Although enka began as a form of agitprop or protest music, it evolved into blues post-WWII. Today, with the advent of J-pop (sadly, in my opinion) enka is no longer the prevailing musical form in Japan although it’s still hugely popular. Here's more info:
If you’re ever fortunate enough to watch the NHK amateur singing contest, Nodojiman, you’ll notice how the mostly elderly audience responds to anyone singing enka--whether they stay on key or sound flat. Recently, American expat Jero-san (Jerome White, pictured above) became a huge enka sensation in Japan not only because he’s mostly black, but because he’s also a young kid who dresses with a hiphop flair and speaks fluent Japanese. Another youngish kid, Hikawa Kiyoshi (above right), is called the Prince of Enka and is a darling among the elderly. One of my favorites is Mizumori Kaori (below) who likes to toss her arm around like she’s brandishing a samurai sword.
Q: Roger, what's a nice white guy like you doing promoting cross-cultural connections?
A: I have European ancestry from all over, which is pretty common. As a young boy of about five, I was drawn to Asian culture rather powerfully. One early experience at a restaurant influenced me greatly, and I asked my step-dad for a record of Asian music for my sixth birthday. He went to Boston and brought back a Chinese pop record, which I loved and still have to this day. Later in life as a teen, I watched the original broadcast of Shogun, where I was exposed to Japanese language for the first time. I was already doing many musical things at the time; singing, playing an instrument, and so on. The Japanese language sounded very musical to me. (I am probably the only person in the world who thinks that.) So I have been pursuing as much knowledge as possible about the language and its culture ever since.
Q: What attracted you to enka music, and particularly Sakamoto Fuyumi?
A: Being a singer myself, I was attracted to enka because it is very Japanese in its presentation and is a very disciplined vocal style, which is very difficult to do well. I discovered Fuyumi Sakamoto in 1990, when I lived in Los Angeles. They had some Japanese programs on the weekends, and I discovered her on an enka music program. I think that Fuyumi Sakamoto, in particular, is an incredibly talented, powerful singer. She is so emotionally connected to her music. Watching her, I get the strong impression that she is doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do. That is what attracted me to her.
Q: When did you create the fan club for Fuyumi, what are some of the events that you promote, and how can people join?
A: I like to post performances that I have enjoyed, and that I think others would as well. I also provide any information I can find about Fuyumi’s latest music, and so on. I have some photos on the page, with the permission of the fan club portion of her website. It was the first page or group of any kind for Fuyumi Sakamoto on Facebook. I am proud of that. It is called Fuyumi Sakamoto Fans In America. Anyone in the world can join; I would love to have thousands of members. Here is the link:
Q: Do you have other enka favorites?
A: I like Ayako Fujii and a few others as well.
Q: Do you watch Japanese TV programs like Nodojiman, NHK Song Concert or Kohaku Uta Gassen that promote Japanese singers?
A: I love Kohaku Uta Gassen and Enka No Hanamichi. I think most Japanese dramas and comedies are well done.
Q: Have you been to Japan?
A: I was there in 1992 for three weeks and celebrated my 26th birthday there. It was truly awesome. I wanted to stay.
Q: Do you speak Japanese? And, how familiar are you with cultural nuances of the Japanese?
A: I would say I am at an intermediate/advanced level, but I need opportunities to speak it more. I am very familiar with Japanese culture and think highly of some aspects of it.
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Until next time, here’s a shout-out to all my Hip Hapa Homeez! That's you!
Your Hip Hapa,