Jero, I quickly discovered, is actually Jerome White--a 26 year-old enka singer from Pittsburgh. What's enka? you might well ask. Well, it's a very traditional style of Japanese music featuring strong vocals and heavy emotional expressions. Like most things Japanese, the lyrics are focused on Mother Nature's four seasons and, of course, human love. Singing enka also requires certain voice and facial inflections that are revered by the audience when a singer produces them, and Jero seems to have them down.
Jero (who, it turns out, has a Japanese grandmother) not only sings enka but also speaks Japanese. On his YouTube videos you can watch the Japanese hosts of a television show exclaim in surprise, "Sugoi!" when he opens his mouth and spills out Japanese answers to their Japanese questions. I'm no expert in the language (I'm limited to endless nouns and a few verbs), but he sounded authentic to me. At least his pronunciations were pretty good.
So, what's all the fuss about this young man? For one, Jero is African American. Or, at least he's 3/4 since his mother is half Japanese. Dressed like a hiphop artist, Jero bursts from a graffiti decorated background, but instead of exclaiming "yo this and yo that", he croons with authority and integrity in one of the Japanese' favorite singing styles. It's to his credit that Jero could've been just another rapper, but early on felt a strong connection to his Japanese roots and embraced them. I imagine the boys in his 'hood might've laughed at him had they known what he yearned to sing. After all, don't all young black men rap?
Whether he caught flak for his musical choice or not, Jero has the last laugh. Right now in, he's a huge hit in Japan where he currently lives.
I'd love to post a pic of him here, but the only ones I have access to are copyrighted. So, just take my word that he is one cutie-pie. Besides, you should check out his videos. Just go to YouTube and search for Jero. Anyway, the closest image I could come up with is one of me posing with singer Brian McKnight's brother, Frederick, while we were in Seattle in 2000. I know, it's a stretch, but my story needed visuals.
Hey, thanks to Michelle at the World War II War Brides Association and Eriko for sending me Jero clips. Thanks also to Derrick Holmes for providing additional information like how the Japanese call him J-Lo.
Your Hip Hapa,