Yoko ‘La Japonesa Salsera’ on Salsa-101
Preparation and determination are attributes that can take you a long way. That’s exactly what took a young japanese girl from Japan to New York City. Salsa-101 proudly introduces Yoko to all the salsa music loving fans around the globe.
Special thanks to Kazuko Nagao for the work she does behind the scenes
Profile: Japanese Salsera: Born to sing salsa!
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Yoko was born to sing salsa.
Salsa-101: What got you interested in singing
YLJS: As a young girl growing up I was always singing Japanese POP music around the house.
My mother started me with piano lessons like everyone else (go figure!) not singing lessons.
Never like the piano I was only interested in singing. Singing since I was 2 years old. I’m fortunate
to have a mother that always encouraged me and supported me with any type of education that I was interested in.
Salsa-101: When did you start singing in front of an audience ?
YLSJ: I began singing at the age of fifteen with a local rock band in Osaka. We played POP/Rock types of music. The experience of being in a band at such an early age gave me a chance to develop my singing chops.
Salsa-101: You mentioned that you majored in Spanish language studies while attending the Kyoto University of Foreign Language.
YLJS: During the time that I was growing up and singing english songs, I had the desire to know what the lyrics meant, so I starting teaching myself the english language. When I entered the University I already knew English pretty well. I was determined to learn another foreign language and something that would useful. So I chose spanish.
Salsa-101: How did you discover SALSA music ?
YLJS: My passion is and always has been music. So now I’m studying spanish, and I say to myself “I have to learn some latin music”. So one day I happen to be in a bookstore and came across “LATINA” magazine. There was a promo page of an upcoming concert with Willie Colon as the headliner. I went to the concert and was in awe that this type of music even existed. I was hooked.
Salsa-101: Yoko wanted to learn more about the musical genre of salsa, but she was unsure if it even existed in Japan. As a part-time job, Yoko started singing at local jazz clubs, and it didn’t take long before her great talent was discovered In 1996 she was asked to join the salsa band ‘Conjunto Mamborama’ as a vocalist. They performed regularly at a salsa club in Osaka called Pata Pata De La . With her big voice and powerful lungs, singing in a large club like Pata Pata was a great opportunity for Yoko.
At that point she completely abandoned her career as a jazz singer. Word of her talent got out among musicians in Japan, and she was invited to sing as the main vocalist for ‘Las Estrellas’ , a salsa band formed by the former members of the famous Japanese salsa band “Orquesta De la Luz”.
In 1997, she moved to the United States and started performing with local band and her own group.
In 2004 she was invited to perform in Japan with Herman Olivera, a prestigious figure within the New York salsa scene who is currently the lead singer of the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra.
What made you pack up and move to the USA?
YLJS: I knew that I wanted to be involved with Latin music, so I made a decision to
come to the States and be a part of it.
Salsa-101: Did you know someone in the music business already ?
YLJS: Yes, I have a friend who was Jimmy Bosch’s piano player at that time.
Salsa-101: How did you start hooking up with local bands in the New York area?
YLJS: I would go to clubs to see them play. Never letting anyone know of my desire of
singing Latin music until I was ready.
Salsa-101: Did someone mentor you ?
YLJS: Yes, little by little I started meeting people, but my big break was when I met Kazuko Nagao
I was fortunate to be introduced to Kazuko Nagao. Kazuko introduce me to Mr. Willie Ruiz.
Salsa-101: Willie is the one credited with showing me the inner workings of Latin music, rhythm, clave, phrasing ..etc.etc . He would tutor me in phrasing and taught me the art of son.
Mr. Willie Ruiz
, Yoko’s producer and musical director, comments that, “if you don’ t see her in person, you’ d never know if it was a Japanese or an Hispanic woman singing.”
Salsa-101: It’s been stated that you have a natural strong voice for singing , how did you develop this ? What do you do to keep your voice in form?
YLJS: I’ve taken vocal lessons on and off through the years. These days I concentrate on vocal conditioning exercises. I met NYC opera singer who shared some of her conditioning routines with me and that has helped me also.
Salsa-101: Salsa music is comprised of many different rhythms how do you choose your songs ?
YLSJ: I listen to the lyrics first. If the lyrics represent my feelings towards Salsa music then I know I can do a good job of performing it. I’m not a fan of Salsa Monga in any way. One of my favorite female singers is La Lupe.
Salsa-101: In just three short years Yoko has become one of the most recognizable faces in the Salsa industry, and an iconic force in keeping the spirit of Salsa music alive! Yoko was invited to be part of New York Salsa Congress in 2006.
After her debut with Chino Nunez and Friends at the New York Salsa Congress in 2006, she became a lead singer of the band and sang the duet “Hoy les cantamos” with international salsa star Ray Sepulveda on Chino’s second album “Dr. Salsa”. This became an international hit, topping the chart in Pamana. The
song was also featured on XM Caliente in April 2008. Earlier
that same year, riding the success of “Dr. Salsa,” Yoko toured Greece with Chino.
On October 25th 2008, Yoko’s debut album entitled “Yoko, La Japonesa Salsera” was released at New York City’ s prestigious SOB`S, and was immediately greeted with critical acclaim and praise. On March 30th 2009, Yoko, now Salsa’ s hottest rising star, was the only female vocalist invited by Salsa legend Johnny Pacheco to perform at his 74th Birthday Celebration in Town Hall. The performance was a tribute to his legendary life in music. She shared the stage with one of Salsa’s biggest international stars, Andy Montañez from Puerto Rico as well.
In just three short years Yoko has become one of the most recognizable faces in the Salsa industry, and an iconic force in keeping the spirit of Salsa music alive!
Salsa-101: Is your popularity in salsa music the same in the US as it is in Japan ?
YLSJ: In Japan my biggest fans are the salsa dancers. The fans that favor listening over dancing prefer the old school Cuban style music.
Salsa-101: Is there a difference between the Japanese fans vs the US fans ?
YLSJ: Definitely, the majority of the Japanese salsa audience prefer the old Cuban style over salsa dance music, which is my style of singing.
Isidro Infante and YOKO
Salsa-101: Have you considered singing salsa music in Japanese?
YLJS: Yes, I have given it some thought, but it would be hard to. Don’t get me wrong there are many
who are doing it. But I don’t feel comfortable doing it.
Salsa-101: Do you have radio stations in JAPAN playing any kind of Salsa music ?
YLJS: There are a few local independent stations that do play the music, but they’re too few.
Salsa-101: Who are the Latin musicians that you listen to ?
YLSJ: I listen to many and my favorite is always changing. But my old time favorites are Sonora Ponceña, Bobby Valentin and Willie Rosario ,,,, and of course Cheo Feliciano !
Salsa-101: Do you travel to JAPAN often ?
YLSJ: No, I only went back to Japan in 2004 to do a concert with Herman Olivera
Salsa-101: What do you do when you’re not performing ?
YLSJ: I’m involved with Fashion and Sales in New York City.
Salsa-101: What new projects do you have lined up ?
YLJS: I’m working on a new CD due to come out in 2011. The CD will contain some original work from me. I already have three songs chosen from other composers. Then there is a Compilation CD due out in February 2010 which contains some of my work.
Salsa-101: Today the entire USA is going through a FRIGID Blast, and Yoko is feeling
under the weather. But being the trooper that she is, she still took time to sit down
and speak to us about her and her music.
Salsa-101 thanks Yoko for her contribution to Salsa music and the way which she represents it.
Closing statement ? I want to thank the hispanic community for accepting me and making me feel
like family at home and giving me the opportunity to do what I like to do most, sing SALSA music