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MISIA: How the R&B singer hopes to make a difference outside of music
The Japanese vocalist and honorary U.N. ambassador talks to CNNGo about her aim to promote bio-diversity around the world and to raise awareness of child poverty in Africa
On March 1st 2010, Japanese R&B singer MISIA was appointed Honorary Ambassador for the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) by the U.N. Secretary General. It was the result and recognition of years of work by the 32-year-old, who remains one the most successful pop singers across Asia in the last 10 years.
Having started her own charity Child Africa to support education and sustainable development, she has gone on to raise awareness of various issues -- highlighted by the recent attendance of representatives of the United Nations, Oxfam, World Swim Against Malaria and many more at her July 7 birthday party, where CNNGo caught up with her.
CNNGo: Can you tell us about your involvement with the U.N.; What exactly does your role involve?
MISIA: My major role is to let more people know about “biodiversity”, and the fact that COP 10 is actually taking place. Also as the artist and singer MISIA, I will keep appealing so that people gain knowledge and a sense of awareness of the issues of biodiversity.
I am neither a scholar, politician nor an expert of biodiversity issues. That is why I am able to explain the importance of biodiversity with simple words and without the usual jargon, so that ordinary people can understand it well.
In addition, we have opened a website called “SATOYAMA BASKET”, to encourage people to learn about biodiversity. On this site, there are also visual images and written documents of my inspection footage. I am doing these visits to learn more about biodiversity and to see the current situation, and I am hoping to share the experiences and learning through this website. I hope that many people will take a look at them.
I also do some promotion in my talk shows and live events. Currently, I am on tour, which I called “Hoshizora no Live VI”, which mostly take place in the open air, such as within forests. The aim of this live concert is to feel biodiversity through live music. Furthermore, we have produced “Biodivesity Band” (a silicon bracelet on which biodiversity icons are printed) to donate the profit through the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. There is a biodiversity booth in the concert venues under the cooperation of Ministry of the Environment.
CNNGo: You supported the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, can you tell us about your involvement there?
MISIA: As a part of the official FIFA World Cup album "Listen Up!", I have recorded my new single “Maware Maware”. I have actually performed this song at Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. This song was composed by a group called M2J, made up of multi-talented new artist named JP and DJ Muro.
Francis Jocky, a New York-based Cameroonian is collaborating with us on the guitar and chorus session. Since Japan's first world cup match was against Cameroon, we performed this song as a prelude to Japan versus Cameroon match.
When I have participated in events organized by Sony, my 3D promotion video was presented for the first time. My live performance was also presented in 3D and I am sure it was stereoscopic and extremely realistic. All the audience wore 3D glasses, and the place looked spectacular.
Of course we watched the Japan versus Cameroon match the next day. I was happy about the Japanese victory, but I was more touched and impressed by the cheering of the locals, and felt a borderless bond beyond race or culture.
At that time, I visited the “Football for Hope Center” to communicate with local children. This project is a social activity organized by FIFA. The center offers soccer lessons as well as programs in which children can learn various things such as dance and video-engineering that Sony offers. The center also provides HIV/AIDS testing, counseling and anti-epidemic education. The profits of “Listen Up!” are used to newly establish such centers in 20 locations across Africa.
All songs in this album are produced through collaboration with African artists, and I can’t help but say it is a great album. It also includes speech of former South African President Nelson Mandela. This album is full of people’s enthusiasm. Though the World Cup is already over, I really hope many people enjoy these songs.
CNNGo: What were you experiences in South Africa and how is it different to other African countries?
MISIA: One of the surprising things on this visit to South Africa is that its economy is extremely developed compared to other African nations. However, if you step outside the city, there are many slum areas and 70 percent of youngsters have no jobs. I felt a huge gap between the rich and the poor.
I was also impressed to see youngsters happily working at the soccer stadium. We usually tend to forget, but whenever I visit African countries, I realize that having a job and things to do are something we should be thankful of.
Despite the fact that security is known to be poor in this area, I never experienced anything scary even when I visited the slums. I think that the wide gap between the rich and the poor causes the crime rate in South Africa.
CNNGo: Has the World Cup shown an Africa that is now in good shape, making it hard to convince people that much of it is still underdeveloped?
MISIA: I think it is meaningful to stage the World Cup in South Africa, where the apartheid system was still remaining just decades ago. The significance is felt even stronger when we consider the problems South Africa has faced till today. What’s important is to make this World Cup a step for the future.
It is difficult to solve problems such as poverty or HIV/AIDS immediately and completely. Nevertheless, I still believe it is possible to end such sorrow in our generation.
I learned a lot of sorrowful realities through my activities and it breaks my heart just to know such things. However, I realized that there are many tragedies we could have avoided if we knew about them ahead of time. I wish that African people have more chances to know more of the world. I am sure that we can change the world by learning more about it.
CNNGo: What is the future for Child Africa?
MISIA: We have established a foundation named “mudef” (Music Design Foundation) this May, and I am one of the board members. The principal aim of this organization is “to raise awareness on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to accelerate its accomplishment”. Within eight major goals of MDGs that are to be met by 2015, the conservation of biodiversity and the achievement of universal primary school are included. Child AFRICA, which was a campaign project to support children’s education in Africa since 2008, becomes a part of such activities.
Through mudef, I wish to tackle the various problems MDGs aim at solving, as well as support African children and the issue of biodiversity.
As I was appointed as an Honorary Ambassador for COP 10 in this March, I will tackle biodiversity problems as well as African issues that we have addressed so far. Biodiversity means that all lives are related, and that we should be thankful for its blessings.
Through dealing with problems in Africa, I learned that global issues such as poverty, conflicts and environmental problems are all connected, especially when such problems are triggered by human beings. I began to sense the need of thinking, learning and dispatching the message with a wider view when I thought of what I should do for the world in the future.
CNNGo: It is rare for Japanese artists to get involved in charity, what inspired you?
MISIA: One of the major reasons for my activity is the fact that I am from Nagasaki. Nagasaki experienced a nuclear bomb disaster in the Second World War in 1945. Because of this, the peace education is still popular in Nagasaki. What I learned through this education is “not to repeat disastrous history.” However, the world is repeating many sorrowful things. I want to know the reasons, and I want to know how to solve it. I believe this willingness to learn and think can lead to wealth of the heart.
Most of the social activity results in charity, but I think social action is more about learning about the world and the people who live in it.
Many Japanese artists started to engage in various social activities. Some of them work with U.N. organizations and NGOs as Goodwill Ambassadors or do their original volunteering work.
CNNGo: The Dalai Lama spoke in Tokyo in June 2010 and gave the following advice to the youth of Japan. What are your thoughts about it?
"Whether you like it or not, English is the universal language. Study English and go out. This is very important. You are a country technologically highly developed. Now, you should participate, wisely, in the outside world. The youth of Japan remain here, and are having some problems here. Go to the outside world! To Arabia, Africa, Latin America... You can make many contributions."
MISIA: English is a very useful tool for communication in international scene. Actually, when I visited Africa, I mostly communicated in English. At the same time, I realized that there are things which I can only express in Japanese. If possible, I want to communicate and interact with people in both languages.
As for knowing the outside world, I believe it can give us a precious experience. I realized there are a lot of things for us to do when I went to Africa. I was also able to actually see and hear how my own country is seen by others, and what we are doing for the world. It is also important to see nearby and far-away situations in order to see our position. Moreover, I think we should bring back the learning and experiences to our own country, convey them to the others, make further improvements and again take it to the outside to give good learning to the others. This interaction leads to mutual development and maturity. I think it would be great if such interaction can be seen more in Japan.