Sunday, April 8, 2007
Hibari Misora was known through all of Japan for her performance of enka (演歌 — from 演 en performance, entertainment, and 歌 ka song)- drinking songs that were all the rage during the early part of the 20th century. It was the first style of Japanese music to merge the Japanese pentatonic scale with that of Western harmonies.
In the late 1800s, enka was used as "one man street theatre" to voice political dissent by wrapping a message within the confines of the song. As time passed, it focused on more emotional issues. Enka lyrics tend toward the pain of living: romantic loss or the death of a loved one but always from the point of view that one must be perseverant through life's many harships and not give up. There is a traditional and idealistic picture painted of Japanese culture through this style of music and is now seen as being rather archaic by most Japanese youth.
An interesting thing to note about enka is its influence on Korean teuroteu (trot) music during the Japanese occupation. If you take a song by Hibari Misora and then play it back to back with a song performed by, let's say Kim Soo Hee (a singer of Korean teuroteu), you can clearly hear the musical similarities. Not only in the composition of the music but even in the vocal style and the type of lyrics!
Another interesting thing to note is that at one point there was a special inquiry to research Hibari Misora's ancestry as there was an insinuation that she was actually Korean and not Japanese. The inquiry into the matter proved that she was, indeed, of Japanese ancestry.
For more information about enka, read Christine R Yano's Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song.