From 'different' to diva
Itano, Japan is home to roughly 15,000 people. One of the more notable to have once called the small island district home is Japanese musician Angela Aki.
'I lived in such a rural area,' says Aki, who was recently in Hong Kong promoting her latest album, Blue. 'We didn't even have a TV. The antennae [signal] didn't reach where my village was, so I didn't grow up watching TV.'
Instead, much like others in the village, Aki only had a few options to occupy her time, such as: 'to play outside or to play an instrument.' She mostly chose the latter, picking up the electric piano and discovering that music provided an escape from the hardships of growing up as a child of mixed heritage in a place that did not see many foreigners.
Despite being from a well-off family - Aki's father is the co-founder of Aeon Institute of Language Education, a chain of English language schools in Japan - she always felt like an outsider. She received curious and intrusive glares from those not used to her Eurasian looks. For the locals, she was different, living in a time when 'different' often meant being alienated.
But she found comfort in one source: music. More accurately, she found her identity through the piano. 'I got better and better at the piano and instead of people identifying me as a half-American, half-Japanese [person], they'd identify me as the girl that was really good at the piano,' she explains. 'So it became part of my identity that I wanted to hold on to. It became a part of me.'
Her newfound identity kept her very attached to the piano, and it's served her well. Despite playing other instruments, she's still always associated with the piano - and, of course, love songs.
Blue comes seven years and six albums after Aki's major debut. Not surprisingly, it's an album devoted to the many facets of the four letter 'L' word.
'For me, the colour blue describes many different shades,' she says. 'You can have the depressed, dark, muddy blue; the blue ocean; the bright, vibrant blue. My album is primarily love songs. There're sad love songs. There're heart-wrenching love songs. And then there are happy love songs. I think [blue is] a good colour to describe the cycle and the many expressions of love.'
Initially Aki faced many road blocks when it came to writing Blue. She says the writing just simply 'didn't flow' during the late stages of her pregnancy. It was only after she gave birth in February that the creative juices began to kick in.
'I came back from the hospital and after two weeks, I went into the studio and finished writing [Blue] in a month,' she says. 'I couldn't believe it. It was the most creative process.'
Blue became one of the more gratifying projects she's ever worked on. She says: 'I enjoyed writing. I enjoyed recording. I enjoyed producing. I enjoyed arranging. In the past I didn't really ... enjoy doing deadline kind of work. But this time it was really fun for me. And I hope you can hear that in the album.'