Tom Smith on the singer that refuses to give up
Ai Kawashima’s life has all the unfortunate ingredients of a weepy, straight-to-TV melodrama. Yet, she hasn't let any of it hold her back from achieving her dream in music.
As a young teenager Ai managed to launch a brief career as an enka
singer, a style of music famous for containing lyrical themes relating to love, loss and loneliness. What’s a 13-year-old know about that? Quite a lot! Her father vanished leading up to her birth, and her mother passed away from illness resulting in Ai being placed in an orphanage by the time she was three. Eventually the Kawashima family would adopt her, but they also died before Ai could finish high school; first her foster father when she was ten, and then later her foster mother, too.
It was with the Kawashimas where Ai discovered her passion for music. Despite being in the construction industry, the family encouraged her to sing and play piano from an early age, which even led to her being asked to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall while still in elementary school.
Ai’s foster mother sadly died the same year as Ai’s attempt to crack the enka
market. Coupled with poor sales, Ai soon abandoned the project and started a new one with a new goal; to play more shows. A lot of shows. A hell of a lot more shows. While Blighty’s own Ed Sheeran set himself a target of 300+ gigs in a year before he was famous, Ai was aiming for 1000 – although she didn't restrict herself to the constraints of 365 days to do it in.
Armed with a microphone and an old skool cassette player, she hit the streets of Shibuya day after day and performed despite very little interest from those passing by. Yet, her persistence gradually led to a following, which resulted in her debut single Asu e no Tobira
(Door to Tomorrow) shifting nearly one million copies.
Ai’s follow up single, 12-ko no Kisetsu
(12 Seasons) even managed to make it in the top ten of the Billboard world chart. Yet, despite hitting the big time, Ai kept true to her self and continued to perform on the streets whenever possible, eventually achieving her goal of 1000 shows in 2005.
Around the same time, Ai had her first tie-in with one of her singles becoming the theme song to PS2 RPG Shining Force Neo
(watch out, the English dub of the game is excruciating), soon followed by Compass, used in the latest One Piece
film to hit DVD here; Episodes of Alabasta
Ai Kawashima not only sings the theme for the movie, she stars in it too! Check out the Japanese dub, she plays the voice of chambermaid Mayday
One Piece Movie 8: Episodes of Alabasta is out from 5 January on UK DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Manga Entertainment.