When Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency of the United States in 2008, the topic of race often came up in discussions about him. Obama was born to a black father and a white mother, and questions such as “Is America ready for a black president” and “Is Obama black enough” seemed to follow him on the campaign trail.
Like now-President Obama, Lenny Kravitz is the product of an interracial marriage. In the early stages of his career, record company executives were worried that his music wasn’t “white enough” or “black enough” to be accepted by either audience. Since then, the 47-year-old U.S. musician has spent the last 20 years proving that theory wrong by winning fans of all races as well as Grammy Awards and racking up album sales in the millions. It’s pretty solid proof that music is color blind.
Kravitz hasn’t sung about race for some time, though — not since 2001’s “Bank Robber Man,” a song about an incident where Miami police detained and handcuffed the singer on the street because he fitted the description of a bank robber. With his latest album, “Black and White America,” he has returned to the topic.
“It’s not really a concept album,” Kravitz said in a recent interview with a Japanese TV show, “but there are a lot of things that harken back to my childhood — one of them being the fact that I’m biracial. For my parents, being an interracial couple at the time of the civil rights movement — it was a very dynamic time for them, difficult and triumphant at the same time.”
“Black and White America” has prompted Kravitz to embark on a world tour, and for the first time in 14 years he will swing by Japan.
The new album sounds like it was meant to be played live. Kravitz has recaptured the funky sound that typified his earlier years, complete with horns and slap base. Mixed with the heavier guitar riffs from his well-known older hits, Kravitz is sure to get crowds jumping (if not air-guitaring).
Critics, however, might be hoping Kravitz lets loose on stage. While his credentials as a rock star are never in question, he has been accused of playing it safe — even the craziest guitar solos never really get out of hand. Despite all his success, the singer is still pegged with a reputation of being a musician who’s too influenced by his idols — Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, David Bowie and James Brown among them. One music journalist even thought up the idea of playing “Lenny Bingo,” where for each of Kravitz’s albums, you could check off the musical inspiration. But still, a live-show bingo card where you can check off Hendrix, Lennon and Bowie is pretty much a jackpot.
Lenny Kravitz plays Tokyo Dome City Hall on April 4, 6 and 7 (7 p.m. start, 6 p.m. start on April 7; ¥9,000, ¥9,800;  3475-9999); Aichi Prefectural Arts Theater in Nagoya on April 9 (7 p.m.; ¥9,000, ¥9,800;  241-8118); and Osaka International Convention Center on April 10 (7 p.m.; ¥9,000, ¥9,800;  6357-4400). For more information, visit www.lennykravitz.com.