KS talks to Osaka-based Trinidadian, Alica Saldenha, about her debut album, Dance with the Sun, released in June.
Saldenha left her native Trinidad to study in Cardiff, Wales, before coming to Japan over 10 years ago to conduct research. During her time at Osaka Gaidai, she joined the jazz circle and played clubs in Mino-o. But her studies left little time for her to concentrate on her material.
“I was doing standards everybody knew, because it takes time to form a band and arrange songs. I was frustrated for so long, because I had ideas and great songs no one was hearing. I was happy when I finished my Ph.D. in ethnomusicology and anthropology; I could focus on the songs I’d written. It took years to find musicians flexible enough to play my music. Ones who could accept who I was, because I’m not Japanese. After all that, I thought it was a shame to let that all go. Kansai is my home so I wanted to release my album from here.”
Saldenha felt she received true recognition when Japanese nu-jazz instrumental combo, indigo jam unit, approached her to collaborate. “As an artist, I had many opportunities to work with people. Sometimes I wondered if I’d made the right decisions. I met a group I respected; I love their music. They respected what I was doing. Just being invited to do the album is a huge gift.” Saldenha’s resolve paid off; the collaboration album, Rose, won the Tokyo Jazz Notes Album of the Year, last year. “I wanted to do something I could be proud of. That was more important than fame or money. Though it’s not a commercial album, the way people reacted makes me feel everything I’ve sacrificed and all the time I put in was worthwhile. A dream come true.”
“Billboard is a great place for networking; it’s the only place to meet great musicians.” Meeting R&B singer, Ledisi, at Billboard was a turning point. “I saw two shows back-to-back and was blown away. She put the same amount of energy into both shows. She sings out and doesn’t hold anything back.” Meeting her afterwards, Saldenha asked advice on performing without tiring or damaging her voice. “I was still finding my own voice. She gave me a lot of advice and recommended books. Those books helped change my approach to singing. I am really grateful, because I've met singers who are tired and just want to sign your stuff. She was definitely a major influence on my singing and the way I perform. Until then, I concentrated on singing correctly, pretty and safe. Afterwards I was a lot less reserved and started taking more risks.”
Alicia Saldenha Official Web Site
Dance with the Sun available in stores and on iTunes
Indigo Jam Unit
Text: George Bourdaniotis Photos: Courtesy of Alicia Saldenha Originally published in Kansai Scene #146, July 2012.