We’re back from a brief hiatus (I went to Canada, it was lovely, thanks for asking) and today, we have a crash course in the genre of enka! Featuring a rising star in the genre, Jero.
Stage Name: Jero (ジェロ)
Real Name: Jerome Charles White Jr.
Years Active: 2008 – Present
Choice Tracks: 嘘泣き (“Uso Naki”/”Fake Crying”) (2010), 海雪 (“Umi Yuki”/”Ocean Snow”) (2008), ただ・・・涙 (“Tada…Namida”/”Just…Tears.”) (2011)
First, a quick rundown of what this “enka” stuff is. Taking shape in postwar Japan and rising in popularity during the 1960s, modern enka (not to be confused with the original 19th century “enka”) is typically a sentimental ballad littered with throwbacks towards traditional Japanese culture and styles – Female enka singers will typically perform in a kimono and the gents will be dressed sharply – and the music will often feature traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen. Not to say that the music is restricted to traditional instruments; modern guitars and synths will make an appearance. Themes in enka often include emotional topics such as love, loneliness, bearing through troubled times, death, and hardship. You can also expect random references and comparisons to nature in the lyrics. Although, it’s perhaps easier for you to listen rather than have me explain. As such, here’s our first track: 嘘泣き. That’s “Uso naki” or “Fake Crying” to you and me.
Now, onto Jero himself. As you might have guessed, he’s not originally from Japan. Shocker, I know. Hailing from Pittsburgh in the USA, the young Jerome discovered the genre thanks to his Japanese grandmother and fell in love with the genre, promising her that he’d one day be a famous enka singer. As he grew up he continued to study Japanese and after graduating from university in the US, Jerome became an English teacher and computer engineer in Japan. Soon, after participating in a number of talent shows and singing competitions, Jerome was spotted by a talent scout and signed by an agency. His first single – 海雪 (“Umi Yuki”/”Ocean Snow”) – released in 2008, reached number 4 in the charts. With hints of hip-hop culture blended seamlessly into the song, “Umi Yuki” brought a new – younger – audience to the world of enka.
My final choice track is 2011’s ただ・・・涙 (“Tada…Namida”.) “Just…Tears” is a powerful track, in which feelings of sorrow coming straight from the heart can be heard both in the lyrics and in Jero’s voice itself. It highlights just how good a singer Jero is – such emotion flows from his voice with only a piano for accompaniment for the majority of the song. Additionally, it’s a song that allows me to highlight that enka is serious stuff for grown-ups.
Next time! The complete opposite of serious stuff for grown-ups. (Probably!)
Official Website: http://jero.jp/ (Japanese)
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeroenka (Japanese & English)