At first glance, the clip below may appear to be a bizarre deleted scene “DVD extra” from a Quentin Tarantino film, like maybe a dream sequence from Kill Bill. You might also think that maybe it’s some kind of parody or something. Or maybe you’ll get a little uneasy watching, thinking maybe it’s a vaguely racist Asian comedy piece or commercial, and not being sure if you should laugh because you have no idea what’s being said. I mean really. A black dude in a Kimono and a ball cap singing cheesy Japanese “Enka” music? With ninjas and flurries of flower petals? (more below)
Well, it’s none of the above. It’s Japan’s first black Enka star, Jero . If you’re unfamiliar with the genre – like me – at first you may have trouble deciding if he’s any good. But according to all the reviews we could find (there weren’t many in English) he has mastered the key elements of the style, and is in fact quite good! In his own words in this interview clip, he describes the genre as “Japanese Blues”, and talks about how he ended up focusing on Enka with such commitment. And about the incongruous getup in the video above? He apparently had a small struggle with the label about attire; he felt it inappropriate that given his cultural heritage and the traditions of the music – which is essentially Japan’s post-war country/blues, it was inappropriate to go “Full Kimono”. Their only concession, it appears, was allowing him to wear the cap.
Personally, the only thing I find genuinely unsettling about Jero’s music is that because of it, Enka is kind of growing on me!