Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Jero ジェロ: the African-American/Japanese Enka star

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Jero ジェロ is what he is called in Japan. He is a young African-American with Japanese heritage, born Jerome White Jr, in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania. He is among the most popular song stars in Japan right now.

His explosive rise to stardom began early as he listened to traditional enka songs of Japan from the postwar era, then in 2008, his long boyhood dream of making his Japanese grandmother proud, came true as his hit song Umiyuki (Ocean Snow) hit the top of the charts and he was voted Best New Artist at the annual national Entertainment contest and show Kouhaku Utagassen.

Speaking as a person who grew up with enka myself in the 1950s and 60s Japan, as well as other types of music, people would agree with me to say that he is really an excellent enka singer.

Needless to say, Jero’s rise as an enka star in Japan, begins a promising and contested array of traditionally divided ways of thinking and living, inter-generational dialogue begins and the old enka style of song that has been dying out in Japan, is now having a revival because of young Japanese interest in him as well as in “B-Style” (Black style) fashion, music and American hip-hop sensibilities.

More dialogue on Blackness in Japan, Black US cultural influence around the globe, the co-opting and narrow views of African-American being and Blackness in general, can hopefully begin.  At present, the US seems less interested in him, although that is beginning to change due to transnational visitors between the US and Japan, especially African-Americans and Blasians (Black-Asians) in general.

This first video below shows Jero in a 1920s-40s style African-American jazz era suit that we hardly see in the US anymore, but now gloriously modernized and donned by him in front of a packed Japanese audience, singing 嘘泣き (Fake Cry).

Below, he sings a kayoukyoku (early Japanese popular) style enka song: Only Tears, which speaks of the enduring of tears and asks why tears are endless in life.

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