Not only is Jero (Jermome White Jr.) Japan’s first black enka star, he is the first black enka performer in known history. Jero made news last Saturday by singing on US soil at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.
Jero’s maternal grandmother is Japanese and he learned the style by singing to his grandma. Jero didn’t even understand what he was saying at the time. Enka music fell out of favor with Japan’s younger generation, but Jero’s appeal has virtually resurrected the out of date musical form.
Jero’s success underscores a cross-cultural obsession between the US and Japan (if you are really interested, here is a link to the proceedings of a conference in Pusan, Korea. A paper I wrote was presented there and contains more information). Japanese culture seems both foreign and familiar to many Americans and the reverse is probably also true. Much of the academic literature on the topic is about anime, but Jero’s hip-hop style of Japanese traditional song is an experiment of global culture in vivo.