Nuff Respect: Interview with PANG

interview - 10.10.2007 08:00

JaME held an interview with reggae artist PANG about her career, the reggae scene in Japan, and much more.

The popularity of reggae seems to be increasing rapidly in Japan and there is now a number of reggae artists making names for themselves in Japan. PANG is one of these reggae artists, and with her fresh and skillful vocals and colorful songs with strong messages, she has an outstanding presence in the Japanese reggae scene.

JaME held an interview with her in order to get to know her better and to ask some questions about the Japanese reggae scene in general.

First of all, we would like to ask you to please introduce yourself to those who haven't heard of you yet.

PANG: I am PANG, a reggae singer from Japan. I have been fascinated by reggae for ten years. I debuted and released my first CD in 2003 and I have released a total of ten singles, mini-albums, and albums.

Why did you choose to use the name PANG? What is the meaning behind it?

PANG: It doesn't really have a deep meaning. Actually, my real name is PangHyang; I'm Korean, and PANG has been my nickname since my childhood, so it felt natural for me to choose this name.

Reggae isn't as widely known as pop and rock music in Japan. How did you first get in touch with reggae music and what made you decide or inspired you to start making this kind of music?

PANG: For the past two or three years, Japanese reggae songs have often made it into the top 10 of the Oricon charts. However, when I first started singing, reggae didn't seem to be as well-known as pop and rock. It might just be another prompt, but what made me decide to be a reggae singer was the music by Bob Marley, I think.

Originally, I liked what we call 'black music' here; music such as hip hop, soul, R&B, reggae... And as I went to take vocal training, I used to play and sing in clubs at midnight. Before I started to create songs by myself and sing like I do now, I covered popular R&B songs with my friends at that time. However, I started to think about things such as "why do I want to sing?" and "what do I want accomplish by singing?" Then I listened to an album by Bob Marley again and I didn't know why, but I couldn't stop crying. Even though I couldn't understand English very well, when I read the lyrics it left a big impact on me; his words, voice, melodies, sounds... I was thrilled by everything and I thought I wanted to be a singer who can move peoples' hearts just like him, to be a singer who strongly conveys pain and happiness, and who gives people courage.

In your music you usually stay close to the old school type of reggae, whereas other reggae artists like to experiment with dance-hall or other styles, which seems to be rather popular now. What is your reason for sticking to this kind of music?

PANG: I thought about the roots of my reggae music: "It's cool! I like it!" Concerning dance-hall, old dance-hall is more attractive than the newer kind and my body likes it. Well, what can I say about those emotional bass lines? Last year in a live house, Kazufumi Kozama, the former trumpeter of MUTE BEAT, selected songs from Wackies (an independent reggae label, considered to be the first significant reggae studio and label in the USA) for about one hour. I thought "If he would try to seduce me now, I'm sure I will fall in love with him!!" I was so drunk with the sound.

On the contrary, the current mainstream style doesn't seem to suit me. I want to make cool songs, with the sounds that I feel are best, and deliver them to the audience. That's all I want to do.

Not too long ago you cut off your dreadlocks and are now sporting a crew cut. What was the reason behind this drastic, but stylish change in appearance?

PANG: It's hard to keep dreadlocks for Asian people like me (laughs). I was longing for it and I kept it for about five years, but my scalp became red and my hair fell out a lot so I gave up keeping it for a while. Also, I wanted to have a crew cut once in my life.

And now that I think about it, it might be that I needed to change my feelings by changing my appearance a lot because I felt like "My capacity has somehow gotten smaller these days".

It seems that reggae is growing more and more popular in Japan nowadays. What do you think is causing this growth in popularity?

PANG: I thank my seniors for this. Many seniors such as producer Kato, who used to be the chief editor of Reggae Magazine, and NAHKI, my teacher, who brought reggae music to Japan and made it popular here before the young people nowadays were born. Also, all the places where we can listen to reggae, the people that listen to reggae, and the number of reggae artists have increased. I think I have to work harder to raise my level more and more.

When taking a look at older reggae songs such as those of Bob Marley, we find various themes such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, and other social issues. On the opposite end, there are also themes of happiness and love. Do you also take these themes into consideration when creating your own music?

PANG: Even though the times have changed, there are still many, various social problems and human sadness, anger, and happiness. As I said before, I want to give courage and save somebody with my songs. So I need to fight sometimes and I need to reveal my weaknesses at other times. I have to say "it's wrong" when something is wrong and "I don't understand" to what I don't understand and "I love you" when I love someone. For that, I have to be tough.

I sing songs, but the songs shouldn't be unpleasant. Reggae is a kind of music that people can dance to, even when the lyrics are about hard and tough things. That's awesome, I think. Also, I want to be close to everyone.

Originally, reggae was seen in the 1970s in Jamaica as a way of life, while nowadays it seems it's mostly seen as a fashionable style. People like to listen to the music without thinking about the deeper meaning behind it. Would you say it's being seen this way in Japan nowadays, that people regard it as something fashionable rather than a lifestyle?

PANG: Recently, I heard that there are young people who don't know the songs of Bob Marley, even in Jamaica. Is that true? Maybe it's a lie? In Japan, we can't say they aren't. Honestly speaking, I myself became interested in reggae by the sound of it. But as I listen to it, I tried to understand the underlying meaning. Even though people begin to listen to reggae from a fashion point of view, as long as the songs are good and they listen to cool music there are no problems, I think.

What is your own point of view on reggae music? When one compares the Jamaican background with the Japanese, there aren't a lot of similarities. What meaning does it have to you?

PANG: Surely, Jamaica and Japan might be totally different. When I listen to songs made by Jamaican artists, they wake me up with their strong appeal and will to live when they sing.

In Japan, there are many people who grow up in blessed environments, but the spirits of many people still fall ill. I think that everybody meets difficulties in their life, but you mustn't give up. No matter how hard it is, if you look up and go forward, little by little, happiness will surely come to you. I hope reggae gives such hope and I want to encourage everybody to step forward together.

What has left the biggest impression on you during your visit to Jamaica?

PANG: I could only stay for three days.... The children were cute. Their eyes were bright and were really cute, but the eyes of the adults were the eyes of people that were simply surviving. You should be tough in order to live, but still it's difficult. I understood that a little bit. Reggae was born in such a situation. I want to know more, so I hope I can go a little longer the next time. And, I'll change the subject a little, but the food was so delicious. And the sea was beautiful like jelly.

One of the symbols that appears a lot in your music nowadays is "kizuna", "bonds". What is the meaning behind this, how do you see these kinds of bonds?

PANG: You can't live alone in this world. Now, I go to various places and meet various people and get a lot of encouragement by singing my songs. Sometimes I'm depressed by my cowardice, but there are people that always support me so I can work hard. When I felt like this, I thought, "I'm so happy to have the delight and power to live."

We trust and need each other, and we can keep going. When we know that, we can feel our bonds, I think.

Can you tell us something about your newest album, PANG III ~kizuna~? Did you have any concept in mind before you created it?

PANG: When I started on it, I didn't have a concept and I just created songs as I felt them. After I finished recording it, the staff who listened to the songs asked "wouldn't it be 'heart'?" Friendship, love, humanity, the relationships between people.... "Ah, it's a bond!", I thought.

I expressed my feelings and this bond, which I felt connected me with many people in various forms. I didn't only sing about happiness, but also about sadness.

What makes this album different from your previous albums?

PANG: The albums I previously released had the feeling of summer. I thought this time I could make my work have a feeling of freshness, like a comfortable wind. Before, I think I tried to make songs like an honor student would write because I always thought, "I have to give a true answer as a human being."

I think my experiences, which I gained in New York and Jamaica, were important for me. Even if someone said "This is not cool," I preferred to convey my thoughts clearly. There comes a point when that becomes the most important thing. For that reason, I think that's why there are more feminine-sounding songs on the album.

About the sound, NAHKI and Riddim Force Band, which Jerry Harris leads, played with me, as well as members of Tuff Session, who I played with for the first time. The members of RAGGAMATIX, who always go on live tours with me, also joined so the band's variety of sounds increased. And of course m.Kamishiro, who always takes care of me, Toshiya Mori (ex. ROCKING TIME), and I-watch of HOME GROWN also joined in the recording. So it was more like good ol' Reggae Muzik than it was before.

In the beginning of your career, you met the famous reggae singer NAHKI at an event in which both of you performed. In what way has he helped you, and what sort of guidance have you received from him?

PANG: As a matter of fact, it was by chance that I met NAHKI. Since then, I have totally changed my method of working. I'm sincerely thankful to him; I've learned a lot of things from him, not by words, but by sounds. The best and most important thing that I learned was 'to be simple.' More and more we got rid of the extra things and made music by using minimum sounds, which is the coolest type of reggae. As long as the vocals are firm, we could make any rhythm by using smaller amounts of sound. Nyahbinghi music is just like that.

It's said that I think about themes in various points of view all the time. That is just the theme of PANG. Last year, it was often said that I think with both my head and my womb when I make songs. Lately, I can understand how I came to that. If I were to take out the sexiness in reggae, it would end.

Like NAHKI helped you, you helped Lecca as she just started her career. What was it like to work with her?

PANG: Actually there isn't much of a difference between Lecca's and my music career. I debuted just a little bit earlier than Lecca and we used to sing together in clubs. It might be better to say that I learned a lot of things from her than to say that she learned from me.

Lecca writes songs everyday as if she's writing in her diary about what she feels. I'm surprised by her pace and she is an artist with very good ideas and sense. Her repertoire is wide and she never hesitates with anything. She selects words that no one else uses in their lyrics, so her lyrics have a strong impact and are interesting. In her songs, we can immediately understand what she wants to say, which is really great.

Last year you performed live in New York with MEGARYU and NAHKI. What was this experience like, and would you like to do this again?

PANG: Everything was surprising to me. The musicians who participated in my recording were just awesome. I wanted to give all of them "Nuff Respect!!" It was like "listen to it and then you'll believe", like looking at something for the first time and finally believing it. I had never experienced those kinds of sounds. They were highly skilled of course, and I was moved by their passion for music. They worked so hard everyday and their hungry spirits aimed upward all the time. As they had absolute confidence in their playing, they never compromised. I looked at that and thought "I have many things to do", but I wanted to quickly improve like them. And I want to play with them again. I really want to have that opportunity again!!

What plans do you have for the near future? Can we expect another release from you any time soon?

PANG: I'll do a summer tour with MEGARYU and maybe we'll tour until the end of this year too. I'll travel all over Japan. If you are staying in Japan, please come to see me ♪ My next release will be in winter or spring. It hasn't been determined yet, but I hope I can release my new work before next summer.

Lastly, please give a message for your overseas fans.

PANG: I am PANG, who is attracted to reggae and who wants to attract you with reggae. I'm working in Japan, but I hope I can go overseas someday. I show my gratitude every day by working hard and I hope to be able to make songs which can make many people smile. So please support me! Nuff Love & Power!!!

Thank you very much for the interview!

PANG: Thank you very much!!

JaME would like to thank PANG and Avex Entertainment inc. for this interview.
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