"I don't think there are answers to all questions. But I believe that constantly seeking out and asking could get something, and that is the answer," says singer‐songwriter Angela Aki, explaining the major theme behind her latest album, "Answer."
Much of Aki's early years were spent in search of life's important answers. Born between a Japanese father and American mother, she encountered her own special set of conflict and struggles.
While in her teens, she wrote a letter addressed to her future self. On her 30th birthday, her mother gave her the letter. She then wrote a reply to herself, regardless of the fact that a letter addressed to herself would never be delivered. The process was the inspiration for a song, titled "Tegami," on her latest album.
The tune became a hit last year after it was selected to be one of the compulsory songs for a nationwide school singing contest held by NHK. Aki's fame was further established recently by her performance at Kohaku Uta Gassen, NHK's highly popular song contest program aired every New Year's eve.
"Now I'm old enough
But still have sleepless nights from being hurt
Bitter and sweet life is going on, just like you"
(Lyrics from "Tegami")
Many of Aki's fans seem to relate to such sentiment. She receives a large number of letters from both children who are unable to discover the answers to their troubles and adults who are distraught by not being able to find any answers for their questions.
Aki graduated from a university in the United States and worked there for a time. Yet she was unable to abandon her dream of becoming a musician. She quit her job and started to sing at a bar, which often had drunken customers, and she also worked as a waitress. Whenever she performed in front of a drunken audience who never listened to her songs, she closed her eyes and imagined the day she would "sing for people who came only to listen to her songs." But sometimes, she lost her confidence and didn't know what she really wanted to do.
(Photo by Hosoda Naoko)During her time in America, Aki wrote hundreds of songs with lyrics in English. After returning to Japan, she found it difficult to express herself in Japanese. Even so, she persevered and by the time of her professional debut she had written more than 200 Japanese songs. During the process of composing songs in Japanese, she discovered the beauty of the Japanese language.
At the same time, she's been keen to convey to her Japanese audiences some of her all‐time favorite songs, such as Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," and Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone," by singing them in Japanese.
"I enjoy and absorb the songs, and the Japanese lyrics come to my lips. I try to treat them as if they are originals," she says.
This approach led directly to a professional collaboration. It started after U.S. singer‐songwriter Ben Folds happened to hear Aki's version of his song. She received a message from him that he wanted to meet her. The two hit it off. Their friendship, and a shared feature, their trademark glasses, inspired the recording of the song "Black Glasses."
In her quest for answers, she responds that she aims to continue being one‐to‐one with the audience.
"Even when I sing in front of 2,000 people, I want to place importance on the feeling that I'm facing every individual member of the audience," she says with a smile.