It’s been said that music is a language in and of itself. A lot of the time, you don’t have to know exactly what a song is saying in order for it to speak to you; all you really have to do is feel it.
I talked to Midori Jaz a few weeks back and got a much more personal look at this idea. Most of her songs are delivered in Japanese – a language I have no semblance of or comprehension for. That didn’t matter, though. I was entranced by something in the music that, while not directly translatable, certainly wasn’t lost in translation.
Midori is half black, half Japanese. She credits her culturally rich background with much of the creative inspiration behind her work.
“I was born in Okinawa. My dad was in the military and met my mom while he was stationed there. I lived with my grandmother in Miyizaki from the time I was three up until moving to the U.S. at nine. I definitely feel that being in a non-military area away from my parents in those early years played an important role in shaping who I am today.”
She’s explored music throughout most of her life, teaching herself the guitar as a young adult and absorbing everything from Classic Rock to grassroots R&B, but it wasn’t until 2016 that she decided to start writing songs full time.
There’s something solitary in her music that’s indicative of a kind of independence you can’t manufacture. Her 2019 single, ‘Alone’, (this one’s actually sung in English) is a smooth, seductive declaration of detachment from all things that keep her from being her best self. It’s the ultimate “Fuck You” anthem that never actually has to say “Fuck You”.
Think about if Lana Del Rey traded in her nightgown for a switchblade and you might get the idea.
“Can’t give a fuck, I don’t have one
Pretty face but I like to play with guns
Alone in my moody lights, no sun
I don’t wanna be with just anyone”
The melody feels like a neon backdrop against a crisp and subtle beat – ambient, ghostly tones that radiate gently behind her hollow voice that glides over everything sweetly. The best part about the song is that it doesn’t need to overstate itself in order to carry the confidence that’s so apparent in its delivery.
“When people listen to this song, I want to make them feel NOT alone. I like the idea of others being able to relate to something when they’re feeling a certain way, and I think a lot of people can relate to wanting to be alone.”
Alternatively, her 2020 EP, ‘Simulation Dream Sounds’, is delivered entirely in Japanese. She described the record – which was executive produced by Cultie, a friend and fellow artist – as a story told front to back. Obviously, unless you speak fluent Japanese, you probably won’t be able to follow most of that story very well.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Midori provides direct translations of her lyrics on Soundcloud and Apple Music so you can follow along with what she’s saying if you like.
“I do feel restricted sometimes when I’m singing songs in Japanese because most people don’t speak it. I love lyrics first and foremost, and I want to share them, but the EP is supposed to be an experience. It’s an experience I feel you can still have without understanding the words.”
That’s a statement I can definitely confirm. I honestly feel like I was more spellbound because of (not despite) the lyrics being indecipherable to me. It adds a mystery to it all that compliments the dream-like essence of the music pleasantly, and it’s really fucking cool.
There’s a cohesion from start to finish that follows much of the same melodic format as ‘Alone’ – soft, echoing tones that blanket the totality of the songs pleasantly yet assertively at the same time, a beat that grooves more than it chops, and a vocal track that organically soars over everything in a sort of retro-operatic fashion. If there’s any autotune at all, it’s barely detectable; probably because it isn’t necessary.
There are even hints of traditional Japanese strings that add to the creative and cultural construct well. The album is fresh, soulful, and intoxicating. Check it out on all streaming platforms.
Moving forward, Midori plans to record an all English EP as a follow-up to ‘Simulation’. It remains untitled, but she assured me that she’s writing every day and that we should prepare for a release sooner than later.
Midori Jaz is, in numerous ways, a very private person. She enjoys her own space and creative breathing room that is exclusively reserved for her and her alone; but at the same time, she is deeply caring and empathetic toward others. She invites her listeners in and shares the most valuable, unadulterated parts of herself with them through the language she speaks more fluently than any other: music.
“It’s important to me to give back to the people who have helped me out along the way – my listeners, other artists… my friend who let me sleep on his couch for two weeks when I had nowhere else to go. There are so many good people out there and countless hidden talents who deserve to be heard. I just never want anyone to feel left out if I can help it.”