Interview with Olivia Burrell
Hello I’m Andrea! (or Andrea1306 here on J-Music Italia)
Sometimes, watching a DVD concert or a YouTube video, I’m impressed by the band / orchestra playing with the singer but especially by the support vocalists.
The first time happened with Brenda Vaughn
while I was watching Koda Kumi’s UNIVERSE Tour DVD
, the second time happened with Olivia Burrell
during a live session video of ayaka
The same Olivia I later found over the years in other works of artists I follow like Amuro Namie (Birthday)
or Kawai Junichi from MAY’S (Realize).
The voice and their stage presence of these women isn’t unnoticed.
This year, if you noticed on our Facebook page, I shared singer Kuwamura Kaz
post about his participation in a NHK contest with the help of Olivia.
The interview came up this way.
J-Music Italia: Olivia! Hello and welcome on J-Music Italia! Thank you so much for joining us in this little interview, it’s truly an honor for us! Well, please introduce yourself for our followers.
Hi! My name is Olivia Burrell and I am a vocalist and songwriter born and raised in Toronto, Canada. My family is originally from Jamaica and I moved to Japan in the early 2000's.
J-Music Italia: When did you start singing?
I remember very vividly singing reggae music with my father at home (my family is originally from Jamaica and my father was a singer). I also very vividly remember singing to myself, as I watched my elder siblings from the window of our living room, every morning as they left the house and walked to school. I was three at the time. I didn't sing publicly until I was 9 or so.
J-Music Italia: Do you play any instruments?
I used to play the flute, the bass clarinet and clarinet, and a little piano but I dropped everything to sing. Wish I had kept it up though.
J-Music Italia: Did you move from your country to Japan to work there? How did you get there? I found, by chance, your first blog where you wrote “singing and surviving in Tokyo” so… how is your life in Japan?
I did come to Japan for work!
Actually the original plan was to have a backup plan in case singing didn't work out for me. So after graduating university upon recommendation from my teachers and sheer "vibes" I decided to come to Japan to teach English. It wasn't until I started looking for amateur musicians to perform with, (because I couldn't survive without singing after all!) that I realized I could work in the music industry here.
Life is definitely not easy living away from your family and homeland; it can get lonely from time to time but I do love it here. I've made plenty of friends who are like family to me who make life much less lonely for me!
J-Music Italia: This may be a personal and delicate question, so feel free not to answer this if it makes you uncomfortable. Did you face difficulties in your daily life / work for your look and skin? Do you think there is discrimination by Japanese towards foreigners?
Although things have gotten better in the past few years, there are definitely issues with discrimination. Even the ability to speak the language and understand the culture isn't enough. Just last year I was refused an apartment just because I was foreign. This was after giving the owner all of my information and assuring them of my communication skills. This is after living over a decade in Japan. It wasn't enough. It also wasn't the first time I had been refused...and when you are told no by these agencies and owners there is no recourse. You just give up and find a new place, another real estate agent, etc....
Although it doesn't happen as much anymore, I remember feeling broken hearted on the train in Tokyo, when a few seats in front of me and/or next to me wouldn't fill just because I was sitting there ...
To the point that people would go to sit down, look across at me, hesitate and then move to another seat further away from me.
As far as work goes, people sometimes rely very heavily on physical appearance and assume you sing a certain way or cannot/will not perform certain types of music simply based on your skin colour or body type, and that does get frustrating. Also people feel like it's okay to talk or laugh about my size because they think I don't understand or they want to be the great comedian amongst their friends. Not fun. Yet even though I still deal with these issues I love Japan and always will. I don't regret moving here not one bit!
J-Music Italia: Now, back to the music! Which were the first Japanese songs you listened to?
When I was back home in Canada I knew of Japanese artists like Hotei, Toshinobu Kubota, and Shonen Knife, but I didn't really know their songs or follow their music. I just saw them once or twice and thought they were cool. When I got here I would watch the music shows on TV and pick up the songs or artists I liked, and then buy or rent(!) their CD's. I believe the first two CDs I got were Utada Hikaru's "Sakura Drops" single and Rip Slyme's Tokyo Classic. I couldn't understand what they were saying but I really liked the sound.
J-Music Italia: Tell us about your musical influences and your favorite Japanese acts. First Japanese artist you worked with and your first “big name”.
My musical influences are all over the place and will probably require another Q&A! I love and perform all genres. I really mean that! It confuses people!
The first band I performed with never had a name or a live show. We were a studio jam band. However, the guitarist from that band asked me to join his band called Free Trans Ensemble as a backing vocalist.
We did shows once or twice a month in Shibuya at pretty much the same clubs (Vuenos, Asia, Club Asia P) It was in FTE that I got exposed to the live music scene in Japan and began to get offers to sing for other people. Yoshiko, the bassist from FTE, asked me to join an all female funk band who was looking for another lead vocalist. We were called Gyal Scratch and that's when I started writing songs and performing more often.
Performing in the girl band exposed me to a lot of professional session musicians who liked my voice and then started asking me to work with them or join the projects of their acquaintances. This is how I got my first backing vocalist job with a major artist. His name is "K" and he is Korean singer/songwriter based in Japan. Every once in a while I still get to perform with him to this day and he is like family to me.
J-Music Italia: I saw on your Facebook page that you recently played with JUJU. Do you work always with the same artists or according to the artist’s needs? Also, I would like to know if you have a “special” performance in your heart.
Both! For example, I've been working with JUJU for years now, I joined her tour for the first time in 2009, we first worked together a few years before that. For tours she always has myself and another backing vocalist with her, for other shows and television etc., she usually performs without. Some artists will ask me to perform with them every year but due to scheduling conflicts I have to decline (which is the worst! I hate saying "I can't" to artists I love). Sometimes they want to change things up by using different band members, not using vocalists at all, using only dancers and a DJ. It all depends on the artists' needs or desires at the time, so it changes all the time.
I have some very special performances in my heart; all unique and special for such different reasons! Too long to write here!
J-Music Italia: Do you prefer to perform on you own or with other artists? Do you feel the pressure when you sing in big stages?
I like both because it's a different energy every time with each artist. It's a different energy when I perform solo. I learn so much from both it would be hard to give either one up. Singing with other artists allows me to experience singing on huge, technical stages in front of thousands of people which is so exciting! To be honest I feel less pressure singing on the bigger stages than the small ones.
J-Music Italia: Tell us what you do in your spare time / day off.
Sleep! Great for the vocal cords! Sleep is my favourite thing to do next to music and I am somewhat ashamed of it. I do love riding around Kyoto on my bicycle and sitting by Kamo river too though.
J-Music Italia: What do you love most about Japan?
The possibilities. The culture. The people.
J-Music Italia: Please list your favorite food and places.
I love Kyoto of course, so much that I moved here from Tokyo last year and now commute for work. I love a little town called Matsue in Shimane Prefecture. Kochi is beautiful; love Matsuyama and Koichi City! Fukuoka and Kanazawa are also two of my favourite places. Okinawa is great! Hokkaido is great!
As far as food goes, people always think I love sweets but I prefer savoury foods. My all time faves are Nagoya chicken wings, Hiroshima-yaki and soba, especially chasoba!
J-Music Italia: Do you follow any manga / anime?
No not at all sorry!
J-Music Italia: Talk about the relationship your fans. Do they ask for a handshake or an autograph?
More than autographs, people ask for a handshake or hugs. Mostly hugs! Everyone is really really sweet to me and they give me letters or presents even when it's not my show! They are too kind!
J-Music Italia: I know you released what I think is a best album called “Olivia Burrell Selection”. Do you have any plans for new solo releases? Tell us, if you can, your future projects.
Actually, I've yet to release a full original album of music! I've done plenty of features on other people's projects, I've done covers, I've even released two reggae cover albums and one best-of album under a completely different artist name. I'm working on my solo CD but it is taking time because I want it to be a true representation of myself.
J-Music Italia: Last question (I always do this question, very improbable in this case LOL). Did you already know our website J-Music Italia? How did you find it? What do you think about?
It was one of my other singer friends(Kaz Kuwamura) that told me about you guys!!! I think it's great! I'm honoured that you asked me to do this interview. Thank you so much for your support and appreciation!
J-Music Italia: The interview is over. Please tell our followers where they can find you (social networks, blog etc.)
My homepage is going under reconstruction but is at
Twitter and Instagram: moreolivia
Facebook Artist Page: Olivia Burrell
Anyone looking for the theme song I performed for NHK's "Sayonara Watashi" can find it here:
Love is・・・[A Song from 1st Corinthians] - Single by 松浦晃久