Saia Lee: In search of a Colour of a Sound that touches hearts
Strong, wise, beautiful.
The Asian Song Princess, Saia Lee is waiting for her debut as a vocal artist in France, singing a wide range of classical to modern songs with a strong and clear voice, Saia Lee just recorded an album in Paris.
“Strong, wise, beautiful”. In my attempt to describe Saia Lee as a person, these are the concepts that came up to my mind at first. All at once, she conceals graceful looks and powerful strength. She has her own strong belief and does not get bothered by other people’s evaluations. She is not afraid to speak her thoughts openly. By searching into her personality and objectively assessing her skills, Saia Lee sets herself a high objective in the field in which she wants to perform the maximum of her skills and walk straight towards the realization of her goal.
“Some may say I lack a sense of cooperation, however I would like to remain faithful to my personal beliefs.”
Having encountered the Japanese society in Japan, which values the overall harmony more than the individuality, being herself required a lot of strength. There was also a reason why she became strong. It can happen anywhere in the world, but cultural frictions occur more often in countries that are geographically close: Japan and Korea are no exceptions. Although both countries culturally influenced one another very strongly, the indigestible war history is still deeply rooted in people’s minds. Living in Japan as a Korean did not mean that Saia had no worries and no trouble at all. Searching for her identity, holding her values highly, she had to fight in order to get accepted by the society in which she was living.
The environment in which she was brought up must also have helped her original character to develop her strength.
Saia’s particularity as being part of a minority group has actually become her advantage. She recorded her album in Paris in January this year, and has engaged her debut in France. Saia considers that performing in Europe as an Asian woman is all the same to her past experience. She is not trying to sing a French song and pronounce its lyrics as perfectly as a native French would do. Even though she has a slightly Japanese accent while singing a French song, this might produce a charming sound and become the form of her unique expression. As the recording of the album went on, Saia started singing the words of the French songs in the Japanese language. “That is the amazing point” the French staffs at the recording company all commented.
Saia does not limit her expectations in just releasing an album and start a carrear in France, but as she goes on with this project, she is determined in developing this new genre more thoroughly and make it a real success. Until now she has performed essentially as a classic music vocalist. However, she is determined to bring out and express her personality to the maximum, and therefore she wants to reach a musical zone in between the classic genre and the modern music, and perform the best of her skills.
Saia Lee’s dream is to reach both the fans of classical music and the people who only listen to pop music. She wants to sing her Asian identity to her audience. Using the techniques of classical music as a basis, she thinks it could be fun to also feel the so-called Japanese kawaii culture (“cute”) in her songs. To those who listen to her album, she would like to express the charms of Asia. As an Asian woman, singing in Europe has a real meaning.
“It is not about singing a song in technically perfect manner, it is more about expressing my personality. It is through the power of communication that I would like to touch the heart of my audience”. That’s why she is searching for a “sound colour” to reach the hearts of those like her who value their individual expression.
Having the well known vocalist, Matsuko Lee, as a mother, it is from her that Saia has learned the most important things about singing. Saia was raised in an environment in which her mother’s pupils visited their house every day, so music was really her home.
She has started taking music lessons through her mother’s influence at the age of four. She always admired her mother, believing her voice had a strong power to communicate a feeling. Even now, the goal she is aiming for is to reach the same sound colour as her mother. It might seem that Saia was easily introduced to the way of a vocalist, but to get to where is stands now, there have been some twist and turns.
Having difficulties in learning from her parent, she rejected her mother especially during adolescence. She objected her mother’s opinion, which was to choose to follow the way of classical music. Instead, she chose to become a fashion model. Even now, with her beauty and her sophisticated looks, she attracts the attention of many sorts of media, but in recent days she has discovered expressing herself as a fashion model was not part of her expectations and her aims in life.
The evaluation her fans made of her person was too subjective. Most of the time she felt she was being evaluated through people’s standards and that she had to fit in to their taste, instead of being evaluated through her actual efforts. She was too often hurt by the fact of being evaluated only on the outside when her receptivity was sensitive. By taking some distance she thought she wanted to express her personality through music. It is when she became an adult that she finally entered a Music University. But she didn’t do it only to become a vocalist. After she graduated from Music University, she regularly gave concerts and continued working in the field of music. But at the same time she was gaining experience herself by travelling all over the world. This is how she created a luxury travel agency. Until then, there was almost no such service that would organize luxurious trips for wealthy tourists who travelled abroad on private jets. She built up a new business model and experiencing errors and successes, she became what could be considered as the number one knowledgeable person in that field in Japan. For those who are ready to pay any amount of money to get the best product and experience a very special moment, and to things that seemed impossible to realise, she made it all happen. The more challenging the request was, the more satisfaction it brought her to realize it. She feels she fits in a business where she can be judged through the result of her work. If she made a mistake, the responsibility would be all hers, and on the contrary, if she worked hard, the reward was all hers. That logical sense made her comfortable.
She was a fashion model, and then she went through the world of business, and now she finally feels she wants to focus on her songs. She foresees her life on the scale of ten years. Ten years until now, she has used her skills in business. Nowadays, she created and managed a situation where she has left business in orbit, so she doesn’t need to commit to it full time. The next ten years as of now, she would like to concentrate on reaching the best of herself in the field of music and songs.
The fact that she manages a company and sings at the same time also enables her to cast a business-like focus point to her activity. She can understand the point of view of the producer, she is able to think and react to her own production. Also, the fact of being able to deal with both fields gives her a clear-cut idea to her activity and she is able to concentrate on either one field or the other. Especially in Japan, there is a system in which everything other than your own field has to be sacrificed in order to get the sort of permission to penetrate the world of your business. Doing « both business and music » could be mostly seen as you are an amateur, making a side business. Most of the time you can be considered as doing a side job if you do not concentrate on either one or the other.
However, it is because she has knowledge of all these different worlds that she can understand different business issues very deeply and at the same time concentrate on her work.
She is a vocalist, who has a lot of other skills, and she can mention “Director Manager” on her business card. But she also has a title of Associate Professor among the famous Urasenkei Sadô Group, the Japanese Tea Ceremony Ancestral School. With Sadô (the Way of the Tea), the deeper you learn, the more you get into the world of the Zen philosophy. That spirit is something interesting Saia would like to uncover. Saia feels there is a lot in common with vocal music and Sadô. With both fields, it is when you think you have acquired the technique that you feel you have reached only the beginning of the depth, and you find out there is no goal to your pursuit. In other words, she thinks that a never-ending world fits her very well.
The discord she felt inside her when she was an adolescent has slowly passed its way, and she came back to follow her mother’s teaching. Nowadays, her mother could be seen as her biggest partner in the field of music. To Saia and her mother, there is a clear image of what is the “sound colour” that touches the heart of people. Saia believes there is only one specific “sound colour” that can penetrate people’s heart. The Sound Colour could be the quality of the voice for example, and it might differ for each and every people, however Saia knows exactly how to use her body and where she has to search to reach the “colour of the sound” she wants to express. How does she do to bring together the “physical” and the “mental” aspects of the search in order to reach the “colour of the sound”? It is the daily partnership with her mother that brings up the beat of the ideal sound. This “mother and daughter” vocal collaboration is a very rare example to find in the world. When they stand on the scene together, Saia can feel the huge presence of her mother’s power to grab the audience’s attention. In order to be able to sing like her mother, Saia feels she should be learning from her at this time as much as possible. For Saia, there is one particular song that holds a special place in her heart. There are many Korean folk songs that used to be sung when the Korean peninsula was not yet separated into current North Korea and Korea. These songs could reach the sounds and sensitivities of Puccini’s melodies. After the peninsula broke up in two, both countries stopped singing these songs anymore, however leaving these melodies forever in oblivion would be too big of a loss. Saia wants to express and present these rare melodies to the world. Songs that include Japanese-Korean power and the “Asian beauty”, business and music, Saia wants to search for the right balance in all those different fields, and pursue the activities she wants to concentrate upon in the time she decides.
Interview by Excellence International
Nathalie and Kyoko