ARTIST NAME: Utako Toyama + Lisa Oduor-Noah
SONG TITLE: Darling
RELEASE DATE: April 4th, 2021
GENRE: R&B, Soul
Utako Toyama is a Japanese singer-songwriter and the bandleader of SkyBridge. She has worked as a backing vocalist and performed at well-known events such as the opening ceremony of the 2007 World Championships in Athletics, and as a choir director for several music programs at NHK (Japan’s public broadcasting organization), which was broadcast during the new year season to an audience of more than fourteen million three hundred fifty thousand viewers.
She got accepted to Berklee College of Music with a scholarship in 2011. By making friends from all over the world through music, she realized about universality and diversity of humanity and music. She then started a global project band, SkyBridge under the slogan of “We look different, we ALL smile the same”. SkyBridge became the representative band at Berklee and even though they never submitted their work, their music video and activity caught the eyes of one of the judges and they received an artistry award at Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the event that India Arie performed a few years later.
After she graduated from Berklee, she received an exceptional talent visa in the US. She became the first and only Japanese songwriter who received multiple finalist awards at John Lesson Songwriting Contest (JLSC) as well as awards at songwriting contests such as SongStar and RAWA songs for social change. She has been performing at big events such as the Women Music Network concert at BPC as the special Alumna, concert at Boston consul general’s house, Hard Rock Café, Boston Japan Festival, Harvard University, MIT and to open the conference “Next 4 years” where more than 300 organizations participated.
She has always loved the UK music scene as well as their active orchestral music scene and decided to move to the UK and received the UK exceptional talent visa. She now based in London.
Her passion is to spread the message of diversity, equality, and world peace through her compositions, performances, and workshops. She has worked in the US, Japan, Kenya, Uganda, and Croatia and worked with fantastic musicians from over 46 countries, including Grammy awarded musicians, such as Mark Walker and Victor Wooten.
Kenyan singer Lisa A. Oduor-Noah was quickly introduced to music through her sibling’s playing of varied styles of music- from Rhythm and Blues to Lingala- yet unbeknownst to her, her family had a deep love for music that she came to know and love at a young age.
At the tender age of 9 years old, she joined her then, school choir in Loreto Convent Msongari in a bid to compete in the Kenya National Music Festivals against schools from across the country, and this sparked her interest in choral ensembles and music.
After switching schools in 2004, here is where her musical talent was not only nurtured but also found more room to express itself in ways like performing for school assemblies, in intramural music competitions, as well as school drama productions aside from pursuing music as a subject in school.
Aside from being heavily involved in her high school’s choir, Lisa found much more room to express herself after attending and becoming a part of her Church’s youth worship team where many Kenyan greats like producer and arranger Victor Seii and former Berklee Alumnus Eric Wainaina, found their humble beginnings. This saw her perform and also feature in various musicals, choir direct and sparked her love for vocal harmony arrangements.
Lisa has performed alongside Kenyan greats Neema Ntalel, Sarah Mitaru, Atemi Oyungu, Eric Wainaina, among many others, as well as opened for and sung alongside Vivian Green and been featured on various albums such as Charles Righa’s Urban Prayers, Noel Nderitu’s My Kind of Music and the NESTCollective’s Legacy Project, to name a few.
In the more recent years, she worked with Just A Band, on Coke Studio Africa- a collaborative project that saw artists from all over Africa come together and create a fusion of music from their respective regions- as well as, most recently, performing and collaborating on the recently launched campaign song for the Global Sustainable Goals which saw her perform in front of a stage of around 60,000 people, sharing a stage with musical greats Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce and Pearl Jam amongst others, in 2015.
Aside from this, Lisa has remained an avid performer at Berklee, putting on her own recital’s-filled with original music she’s written and composed- as well as performing in various students projects, senior recital’s and Berklee 160 Caf shows as well as involvement in faculty performances at the Berklee Performance Center with such as Prof. Nedelka Prescod and Prof. Lucy Holstedt, over the course of her study. Lisa has also appeared in various Berklee videos such as the Black Lives Matter cover of Nina Simone’s song entitled “Four Women”, Njoki Karu’s original song “Omba”, as well as Niya Norwood and Nikko Ielasi’s video “Black Girl Magic”, The Nyumba Yetu bands “Beautiful Ones”, including the Berklee BoCo merger video ‘Broadway Sessions’ to name a few.
More recently she was invited to be a part of the Robert Glasper Residency and Recording Master class as a student participant and opened alongside Berklee Alumnus Selah Poitier, for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.
Currently, Lisa is studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts where she intends to complete a Bachelors degree in Contemporary Writing and Production hoping to follow up in postgraduate studies in either Psychology or in Music Production, having found a love for vocal production through the eyes of her CWP professors. Lisa hopes that, through the music she creates and arranges, she would tell stories of hope and love and be an agent of healing and restoration to a world she feels is in desperate need of love and light.
Aside from this, she has continued to stay connected with the current Kenyan music scene, writing and arranging vocals for various artists, including Blink Bill’s- Kenyan TED Fellow who is set to perform at the Cape Town Jazz Festival in 2018- unreleased, upcoming album.
Ultimately she desires to bring higher levels of the quality of music education and knowledge to Africa as well as being an aide to better emotional and mental health through music, as music has been taken out of Public schools in Kenya.
Discuss your recording experience with your producer.
Since it’s a self-produced track, it was a lot of inner conversation within myself. I’m grateful that I got to work with wonderful musicians who gave me amazing insight, which made producing much easier.
Discuss what comes first and last while creating a song.
Emotion always comes first in music to me when I write songs. Another thing is to work with musicians who I respect and trust musically and personally, which is important to me. They are the ones who helped me to make the feeling hearable and represented the feeling beautifully through their gift and I feel fortunate to work with them.
I think marketing and that business side come last while creating a song, which I hope to improve more.
Tell us the piece of advice you will give to a new artist.
“Make new mistakes”
Sometimes so many past mistakes make you afraid to try anymore but I believe true growth isn’t about learning how not to make mistakes but to make new mistakes. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
This is something I tell myself. 🙂
Discuss your worse experience in the music business.
In terms of the music business, to me, I think not promoting my song enough isn’t fair to the songs and also the musicians who I worked with for the song.
I used not to promote my song a lot because I love writing songs and all the creative processes more than promoting it. Soon enough, I realized that I need to do “my homework” to continue what I love.
The result can be anything but I have decided to try my best on promoting the songs.
Tell us how you make instrumentation to your song.
It depends on the song and for the project but for “Darling”, I wrote it with piano and then brought it to the musicians who I believe and record it. Later on, I felt something is missing and decided to add strings.
Tell us how you feel when you sing and your fans sing along to your song.
It’s the best feeling EVER. There was a time I had a performance at a high school in the US and when I got there, all the students who are in the choir knew my song. They were like “You are the one who wrote the song! I love your song!” I will NEVER forget that experience in my life.
Tell us the goals you aim to achieve when creating a song.
My aim when I write is to convert the feeling to a sound form as high resolution as possible.
Tell us your approach to writing.
I start writing songs usually triggered by a strong “theme”. The theme can be a phrase of melody, words, chords, or a concept. After I got the theme, I develop a song around it.
Tell us how you plan to develop a unique music style.
I think focusing in a meditation way is the key for me to write. I drop myself into a sea of the emotion of the theme and try to write down what I hear in that world.
The song and the sound might be not unique to other people but my focus is to be sincere and true to what I feel and what I hear from it.
Tell us how you record your song.
As a casual recording, I record whatever comes to me on the voice memos and repeat it until it clicks.
As a proper recording, I approach musicians who I believe would sound great on the song and rehearse and then record.
Tell us if you are collaborating with other songwriters or you write alone.
Like “Darling”, I write songs by myself most of the time but I love collaborating with other songwriters working on different functions like they write chords and I write a melody or they write lyrics and I write chords, etc. I love that we can create things we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Discuss your experience with fans.
I love when audiences who didn’t know each other before coming to my concert, sing my songs together and become friends after the show. It’s truly my life treasure!
Elaborate on the song.
“Darling” is a song about breaking up when you don’t want to hurt the person you care about. You feel they don’t deserve to get hurt but they should be the ones to leave instead of being left. By featuring Lisa Oduor-Noah (from Kenya), her soulful voice brought the song to a life.
Elaborate on your artist’s name and the title of the album.
My artist name is my full name. Thanks to my parents, my first name “Utako (Pronounce: Oo-Tah-Koh)” means “Song Child” or “Singing child” in Japanese. So I decided to keep it as an artist’s name as well even though it’s not the easiest name to pronounce for an English-speaking person. I love my name!
I made the title of this single “Darling” because “Darling, you’ve got to be the one to leave me” was the “theme” that came to me at first and triggered me to write this song.