After chatting with Japanese-American singer SHANTI for an hour, you get the impression there is very little the bilingual artist cannot do. SHANTI, who was born Shanti Snyder to an American father (musician Tommy Snyder) and a Japanese mother, has carved out an impressive niche for herself in Japan as a singer, songwriter, lyricist, guitarist, music TV program host and painter.
SHANTI, who turns 30 in June, says she didn’t really want to be a singer until she was about 15. Born in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, she was educated at St Maur International School. “I always had a big passion for the fine arts. I loved painting and writing stories. I did modern ballet and contemporary dancing for about 10 years,” she recalls. “A lot of my dad’s friends, who are also musicians, wanted me to do music and invited me to make demos for fun. That’s when I realized I loved singing and that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. I got into gospel music when I started taking vocal lessons at 16, and began listening to lots of R&B music, soul and jazz.”
Although she gave some thought to going to university, SHANTI – whose name means “peaceful” in Sanskrit – ultimately decided to follow her father’s advice. “He said that if I was really interested in singing, the best way to learn was by working and to be inspired by great musicians, writers and arrangers.” Over the years, she has collaborated with such artists as Keisuke Kuwata, Yoko Kanno for various animated films, and with Hajime Yoshizawa. Her jingles include ads for such companies as Ajinomoto, UNIQLO and Shiseido, and she has written two songs for Mount Rainer's Caffe Latte television campaign, one featuring actress Scarlet Johannsson. For 18 months, she also co-hosted NHK World’s music program “J-Melo.”
SHANTI has released three albums to date – “Share My Air” (2008), “Born to Sing” (2010) and “Romance With Me” (in January this year). She says her style has changed since she started out. “As a studio musician, I sang all sorts of genres, from bossa nova to rock, all sorts of styles. When I started doing live shows, I was singing mainly in Japanese, but I realized I was more comfortable singing in English because it’s a more emotional language. So I started writing and doing cover songs in English for my albums.”
SHANTI describes her genre as a blend of jazzy pop with an influence of soul, R&B. “I’m working with international musicians. I have a Brazilian percussionist, a keyboard player whose background is Chinese and American-Indian, and an African-American bass player and drummer and Japanese guitarist.” She plays guitar on her original tunes.
SHANTI says she has a mixed fan base, especially at live events. “It depends on the venue. At some places, a lot of young fans come with their families, while at the Cotton Club, it tends to be older guys. I talk a lot with the audience after a show. I have some fans who come to every show, like it's their weekend thing to do.”
And what advice would she give to any aspiring artists? “First, you should make a CD with two or three songs of what you think is your best performance,” she says. “Do live shows and see how the audience responds. There are a lot of venues for non-professional musicians. Japan is really good for that. The important thing is to have a great passion to continue what you do whatever the response is. It takes time to flower as an artist; some do it in their 30s, others while in their teens. Believe in yourself.”
When she is not performing, SHANTI heads to the beach at Hayama. “I like to listen to the waves and wind. The sound of nature is very inspiring. Other times, I go with friends to cafes in Roppongi, Shibuya and Naka-Meguro, or we do picnics and home gatherings,” she says.
Because she has been busy promoting her albums, SHANTI says she hasn’t had much of a chance to travel abroad recently. “I always get this urge to leave to a culturally different environment. In June, I’ll be going to France to perform at Japan Expo and the Japan Cultural Center. I’ll be singing in three languages.”
Her schedule in Japan has been curtailed somewhat in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, with many live events and promotional appearance being canceled or rescheduled. But she will still be appearing at some smaller venues. SHANTI says she hopes to be around for a long time to come. “There’s a great album by Shirley Horn, called ‘Here’s to Life,’ in which she does this orchestrated jazz, and another album by Joni Mitchell called 'Both Sides Now' -- orchestrated jazz with a lot of pop and folk. That’s where I want to be when I am 50.”
For details of SHANTI’s schedule, visit http://columbia.jp/shanti/info.html.© Japan Today