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H2N Exclusive!! Tokyo-based Enka superstar JERO New York Interview

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H2N Exclusive! JERO New York Interview

Before the concert, Jero granted an interview to Harlem2Nippon. When asked, the Pittsburgh native told us that he prefers to talk in Nihongo.

Jerome White Jr. a.k.a. Jero is a handsome, polite, young African-American dresses in hip-hop outfits and sings in fluent Japanese. This is the story of how he became a nationally recognized Japanese celebrity beyond the world of music.

(Original interview was conducted in Japanese.)

H2N: You were born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the home of the famous African-American playwright August Wilson. Are you familiar with him?

Jero: Yes. I learned about him in school.

H2N: Your Japanese grandmother met your grandfather, an African-American U.S. Army soldier in Japan at the end of World War II. Then they married, had adaughter, Harumi who is your mother and eventually moved to your grandfather’s hometown, Pittsburgh. Were you aware of your Japanese heritage growing up?

Jero: Yes. I am proud of my Japanese heritage, even though it was only a quarter of who I am – it’s still apart of who I am, so I was always embraced it. As a boy, I used to go to my grandmother’s house to watch videotaped Enka performances from her native country and practice singing along. I learned her favorite song called “Echigo Jishi no Uta” by Enka legend, Misora Hibari and sang for her. She was so pleased.

H2N: Were you exposed to different kinds of music other than just Enka?

Jero: Of course, growing up in Pittsburgh, I also listened to a lot of R&B and hip-hop. One of my favorite artists is Luther Vandross.

H2N: When was the first time you realized that you could sing?

Jero: I never thought I could sing. I just want to become an Enka singer someday.

H2N: You were also into dancing?

Jero: Yes. I was active in the Black Dance Workshop and led my own choreography group in college.

H2N: In 2008 your debut single, “Umiyuki(Ocean Snow),” entered at No. 4 on the Oricon national pop chart in a week – the best performance ever for a debut Enka song. Music Critics say you have single-handedly reignited Japan’s interest in this traditional post-war music style. Did you feel like, “Yes, I’m gonna conquer the Enka world”?

Jero: No, not at all. I was singing in Karaoke contests until being contacted by Victor Entertainment. They were interested in me as a potential recording artist but also felt I needed continued vocal training.

H2N: Enka lyrics are deeply sentimental, often focusing on hardship, lost love and resilience and your amazing command of the language made it possible to express its emotion the way it is. What did you do to achieve this?

Jero: Thank you. I tried to listen to as many traditional Enka songs as possible. I dissected each song and tried to sing the way the original was sung. I always think of this music as the Japanese version of the blues. I could hear the way the music sounded so sad and emotional. You can see many Enka singers are so completely into their music. They are crying while singing onstage. That’s why I love Enka so much.

H2N: As an African-American, do you feel like you’re some kind of ambassador of U.S. culture in Japan, or do you feel these days like you’re bringing more Japanese culture back home through these international tours?

Jero: I definitely feel more of an ambassador of Japanese music to the U.S. I am constantly telling people what Enka is and how I came about singing it to friends and family. The funny thing is that I don’t get tired of it.

H2N: Our website, Harlem2Nippon tries to unite Japan (Nippon) and Harlem through extensive coverage of African-American music, art, dance, entertainment, culture and lifestyle. Your success in Japan is inspiring especially for young people in urban communities. How do you think you can help them?

Jero: I just would like them to know that I exist. Of course I want everybody to listen to my music but I am just letting them know what I did. My accomplishments as an Enka singer in Japan is enough.

H2N: You are a pioneer. You are the first American Enka singer who has become the first major performer to come from outside of Japan and achieve stardom.

Jero: No. Not really.

H2N: What other projects do you have in the works?

Jero: I put out a series of cover albums every year. Currently I’m working on “Jidai Geki Covers” which are scheduled to be released on July 4th. Last year, I had a live house tour at smaller venues featuring an all-genre theme. R&B, J-pop, jazz and Enka. Because of a lot of positive feedback, I will be doing another tour with the same theme. It gives my current fans and hopefully new ones an opportunity to hear me sing in English and other genres. I am also participating in the musical Tick, Tick…Boom! The musical was written by the creator of “Rent,”Jonathan Larson. The musical will feature two other Japanese cast members, starting in September.

H2N: Thank you.

JERO ニューヨーク初公演! 

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JEROインタビューを読む

ジェロNY初公演!@ Japan Society

アメリカの黒人なのに、日本人の誰よりも「日本の心」を大切にしている演歌歌手のジェロがニューヨークのジャパン・ソサエティで初ライヴを敢行しました。

当日のショーはソールド・アウトの大盛況。ニューヨーク地元のファンだけでなく、中にはジェロのライヴを見るためだけにネブラスカからわざわざやってきたというアメリカ女性などもいて、あらためてジェロの異常人気ぶりに驚ろかされました。

Jero Live Concert

そして、ステージに登場したジェロの衣装にまたびっくり。いつものヒップホップ・ファッションとちがい、光った襟のついた真っ青なスーツ姿はどことなくペンギンみたい。お辞儀のしかた、目線、曲の終わりの「ありがとうございます。」という丁寧な挨拶、すべてのしぐさが、私たち日本人よりもっとニッポンを感じさせます。

ジャパン・ソサエティで開催されたNY初ライヴは生バンドではなくカラオケで行われ、ダンサーやバック・シンガーもいないジェロの独演、ソロ・パフォーマンスを思う存分披露してくれました。舞台天井から吊るしたミラーボールの燦々とした輝きはまるで場末のディスコのよう、ニューヨークの街にいるとは思えないニッポンの哀愁が漂っていました。

Jero Live Concert

ライヴのソング・リスト

海雪(2008年のデビュー曲)

氷雨(1977年加山昭夫)

雪国(1977年吉幾三)

越後獅子の唄(1950年美空ひばり)

津軽平野(1984年千昌夫)

晴れ舞台(2008年ジェロ・オリジナル曲)

夜空(1973年五木ひろし)

待っている女(1972年五木ひろし)

夜明けの風(2012年ジェロ・オリジナル曲)

アンコール曲

上を向いて歩こう(1961年坂本九)

ライヴの後は、ふだんはあまりやらないという「ミート&グリート」にジェロ本人が駆けつけてくれ、CDを買ったお客さん全員にサインと握手の大サービス。収益金は全てジャパン・ソサエティ震災基金に寄付されるそうです。

 – 次回はJEROのエクスクルーシブ・インタビュー!!-

Pittsburgh-native, Tokyo-based Enka superstar JERO made his New York debut at Japan Society

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Pittsburgh-native, Tokyo-based Enka superstar JERO made his New York debut at Japan Society!

Jero (Jerome Charles White, Jr.) made his New York City convert debut on Saturday June 9th before a sold-out audience at Japan Society in Manhattan. He the first African-American Enka singer in Japan’s history, having been inspired into the genre by his Japanese grandmother. It has been said Jero has single-handedly reignited Japan’s interest in this traditional post-war music style known as Enka.

Jero appeared on stage wearing a blue suit featuring shiny white labels that reminded me of the lavish costumes worn by one of his favorite artists, the late American soul star Luther Vandross. He peerformed his own original songs as well as Enka classics made popular by  Misora Hibari and Itsuki Hiroshi among others.

Following the concert, fans enjoyed a rare meet-and-greet opportunity with Jero as he shook hands and autographed CDs. All proceeds from the sales will be donated to The Japan Earthquake Relief Fund established by Japan Society in the wake of 3/11.

Set List

Ymiyuki (Ocean Snow)

Hisame (Freezing Rain)

Yukiguni (Snow Country)

Echigo Jishi no Uta (Echigo Jishi’s Song)

Hare Butai (The Biggest Moment)

Yozora (Night Sky)

Mtteiru Onna (The Waiting Lady)

Yoake no Kaze (Dawn Wind)

Encore

Sukiyaki Song

 – Stay tuned for JERO’s exclusive interview by Harlem2Nippon!!

Jero ニューヨーク初公演!Let’s Enka! With Jero

Jero

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黒人演歌歌手、ジェロがニューヨーク初公演!!
ジャパン・ソサエティで
69日ライヴ
&トークを開催!

とうとう念願のジェロNY公演が実現します。2008年、日本で演歌歌手としてデビューした黒人がいると聞いたのはジェロの所属レーベル、ビクターの関係者からでした。「ジェロのおかげで演歌が見直され、今とても熱いんですよ。」と説明してくれたのですが、実際、テレビにも毎日のように出演していて日本国全体が盛り上がっていました。「演歌界の黒船」という異名をとっているとか…….。

私は演歌が苦手なほうですが、ジェロの歌声にはちょっと感動しました。ピッツバーグ出身のアメリカ人、ジェローム・ホワイト略して「ジェロ」の歌には日本の心があるのです。日本の心を、言葉を噛み締めながら切々と歌い上げます。日本のメディアも、「こぶしは本物!」と絶賛しています。そのジェロ本人のライヴ&トークがジャパン・ソサエティで開催されるので是非この機会にジェロ体験をしてみませんか。

伊藤弥住子

6月9日(土)7:30pm開演

チケット:一般$28/会員$22

詳細:ジャパン・ソサエティ

333 East 47th Street (bet. 1st & 2nd Ave.)   MAP

Box Office: (212) 715-1258 www.japansociety.org