It was in early 2014 that a friend of mine alerted me to a recorded-in-Hawaii Japanese LP that he recently found which featured a disco track. Simply having a contemporary track on a Japanese album isn’t always enough to pique my interest (those Lauren Nakano albums were certainly a bit of a let down), but the cover looked like a quality self-produced, private press release, so I gave it a try. The album in question is My Home Town, by Aiko.
Around the same time, I came across a blog post from a Japanese collector featuring a review and two cuts from the album. One of those tracks was “Fly With Me”. I was instantly hooked. Thanks to my friend, I was happy to have the LP in my possession, because I soon realized — as the Japanese blogger had — that when paired, “Fly With Me” and “Time Machine” (the disco tune my friend had mentioned) complement each other.
A 7-inch was in order for the then-forthcoming Aloha Got Soul label. I set out in search of Aiko, whose last name was unknown to me at the time. I found a blog featuring the photographs of Don Touchi, who had written about Aiko’s karaoke class and its elderly participants in 2012:
“It has long been believed that music is an effective method of treating physical, emotional, social and mental problems that individuals have. One person goes a step further and uses music as a means to help to prevent such problems from occurring. Or, at least to delay the effects of aging. Such a person is Aiko Sekiguchi, a renowned singer from Japan. “
I reached out to Don in April 2014. I told him I hadn’t heard of either Aiko or Dale Senaga before. He offered a brief background on each artist:
“Aiko made her name in Japan way back, I would guess, in the late 50s and early 60s, primarily from winning in the “Red and White” competitions. She landed in S.F. and then Hawaii where she performed at the old Oasis Nightclub. She then opened her own club, Koisan and now has a karaoke school where she provides a venue for seniors to sing.
Dale Senaga has been a musician all of his life, have played the French Horn in the National Guard Band and and the Royal Hawaiian Band where he retired a few years ago and was named the C&C of Honolulu’s employee of the Year. He was also the RHB’s arranger and is arguably one of the best arrangers in Hawaii. Also a very good pianist who has played for Gabe Baltazar, Danny Kaleikini, Melveen Leed, etc.”
A few months later, I hoped to see if Dale and Aiko would be interested in doing a 7-inch of the two standout cuts from the album. I reached out to Don again and was met with shocking, saddening news.
Aiko had been in a car accident just a few days prior. She passed away not long after arriving at Queen’s Medical Center. I couldn’t believe the timing.
Eight months went by, during which I found myself listening more intently to Aiko’s music, slowly piecing together the lyrics to both “Fly With Me” and “Time Machine”. I began to realize that with her passing, the music created an even stronger effect on me. It was as if Aiko was inviting me, the listener, to join her as she soared through the after-life — flying “higher and higher as a bird” (「鳥になる、羽をひろげ、高く高く」), traversing a dream-filled space “where anything is possible” (「ああタイム・マシン夢の中だよ、ああタイム・マシン何でも出来る」).
Even though Aiko was no longer here on Earth, she lived on through her music. I needed to contact Dale Senaga to share this feeling.
On the evening of April 6, 2015, Dale returned my phone call. He was curious to hear I was interested in reissuing some of Aiko’s songs. It was still difficult for him, thinking of Aiko’s unexpected passing, but such a project would be “a good way to pay tribute to her” and would be a “nice [thing to do] in her memory”, he said over the phone.
Dale was equally curious to learn that the two particular songs I wanted to re-release were the tracks they had just “threw in to fill in the album”. He admitted that “Fly With Me” and “Time Machine” were composed with a Top 40’s style in mind, “but her Japanese fans never got it”.
With Dale’s permission, I moved forward. Now, in the autumn of 2016, Aiko’s music is available as AGS-7005. You can download the digital tracks today and pre-order the 7-inch vinyl, arriving in mid- to late-November.
As the 7-inch project progressed, I found myself listening more and more to the album in its entirety. What Dale and Aiko achieved throughout her My Home Town album, I realized, was a delicate balance between the soaring spirit of Aiko’s voice and the inviting arrangements of Dale’s compositions. Each song is as precious as the next.
Although the two cuts selected to be featured on AGS-7005 are arguably the most accessible for any listener, the remaining eight tracks on My Home Town represent a thoughtful, well-crafted, and refreshing mix of contemporary songs that explore popular styles of the day while giving a nod to Aiko’s Japanese roots. My Home Town stands on its own, so I’ve decided to release the full album digitally in addition to the 7-inch single.
It’s the least I can do to ensure Aiko’s music is heard.