Nippon Hip Hop Nation – 2
Miss Hitoe from SPEED – Interview Part 1
I met Hitoe through a mutual friend while she was in New York City and I was immediately impressed by her passion for Hip-Hop dance, music and Black culture. She graciously granted me an interview for Harlem2Nippon.
H2N: SPEED made its debut while you were still in O.A.S. (Okinawa Actors Studios in Okinawa, Japan) in your early teens. Can you describe O.A.S. back then and who attended the school?
Hitoe: They were from young kids to young adults around 20-years old. We studied acting, singing, dancing and performing and we showcased our performances on stage every 3 months.
H2N: Why did you decide to attend O.A.S.?
Hitoe: I loved dancing since I was a little girl and I danced to then popular Brazil’s La Banda music every day. I came to know about FM Radio broadcasted by the American military base in Okinawa and listened to American pop music. I guess my aunt knew that I loved dance so she arranged the audition for O.A.S.’ gifted kids program. I felt so special and happy that a country girl like me could get dressed nice and commute to the studios in a big city (Naha City) even though it took me an hour to get there.
H2N: What made you want to be an entertainer?
Hitoe: It’s funny, I never thought about becoming an entertainer or anything. I just wanted to dance. I was blessed that I could do what I wanted to do. I thought, “I want to be a fashion designer” back then, but I wasn’t serious. I still can’t believe that I am a part of SPEED! When I was told that I was going to be a member of SPEED, the sense of responsibility weighed heavy on my 15-year-old mind. From then on I started to understand gradually what being an entertainer was all about.
H2N: Your dance and fashion style seems to reflect Hip-Hop influences from artists such as Aaliyah and TLC. Who you were inspired by?
Hitoe: My mother taught us, “Be yourself,” so I was drawn to unique and self determined artists. I was watching MTV a lot and I went to school with outrageous braided hair. At the time when I was in elementary school, Janet Jackson was so huge and we practiced New Jack Swing and Jazz dance. While we were at O.A.S. we were desperately searching for our own style. When we saw TLC, we fell in love with them. We had never seen the way they danced before and the way they moved with such a groove. It was shockingly fresh to us. We are like, “From now on our goal is to become the Japanese TLC.” Among other members I was drawn to Left Eye for her creative energy. I played their “Crazy Sexy Cool” album more than million times! It was so cooool! We imitated their dance moves. I also loved Aaliyah for her beauty because she was so mysterious sometimes and she possessed originality in dancing. In terms of dancing style, I also love Beyonce, Ciara and of course Miss Rhythm Nation, Janet Jackson! On a male side, Usher is my favorite artist as he knows how to show his talent as a dancer and performer. I was inspired by so many artists like Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Monica, Brandy……their fashion statements and artistic direction……. I love Black music in general and I listen to them all.
H2N: Did the members of SPEED ever criticize you for being too “Black”?
Hitoe: No way (lol.) Everybody in my group loves different kinds of music and style so it was OK that I was in a certain way. They accepted me for who I was. But one time when I changed my hair to an Afro for our music video shoot, “White Love,” my manager got furious! He almost fired me!! (lol). From that point on I became fearless!!! (lol). At the time, people were like, “Pop idol with Afro? Hell no!” but I thought an Afro was so sexy. Why not? I don’t understand why people wouldn’t get it.
H2N: I heard you are a professionally trained dancer. Did you take dance classes?
Hitoe: Yes. After we were signed we practiced with a choreographer. I was a really good dancer when I danced free style but I was having a hard time learning all the moves my choreographer taught me. I had to practice more than anybody else! We got a chance to appear as semi-regular performers on a TV show called “Yoru Mo Hippare” and while we were on that show I got the hang of it and got better. It was almost like taking a dance class every time we were on the show. I felt like I was in school even though that was a job. It was the good old days.
H2N: You are a principal dancer in SPEED. Which dancers or music videos inspired you?
Hitoe: That’s hard ‘cause it’s too many. As a group SPEED, our goal was to be like TLC and their “Creep” video was our learning material. We copied all the moves, even the way they dressed while rehearsing! The artists and videos I was personally influenced by include “Alright” by Janet Jackson which I tried to mimic the steps and choreography while I was still on O.A.S. “I Get Lonely” by Janet and “If Your Girl Only Knew” by Aaliyah were also my favorites. “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige was so street and I thought that was so hip-hop. “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher motivated me so much that I y danced really hard so that I could dance like him. He’s a great performer as well. I think I saw the new dance move called Harlem Shake when I saw Eve’s “Who’s That Girl.” I’m good at it. (lol). I love “Move Your Body – Official Video” by Beyonce ‘cause it has a strong Old School feel to it and has all the dance elements.
I got to know the dance crew named Elite-Force through a friend of mine. They are the best!! When I saw their dance video, I was kind of crushed that my dancing was nothing compared to them. If you don’t know them you should check out their “Wreckin’ Shop Live From Brooklyn – ALIVE TV.” Believe me, it changed my world. They are also featured on Mariah Carey’s “Honey (Bad Boy Remix)” featuring Puff Daddy, Mase & Jadakiss. Real cool!!
SPEED’s new album, 4 COLORES is being released on November 14. Please check it out!
(Interviewed by Yasuko Ito)
To be continued…….