After a series of solidarity marches in Japan that were connected to protests against racial discrimination and police violence in the U.S., Black Lives Matter Tokyo is continuing the conversation about race with its first-ever online music event: Harmonic Wavelength.
On Sept. 6, the livestream concert will feature performances from seven artists working across hip-hop, R&B and electronic music, and has a two-fold purpose of celebration and education.
“One of the goals is to amplify the voices of Black musicians in Japan, but it’s also to show that Black music has an influence in Japan,” says Jaylon Carter (whose stage name is Timid), one of the event’s organizers and performers. “There are a lot of influences in Japanese pop from American Black music, from the dances to the clothing to the musical arrangements. This event is to show that the Black American culture is not so far removed from Japanese society.
“There are Black artists that live in Japan doing music. There are mixed Black and Japanese artists, and then there are Japanese artists who make Black music, who participate in that culture.”
The livestream concert comes on the heels of BLM Tokyo’s first webinar, “RealTalk.,” which Carter says attempted to maximize on the momentum of the summertime marches, one of which drew more than 3,500 participants.
“The first webinar was about educating people in Japan on the background of BLM; where it came from, what it stands for, why it’s necessary,” he says. “In Japan, they don’t really have that connection to U.S. history, and really, we shouldn’t expect them to. I mean, people in the United States wouldn’t know historical context about things happening in Japan. The point of the webinar was to provide some of that context.”
Following a two-hour panel discussion that included BLM Tokyo key organizer Sierra Todd as one of the speakers, the group shifted its focus to planning Harmonic Wavelength. In addition to a set from Carter, the show promises to spotlight “the bombast of Sarasa’s towering beats, the sleekness of Maya Hatch’s jazz, the saccharine of J’Nique Nicole and Laya’s R&B, the depth of Nayokenza’s dream pop and the empowerment of Ah Huh’s hip-hop.”
Harmonic Wavelength was initially set to be a limited-attendance concert at Music Island O in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood, but a recent uptick in the capital’s COVID-19 cases called for a change of plans. Some performances will still stream live from the venue, and Carter believes there are some unexpected advantages to hosting the event for free online.
“The drawback is that people can’t be social, interact and hang out,” says Carter, “but the benefit is that (the concert) is able to be viewed by more people than could fit in a venue. Now, potentially anybody in Japan or anywhere in the world can watch it.”
Similarly to the “RealTalk.” webinar and an upcoming zine promoting the work of Black artists living in Japan, Harmonic Wavelength reflects BLM Tokyo’s ongoing commitment to shining a light on the significance of Black art, all while building a community through entertainment.
This particular event comes after a volatile few weeks in the Black Lives Matter movement, which was reignited in late August when a police officer shot Wisconsin man Jacob Blake in the back seven times. There has been a new wave of protests across the U.S., and famous athletes — including several NBA teams and Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka — chose not to compete in scheduled competitions to show their support for the movement.
“I know with the protests that are happening in the United States, some people might think, ‘This is something that’s happening far away, what does it have to do with us?’” says Carter. “But Black culture does touch your life more than you may realize.”
Carter, who has performed at hip-hop shows throughout Japan, says that while he has always been treated fairly and that Japanese fans adore historically Black musical genres, blind spots can exist when it comes to empathizing with the experiences of Black Americans. He hopes that events like this one, which draw upon music’s universality, can help bridge the gap.
“Music has a camaraderie,” he says. “You can get a guitarist from the United States, a guitarist from Japan and a guitarist from India, and it doesn’t matter what language they’re speaking. They start hitting those chords and everyone’s speaking a similar language. You can appreciate what they’re doing through the language of music.”
Harmonic Wavelength takes place on Sept. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Music Island O in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, and online. For more information, visit www.timidmc.com or blacklivesmattertokyo.carrd.co/#harmonic.