“I’m obsessed by soul,” says Emi Tawata. “It’s the sound of a band with human emotions on their sleeves.”
And if it’s soul you’re after, the 25-year-old Okinawan singer has got plenty to go around—along with blues, jazz, R&B, and a seriously funky hairstyle. All are very much in evidence on her recently released debut album, Sings, which marks the end of a long ride that started with a street jazz band in Vancouver.
“All sorts of music have the power to heal and fascinate me,” she says. “Soul music was really illuminating. It’s a reminder to sing with all my heart and be thankful for everything. I’m always trying my best to express myself in such a respectful manner—with my own take on soul.”
Since her debut single, “Negai No Sora,” reached number one in the Okinawa indie charts in 2007, Tawata has been steadily building her profile and fine-tuning her captivating live performance, as well as releasing three mini-albums.
On Sings, she finally gets to showcase her range over an entire album. “I’ve been waiting so long,” she says. “I believe I’ve created a work that any kind of listener can enjoy.”
Tawata began composing her own songs in 2006, following a period of language study in Vancouver. “It was a short time but a huge learning experience for me,” she recalls. “I had some opportunities to do little concerts on the street with a jazz band, and it was so exciting! It was then that I realized that music helps us to share our feelings, so it was an incredibly fulfilling experience.”
She soon set about performing solo, and still regards her debut show as the highlight of her career so far. “Even though every moment is special for me, the day I sang at a tiny live house in Okinawa for the first time is where everything truly started.”
As a writer and composer, Tawata frequently draws on the influences of her childhood home, which boasts its own distinct musical traditions. “I’ve been given huge inspiration by the experience of growing up in Okinawa, and I remind myself of it when I’m writing lyrics,” she says. “But the main message of my music is love, because it inspires me to keep singing and writing songs.”
Her big break came in April 2007, when she won the Special Jury Prize in an audition sponsored by MSN. This allowed her to work with professional producers like Coldfeet and Ryota Nozaki (a.k.a. Jazztronik) and, ultimately, release her debut. In today’s fiercely competitive music scene, she admits that this “was the only opportunity for [starting] my career.”
Tawata is now signed to a brand new management initiative called Azeal where she is the only artist looked after by a team of some seven employees. She won’t be alone for long, though: the company aims to sign three more up-and-coming artists over the next three years.
She is aware that the opportunity afforded her is one that came partly by chance. But there is little serendipity when it comes to the development of her style—only a clear and honest desire to evolve naturally.
“While I have received the opinions and valuable inspiration of great people on my releases so far, I think I’ve certainly spread my own musical vision too,” she says. “Surrounding it all is the feeling that I’ve been growing up in order to get more and more freedom into my music.”
And true to the title of her album, she sticks to her principles when thinking about her next steps. “If I can keep making music and singing—whether it makes one person smile, or many people—I’d love to continue sharing this experience of singing.”
Sings is available on Techesko.
R&B singer from Okinawa. Jan 15, 7:30pm, ¥4,200. Shibuya O-East. Tel: Kyodo 03-3498-9999.