In the fall of 2007 and 2008, the Canadian Independent Record Production Association (CIRPA) hosted Asian Trade Missions in Tokyo to cement stronger footholds in Japan for Canuck music companies and acts.
Still in his teens, Toronto singer- songwriter Justin Nozuka was flown over to play at the inaugural event for an industry only audience at the Embassy of Canada’s Oscar Peterson Theater in Tokyo.
“I remember feeling a little nervous, but ready,” shares Nozuka. “The opportunity was finally there and so it was my time.”
Proving to be a very beneficial gig, Nozuka soon after inked a domestic deal with EMI Music Japan. Since the 2007 showcase, the 21-year-old has been brought back for three proper tours, including appearances at Fuji Rock in 2008 and 2009.
“What a beautiful festival,” gushes Nozuka. “I loved performing at Fuji Rock. I felt so safe in the flow of living during that festival. I just loved seeing people’s love for sleeping outside, getting dirty and letting it all out.
“It was really good to see Ben Harper play with his new band on the Green Stage. It would be amazing to one day play on that stage for all those people.”
Born in New York to a Japanese father and an American mother, Nozuka’s family relocated to Canada when he was 7 years old. Becoming better acquainted with his heritage and strengthening relationships with extended relatives has been a definite perk of his success in Japan.
“My family lives in Fukuoka and I get to see them more now,” he says. “They try and make it out to my concerts and are so kind and sweet to me. I have nothing but love and appreciation for them.
“My Japanese isn’t good, although I know I can learn. I actually went to a Japanese kindergarten and used to speak Japanese when I was young, but I’ve lost so much of it. When I visit I usually learn a few more words.”
He will have the opportunity to broaden his vocabulary this month when he plays Shibuya’s Duo Music Exchange in support of his sophomore effort, May’s “You I Wind Land and Sea.” Recorded in a small bay-side town three hours north of Toronto with his backing band, the soulful and bluesy elements from 2007′s “Holly” (which was named after his mother) are still prevalent, but “You I Wind Land and Sea” is a much more polished, pop- oriented effort.
” ‘Holly’ reflected my life as a teen in high school; just beginning to pursue my own musical vision. I had just begun to get noticed and it was all new to me.
“When making ‘You I Wind Land and Sea’ I was in a very different situation. I had been touring for a few years, had formed a band and had discovered new music such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Gabe Dixon.
“The overall feeling of the album is warm and it is an expression of so many different emotions in me. As my life evolves, I look forward to my music evolving as well. This album is part of the evolution, and I’m really happy with the direction.”
Issued in North America in April, “You I Wind Land and Sea” debuted at No. 1 in the United States on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums, a chart tracking record sales by developing acts. And while figures have been more modest in Japan, Nozuka’s gospel-accented acoustic ballad “My Heart Is Yours” has been getting significant local radio play.
In March, Nozuka could be heard all over Canadian airwaves. He participated in Young Artists For Haiti, a project that featured more than 50 of Canada’s best young musicians rerecording Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan’s (who will perform at Japan’s Summer Sonic festival in August) “Wavin’ Flag.” Funds from the chart-topping charity single are being donated to the continued recovery efforts after Haiti’s devastating January earthquakes.
“I heard the original song on the radio a few times and I was touched by it. There’s an essence of spirit in this song that I definitely could feel. K’naan is a beautiful artist and I made a great connection with him there.”
Nozuka knew before puberty that he wanted to pursue a career in music. He penned his first song at the age of 12 and started playing guitar when he was 14 in hopes of realizing this goal. Although grateful to be recognized as a budding talent in his homeland and abroad, he admits that it is not without its challenges.
“I felt very confused by the entire situation recently. I spent so many years focusing every day on ‘making it.’ Over the past four years it seems like I’ve been riding a wave that is constant and always pushing for bigger and better things. It’s like a train that is on a track that is set for a destination and not slowing down for rest.
“I’m learning how to live with my heart and finding clarity in this lifestyle. Still, I find it difficult to process all the attention, but I have faith that I am on the correct path.”