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Bicultural jazz singer Emi Meyer explores her Japanese side

32 Comments
By Kevin Mcgue

Emi Meyer is a perfect example of why bicultural people in Japan shouldn’t be called “half,” but rather “double.” In the case of this pianist and singer-songwriter, “multi” might actually be more fitting.

Born in Kyoto to an American father and Japanese mother, Meyer was raised in Seattle before heading to LA to study ethnomusicology. She self-produced her debut 2007 album, Curious Creatures, and her unique vocal style won critical accolades as well as spots in music showcases like Seattle’s Northwest Folklife Festival.

Now, at the precocious age of 22, she is following in the footsteps of bicultural songwriters like American Rachael Yamagata by expanding her musical activities to Japan, touring the country, playing the prestigious Kobe Jazz Festival, and unveiling new songs in Japanese. It is a whirlwind start to a career that gives us much to savor and plenty to look forward to.

Growing up in Seattle allowed Meyer to pursue a variety of interests and exposed her to a wide range of music. “There is a nice mixture of tradition and innovation in Seattle, resulting in thriving niches and subcultures,” she says from her current home in LA. Although the city became the center of worldwide attention with the rise of Nirvana and the Sub Pop label, Meyer contends that it still has less of a music-industry presence than LA. “It was nice to be sheltered from that as I developed my passion for music.”

That passion began with classical piano as a child, which was soon influenced by an interest in jazz. It wasn’t long before Meyer began experimenting with singing along to her improvised jazz piano. The result was a natural and soulful vocal styling, adding further depth to her poignant lyrics.

"There is one good song on every person’s tongue,” Meyer broods on a track from "Curious Creatures." Indeed, songwriting seems to come naturally to this young artist. “When I write a song, it’s like I have this emotional or conceptual itch that I’m trying to scratch, and I put together notes and words that feel right,” she reflects. “I usually don’t have the final direction or purpose of the song in mind.”

Studying ethnomusicology has helped Meyer gain new appreciation of the songwriting process, although she is cautious about throwing such influences into the mix. “My studies raised the idea of ‘exoticization,’ and I am determined to make sure I understand an instrument’s sound and origins before I include it in my music,” she says. “I want to respect the tradition and people it represents.”

Writing new songs in Japanese, which appear as bonus tracks on the recently released Japan edition of "Curious Creatures," added yet another dimension to the creative process. “In Japanese, I work in the opposite direction,” she explains. “I start out with a distinct message I want to communicate and work from there to develop the lyrics.”

In addition to several upcoming solo concerts and in-store performances, Meyer is also the opening act on the tour of another bicultural artist, Yael Naim, the French-Israeli singer-songwriter whose music was hand-picked by Steve Jobs to promote the MacBook Air. “I am a huge fan,” Meyer wrote on her blog, “so every show will be a deluxe combination of being a performer and fan.”

This year, Meyer has been getting a lot more experience playing for Japanese fans. “Audiences are subdued during the show, which can be unnerving,” she admits, “but they articulate their appreciation after each song.”

Emi Meyer plays Club Quattro, June 22-23 (with Yael Naim) and June 30 (solo).

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


32 Comments
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Lovely and talented, the first profile of an artist JT has done so far. I hope to see more articles along this vein in the future. Far superior to some of the ridiculous celebrity articles that are contributed here, and certainly more interesting to read.

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I wish her well but gotta be honest here to, Emi-san wud you even be hitting these isles if you didnt have a japanese parent, be honest now! Ah just milk for what you can eveyone else does ha ha

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Beautiful girl, but Kevin, the "double" thing just isn't going to stick.

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Where has this woman been hiding all this time. She is the kind of Japanese woman I would like to marry, (if I was single, that is).

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Double is a stupid word. How about just American Japanese or Japanese American?

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Double or multi are apt descriptions. Instead of the "division" implied by the word "half," those who completely absorb two or more cultures are far greater in the richness of their experiences than the mono-cultural person.

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Yeah, the whole "double" concept is a little too We-Are-The-World. Give it a rest. She' still cute though.

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Multi ethnic is about as good as one can put it. I know even though I'm an american born citizen, I still have black, caucasion, native american, and some asian genes wandering around in my bloodstream. The Japanese term "half" should be phased out, but its up to them to get with the program.

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"Double" suggests a sort of ethnic superiority, and seems rather absurd to me.

I won't be around to see it, but, someday, these types of conversations will be meaningless as all of humanity will be shaded to one degree or another.

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"Double" is just as stupid as "happa"... not surprising to hear a half-Japanese-American from Seattle, especially of her generation, say this...

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Bi-Cultural seems a perfectly reasonable description of this gorgeous woman. "Haafu" is derogatory - except in the eyes of J-Veterans who have been here forever and want to keep using it along with other racial stereotypes and labels.

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She is just Emi Mayer and that says it all. No need to halve her and quarter her. Emi don't even try to make J-people think ratinally, they will ask you to go 'home'.

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She is just Emi Mayer and that says it all.<

actually, it doesn't...

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She is "The Better Half" -That way you glass is never half full or half empty.

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what does it matter?? half or double?? just dont bother putting it just put singer. and why is it different if your german and spanish your called german and spanishn if yor japanese and english your called Bi-Cultural or half, and if your black and white your called black or mixed race??? its all rubbish if you ask me

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checked it out in HMV today - so expensive!!! 2,500yen is a rip off for an album these days. GBP6.79 on iTunese minus the one Japanese bonus track

Come on 9 songs for 2,500yen is daylight robbery.

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Ethnomusicology? Say what? Seems that Meyer has a pre-occupation with racialism and is playing up race when the music should simply speak fot itself. It would be better to focus on musical genres instead of the ethnic/racial origins of music.

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Come on 9 songs for 2,500yen is daylight robbery.

2500 yen has been the going rate for a J-CD since the mid-90s. In Britain the price has virtually halved.

Oh, and this "double" thing is just irritating beyond belief. If "haafu" is considered demeaning, it is because the very concept of mixed race children is looked down upon. "Haafe" is otherwise a pretty good word and the standard word used in English for informal descriptions of mixed-race people. Remember, a half and half makes a whole.

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50(per)cent!

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Jamerican

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2500 yen has been the going rate for a J-CD since the mid-90s

probably why I don't buy J music. No wait, that's because it is awful!!!

Japan has got to be the only country in the world where imported CD's are considerably cheaper than domestic! Way to fight piracy....

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nothing wrong with half...I do not get this double crap though...meh, to each his own.

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maksonoil

Double is a stupid word. How about just American Japanese or Japanese American?

Good point. I think so too.

Emi should have discussed some of her influences and song ideas.

Emi said:

"Audiences are subdued during the show, which can be unnerving,” she admits, “but they articulate their appreciation after each song."

Very true. When I perform for a Japanese audience they are very attentive. They certainly give you a chance. This helps me stay focused.

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She's 22, so I guess she ripped up her American passport last year as per the Japanese law on nationality, no halfs in their eyes is there...?

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Race is too much an issue in Japan. Haffu etc... is it really annoying.

She is a singer. Period.

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half ..double....mixed...blah blah blah...Last I checked we are all 100% human...pathat: I concur. one day we will be so mixed that it will be a moot point. It should be already but...

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You guys insult Japanese music only because you cant understand it. You are here in a site wherein news of japan is being showcased and all you can do is be racist against it. You know what you are seriously stupid to think that by insulting the things Japan shows out that you can possibly better the culture of your own pathetic country.

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"Bicultural Jazz" has got to be a new low in this stupid and invidious obsession with race, imaginary pedigrees and the still-lingering Meiji Era quasi-religious rite whereby art/music is reduced to something like a sacrifice to be made at the Altar of Culture, Where Only Some Shall Be Deemed Worthy.

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Remember, a half and half makes a whole. Therefore Ah So by your argument a "half" isn`t complete.Not as good as a whole. My daughter is mixed and it pisses me off no end to hear people referring to her as a half. She has parents of different ethnicities...therefore she is mixed.

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teleprompter at 10:41 PM JST - 22nd June "Bicultural Jazzhas got to be a new low in this stupid and invidious obsession with race, imaginary pedigrees and the still-lingering Meiji Era quasi-religious rite whereby art/music is reduced to something like a sacrifice to be made at the Altar of Culture, Where Only Some Shall Be Deemed Worthy."

Race sells, everything else is only worth a sen. Just like any where else, race sells. Japan is no different than the States when it comes to labels. The only difference is that this is not the US of A...

So if she wants to call herself,"the last of the Mohicans" and it makes her money/yen then why blame her?

Money is money no matter where you are from.....

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The term "half" is absolutely not ok. The implications are that mixed-race people are somehow "less," and therefore inferior, or that it's only their Japanese side that matters.

Like grandtheftauto, I have two mixed-race daughters, and I agree - it pisses me off when people refer to them by the demeaning term "half." As if it's only their sacred Japanese DNA that matters, & not that filthy Caucasian blood they got from me. I supposed it shouldn't piss me off - there are plenty of ignorant people in every country, and there always will be.

If we can agree that people are people and that it should be their character and their actions that matter, not their race, then it seems pretty obvious that you shouldn't refer to people as a fraction derived from their ethnic origins.

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Like "Japanese" sake, or "Japanese" tea, or "Japanese" ramen, Japan & Japanese people are singulary focused on the ORIGIN of things... thus they invented katakana...because they did not want to mix "foreign" origin words... except that ALL kanji words came from China...

In that context, "half" refers to ONLY the Japanese half, because THAT is the only significant reference for most Japanese people. If Emi perceives the term "hafu" as an insult, then she should express it - in Japanese, where the term originated.

As for her attention to race, well, we are all influenced by our upbringing, environment, etc. Today, at the ripe old age of 22, she seems to convey the message that being mixed race has influenced her music... but then, at 22, honestly, what the hell did any of us really know anyway??? If you are looking to her for a deep message or guidance, you deserve to be lost... If she is a good musician, well, good for her!

Zumokamo - YOU are an idiot!!! Emi said she does not like the term "hafu", in the beginning of the article, and many readers followed up on HER comments. As for disliking Japanese music because they don't understand it.... does that apply to everyone/everything? So if I am Japanese, and I HATE enka, it is ONLY because I do not understand it? If I am American, and I HATE country music... can't someone just dislike something, and that be it? Personally, I am not a big jazz fan, but according to YOU, it is solely because I do not understand it... sounds rather simple in my book.

In another post, you mentioned "some races can do war crimes against other nations..." Are you talking about Japan? Because we all know that JAPAN is the biggest war criminal in the world... Open your mind grasshopper, and stop spreading hate.

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