“I want people to feel happy through music,” said singer Misia, who endeavors to bridge Africa and Japan through the power of music.
The acclaimed singer is the honorary ambassador of The Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7), which will be held in Yokohama from Aug. 28 to 30. This is her second time in the role, following her first stint in 2013 (TICAD V).
Misia is hopeful about letting more Japanese people know about Africa and sings the conference’s theme song “Amazing Life,” which is also the theme song of the popular NHK program “Darwin ga kita! Ikimono Shin Densetsu,” a show that looks at different animals around the world.
“Music is a tool for communication, especially between people with different languages. We can share our feelings through music. In Africa, people recite each other’s songs. That way, they can communicate with each other (even if they use different languages),” she said during a July interview with The Japan Times in Tokyo.
Spreading Africa’s charm
Misia wants to spread the charm of Africa to Japan and the world through sharing her experience of visiting some of the countries across the African continent. The singer, who rose to fame after the release of her single “Everything” in 2000, has visited eight African countries over the past decade.
Noting that there are over 50 countries in Africa, and that each has a unique culture, nature and history of its own, Misia said: “Africa today has a sense of momentum — with an expanding economy, women’s empowerment, biodiversity, development of medicine and more. But (these things) are not just about Africa. Our lives are linked and it has to do with our lives, too; we need to think about various issues with a wider perspective.”
She added that she believes not many people in Japan — and in the world — know about “the real (state of) Africa today.”
“Did you know that South Africa is the only place in the world that produces Rooibos tea?” Misia asked with a smile. “It’s not just that we (Japan) support Africa. We are supported by Africa, too, through their exports such as Rooibos tea, chocolates, energy sources and more.”
The singer stresses that it’s important to first take interest in Africa, then learn about its blessings, as well as the problems that the continent holds and try to tackle the issues from the standpoint of each individual. “It’s sometimes good to get tips from experts as well. Greater power is created when powers of individuals (and companies and organizations) come together,” she said.
Misia’s first experience in Africa was when she visited Kenya in 2007. The singer traveled to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, one of the largest slums in the world, and met with children at the Magoso elementary school. Children who have lost their parents live there together, and she was happy to find out that her visit to the school sparked interest in some children, pushing them to work toward realizing their dreams, with studying in Japan being one of them.
After that, she became a board member of mudef — a charity foundation that supports Africa through education, while working to eliminate poverty and eradicate malaria — and visited seven more African countries.
Misia said that although it was shocking to know that there were many children battling illnesses in Africa, it was more shocking to find out that “there are children who die without even being able to battle illnesses” due to limited hygiene and lack of medication. According to 2018 UNICEF findings, 5.4 million children die before they reach the age of 5. Misia says she wants to continue searching for ways to help end this malicious circle.
Messages that life brings
Misia’s interest in Africa and the theme of life derives from her upbringing on Tsushima island, Nagasaki Prefecture, where she first discovered soul music as a child and further honed her five-octave vocal range. She also became naturally conscious of the messages that life brings through birth and death because of her parents’ encounters in their careers (both are doctors).
Speaking on her impetus to take interest in social issues, she also gives credit to the extensive peace studies covered at schools in Nagasaki, the site where the second atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 during World War II. “That is how I became interested in international dispute issues,” said Misia. “We need to make a society where life is valued more.”
Even in Japan, where society is seemingly affluent, Misia stresses that the problem of poverty and child abuse is rampant. There are countless children in need — those whose voices are difficult to hear.
Music and giving back
According to Misia, being a musician and pursuing social contribution activities are linked in the sense that they have the same goal — sending a message to people. “I can do these activities and speak out, all because I’m a musician. Conveying messages through songs is what singers do,” she said.
Misia explained that whereas some musicians feel that music is entertainment that expresses the extraordinary, for her, music is something that is more realistic. “I want to tell my real feelings and real situations (in society) through music,” she said.
In tandem with her activities for TICAD 7, Misia published the picture book “Heart no Leona” (“Leona’s heart”) on July 26.
It is a story about a female lion named Leona with a heart on her forehead. Leona travels around Africa with a pelican friend to learn more about Africa, both growing to appreciate the continent along the way. The pair encounter many different animals, cultures, languages and issues in each country, and the places that they visit are ones Misia visited herself. The singer hopes people will be able to discover Africa’s beauty through reading the book.
“The model for the lion is a Japanese girl who died at just 18 months old due to an illness,” Misia said sadly. “The little girl taught me the meaning of life. I found out from her situtation that there are many children like her who die at a young age. Through this picture book, I wanted to show her the beauty of Africa.”
Some of the book’s revenue will be used to support children with illnesses in Japan as well as children in Africa.