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Singer Misia marks 15 years on top

Soulful singer Misia has fond memories of her first show in the city and she plans to make some new ones this time around, writes Lee Wing-sze

 

JAPANESE SINGER Misia's career statistics make remarkable reading. The R'n'B star is the first female to have played all five of Japan's largest (50,000-plus seat) stadiums, and her 10 studio albums have amassed sales of more 30 million units.

Not bad for an artist who has never appeared in a television drama - practically a prerequisite for success in the world of J-pop.

The songstress - born Misaki Ito - is renowned for her five-octave range and dynamic live shows and Hong Kong will get a taste of that technical prowess on June 22 when she performs at the AsiaWorld-Expo.

The concert is part of her ongoing "Misia Hoshizora VII" tour, which marks her 15th anniversary in the industry, and the Hong Kong stop is one the Japanese singer is very much looking forward to.

"Each year there are so many good memories," says the 34-year-old, whose stage name combines her first name with "Asia". "But I will never forget the feeling I got from my first concert in Hong Kong."

That was on the oddly labelled "Tour of Misia Discotheque Asia" five years ago. She returned in 2010, much to the delight of local fans.

The set list this time around will be dominated by tracks from the three-disc Super Best Records: 15th Celebration released earlier this year, which features all her biggest hits as well as the newly recorded track, Holiday.

"The songs on Super Best Records are the result of collaborations between myself and many of the artists I respect," Misia says. "There are 45 songs on the album, and if I could have I would have included a few more."

Misia is influenced by some of the soul greats, from American female singer-songwriters Minnie Riperton and Lauryn Hill to Mary J Blige and Erykah Badu. Closer to home she worked with acclaimed Japanese songsmiths such as Kubota Toshinobu, Fuji Fumiya, Chara, and Glay's Takuro and Teru on the 2004 concept album Singer for Singer.

"During the making of [ Singer for Singer], opinions from people who have been singing for a long time made me think about how to be a singer," Misia says.

"Many great musicians have looked after me. They taught me a lot of things."

Her most recent collaborations include producer Tomoyasu Hotei and Senegalese drummer Doudou N'Diaye Rose.

Humble though she is, her musical talent cannot be understated.

Born into a music-loving family, Misia picked up the piano at the age of four, under the influence of her older siblings. Driven by her passion for singing, she joined a local chorus when she was nine.

"When I was a child, I loved to sing. A song from the musical Mama, I Want to Sing inspired me to be a singer," she says.

"It made a big impact on me and that's the first time I got to know about gospel and soul music. I told myself that I wanted to sing like that."

In pursuit of her dream, Misia left her hometown of Nagasaki at the age of 14 and moved to Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu with her sister. While at high school, she met two African-American vocal trainers at a music academy and began to receive training in gospel and R'n'B.

In 1997, her opportunity to turn professional came when record company BMG Japan organised an audition to find a new female voice. The 18-year-old's rendition of Goodbye, Darlin by Dreams Come True bowled over record producer Haruo Yoda who signed her on the spot.

A year later, her debut album Mother Father Brother Sister topped the Oricon charts for four weeks and Misia went on to win new artist of the year and best pop album at the Japan Gold Disc Awards.

Her second album Love is the Message, released in 2000, was another commercial success, shifting more than two million units. But it was Everything, which sold about 1.9 million copies, that made Misia a household name, not only in Japan but across Asia. She went on to produce two more bestselling albums, Marvelous and Kiss in the Sky.

"The latest album released is always the one I love the best because it is the one that I want to share the most with others at that moment," she says.

Away from singing, Misia has become active in the fight against poverty in Africa. In 2008, she founded the Child Africa charity to provide education for children in Kenya.

"I was wondering how poverty could be eliminated, then in 2007 someone invited me to Kenya. There I learned how important education is, and that's why I began to support children's education," Misia says.

But a lack of schooling is just one of many problems that contribute to the country's poverty, others being famine, gender inequality and a lack of environmental conservation, says the singer. She now hopes that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) - eight objectives set at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 - can be achieved. Three years ago, Misia set up the Music Design Foundation (Mudef) to better co-ordinate her charity efforts.

"I participated as a director during the start-up, but now I'm more like a Mudef messenger," she says. "Every project is aimed at achieving those MDG goals."

On future tours, the singer hopes to visit different parts of the world. "As long as the people say 'I want to hear you sing', I will go there and sing for them."

And if Hong Kong wants her to come back again, she is more than happy to oblige.

"To the fans and the staff in Hong Kong, I'm so looking forward to seeing you all again. I will give you the super best live," says Misia, "I will sing hard!"

 

Misia, June 22, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Expo, Lantau, HK$280-HK$880, HK Ticketing. Inquires: 3128 8288

 

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