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Anjani, Singer With Okinawan Roots

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-07-21

A half Okinawan singer/songwriter has just released her debut CD, “Anjani”. Born in Hawaai, where she now lives, Anjani was trained in classical music. By the age of 15 she had 11 classical piano students. Then her elder brother Steve introduced her to Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison and others. Throughout high school she played R&B and pop gigs.

In 1984 Anjani was hired to do background vocals on “Various Positions”, an album by sixties folk singing icon, Leonard Cohen. When it came time to promote the album, she was asked to tour with him, singing and playing keyboards. Cohen is revered by European audiences and has cult status in some countries. One of these is Poland where Anjani was assigned a bodyguard for a week, the same one who guarded the Pope. At their first date in Warsaw the concert was delayed for two hours while police filtered out 3000 people with counterfeit tickets. Anjani watched as distraught fans surrounded the tour bus, craning their necks for a glimpse of their idol.

Another big influence was R&B, gospel, jazz and rock singer Carl Anderson in whose band Anjani has played and toured.

Both these mentors have given their endorsements to the new CD. Leonard Cohen called it “exotic, dreamy and hypnotic” while Carl Anderson said “Anjani is the Hawaaian wind and the sun at its soft edges where shadows merge with light”.

Anjani herself says “for years I wanted to do a record but I never got beyond the dream state.” Lovers of enchanting ballads and heartfelt, sensuous imagery woven into wonderfully crafted songs, will be glad this artist started putting her dreams down onto disc.

On one of the finest cuts, How I Love You, the mood is slow and mesmeric with gradual build-ups to “Wonder, magic, wild abandon, dance of passion”. There are several of these before we are brought to ground again, with the knowing melancholia of the final line “Time will tell me, how you love me”.

There is an ethereal, other worldly quality running through many of these songs. Though there are moments of homespun philosophy too, as in Here And Now when Anjani sings “The finer things in life, are in your own backyard”.

Two of the songs, Kanaloa and Queen of Your Heart have Hawaaian lyrics. Kanaloa is the only track o the album which might be said to have a political dimension. It is in memory of a couple who died at sea while protesting the US military presence on the island of Kaoho’olawe, revered as the domain of the God of The Ocean. A portion of the proceeds from record sales will be donated to the campaign to protect the island.

The range of Anjani’s voice is impressive and her pitch perfect. None of the writing is banal, there are no bad tracks and all the songs are all well crafted poetic statements.

There is a fair amount of nature imagery on this album: “summer lightning, willows bending, roses climbing” and “feather floating, river rushing”. “Blue dragonfly anxious and still, cry of a wolf alone on a hill, laden mimosas lean in the rain, starlings take flight again” are the Ties That Bind in the title of the track.

Some of the songs deal with more prosaic concerns. Shelter For My Soul for instance, is about a homeless man known as ‘Jesus’ in the Venice CA neighborhood where Anjani used to live. When she heard he had died in the brutal winter of 1996, she went to the piano and wrote this song with its plaintive message: “Can’t Find no doorway that’s warm and safe, Don’t turn away…..You might find yourself in my shoes one day”.

There is more than a touch of melancholia about this CD. In Angel By Your Side are sentiments of aching separation about someone who “never (got) the chance to say goodbye to me” but who is touchingly offered some sincere spiritual comfort by the singer.

There is self-knowledge and vulnerability too. In Ain’t Foolin’ No One the author confesses to having her “defenses torn apart” and having been “seen right through...” The arrangement on this song is so subtle and well filled out, it is a while before you realize it is only voice and piano, with no other accompanying instruments.

There is a maturity about this work that belies its debut status. The song arrangements and lyrics are obviously the work of someone who has spent considerable time and patience honing her craft. On the first cut of the record Anjani tells us she is getting off to a late start. All I can say is whatever it took for this talent to ripen, judging by this stunning first record, it has been well worth the wait.

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