademark affinity for performing songs about food. Thus Hatori compensated for her poor English skills by building lyrical metaphors based on her favorite edibles. With her cultural roots in Japan, a country of highly evolved culinary traditions and one where international cuisine abounds, the food-related lyrics flowed easily for Hatori.
Improvisational jazz moods permeated Cibo Matto music in the mid-1990s as Hatori and Honda developed their uniquely detached and untempoed sound. In 1995 they released their first recording, a mini CD with five songs, including “Birthday Cake,” and the groups flagship food song, “Know Your Chicken.” The record, issued through a Japanese label called Error Records, also featured Bowne along with drummer Russell Simins of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The CD earned airplay and brought the pair sufficient recognition. By 1996, Warner Brothers signed the two musicians to a contract.
Hatori and Honda officially adopted the stage name of Cibo Matto in anticipation of their first album release on the Warner Brothers label. The album, called Viva! La Woman, featured classically trained funk keyboard artist Bernie Worrell, Bowne, and Lee of “Key,” among others. A follow-up European tour by the group helped to promote the release, which earned the musicians a following among collegiate aficionados and FM radio listeners in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Cibo Matto’s sound evolved and collaborative efforts expanded as the pair toured with Lennon and Simins. A mini CD followed, called “Super Relax,” issued under the Warner Brothers label, and in 1999 Cibo Matto released a second album, Stereotype A, cited by Arizona Republic as one of the “Top Musical Milestones” of 1999. Stereotype A features percussionist Duma Love with Timo Ellis on drums, and Cibo Matto’s perennial partner, Lennon.
Because of their many professional affiliations Hatori and Honda formed a second “food” band called Butter 08. Colleagues Simins and Lee joined them, along with bassist Mike Mills. Butter 08 contributed to the soundtrack for the movie Half Baked. Meanwhile Cibo Matto collaborations with Sean Lennon were so extensive that he gained public acceptance as a member of the group. Additionally, Honda collaborated behind-the-scenes with Lennon in producing his 1998 album, Into the Sun.
Although sex appeal is far from Cibo Matto’s agenda, the broken speech and lightness of tones combined to create a package that in many ways fit squarely with mainstream media’s projections of female sex appeal. With the release of their 1999 album, Stereotype A, Cibo Matto discarded some of the cutie-pie reputation and diminished the “food” obsession as well. Instead the pair came to be seen in a more serious vein, as musicians who take complete artistic control of their work and tend to every detail from editing to presentation while maintaining a reputation for acute perfectionism. The two share writing lyrics, mixing, producing, and performing. In essence they are full-service professionals whose efforts accomplish very unique results. The 1999 album not only dwelt less emphatically on cuisine but also veered from Cibo Matto’s earlier musical styles with the inclusion of highly spirited dance tunes.
In late spring and summer of 1999, Cibo Matto toured extensively on an itinerary that included a dozen shows in New York City to promote Stereotype A, followed by a Lilith Fair appearance in July. Cibo Matto’s plans for the summer of 2000 included an appearance at Perry Farrell’s benefit, Jubilee 2000, in West Hollywood, California. Through touring engagements Cibo Matto travels frequently to Japan and Europe. Additionally, Hatori and Honda accompanied Lennon’s mother, Yoko Ono, on a tour with the Tibetan Freedom Concert, and the duo has appeared elsewhere with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Patti Stipe, The Beastie Boys, and Natalie Merchant.
Hatori and Honda developed their style from a myriad of sounds to invent the unique and spontaneous Cibo Matto. In a Rolling Stone review at CDNOW, Arion Berger called the group “more levelheaded and masterful than their musical sisters,” such as Japanese girl groups Shonen Knife and Pizzicato Five. With bossa novarhythms, riffs, disco beats, even heavy metal, unpredictability became the byword of Hatori and Honda’s art—not with standing the whimsical food fixation that pervaded their first album. Assorted critics have noted their “quirky” nature, and “pastiche” along with their maturity.
Viva! La Woman, Warner Bros. Records, 1996.
Stereotype A (with Duma Love, Timo Ellis, and Sean Lennon), Warner Bros. Records, 1999.
Arizona Republic, December 30, 1999, p. 39.
Billboard, May 1, 1999, p. 13.
Fortune, June 21, 1999, p. 56.
People, June 7, 1999, p. 37.
Time, February 12, 1996, p. 79.
Vibe, June/July 1999, p. 194.
“Cibo Matto,” CDNOW, http://www.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/s..l/ArtistlD=CIB+MATTO/select=biography (February 6, 2000).
“Shibuya River Japan Gallery By: W. Dire Wolff,” available at http://www.wdirewolf.com/JapCibo3.htm (February 6, 2000).