When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

28 May 2008

The sentimental mainstay of a million down-market karaoke bars

Jerome White Jr., born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, is an unlikely enka star in Japan:

...[t]hanks to the records, videos and cassette tapes played by his Japanese-born grandmother... he got hooked on a melodramatic genre of Japanese folk balladry called enka. With no idea what the lyrics meant, he started singing it in fractured Japanese when he was 5.

As far as anybody in the music industry knows, Jero is the first African American to sing this shamelessly maudlin music for a living. Enka wallows in heartache. Accompanied by over-the-top orchestration, it is usually sung by an aging Japanese performer (male or female) in a kimono. Suicide is nearly always a viable option in its ballads of unrequited love, hopeless love, cheating love and relentless rain.

Enka became popular as a bathetic balm for the hard years that followed World War II. The Japanese sponged it up as they rebuilt their country into an industrial colossus. Enka was the sentimental mainstay of a million down-market karaoke bars. Until Jero burst upon the popular music scene here in February, it was also a musical genre that had lost much of its buzz. It had the unhip odor of Elvis ballads in his years of white jumpsuits and belly fat. Most of the people who sang enka were double or triple Jero's age, as were most of the people who listened to it.

A Far Cry From Home (Washington Post, 28 May 2008)

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