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Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾)

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Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾) is perhaps best known as one of Japan’s top “voice actresses”, with an impressive and ever-expanding list of anime and video game roles to her credit (some personal favorites: young Motoko Kusanagi in the two “Ghost in the Shell” feature films and “Stand Alone Complex” series, Aerith Gainsborough in “Final Fantasy VII Advent Children”, and Lightning in “Final Fantasy XIII” and “XIII-2”).

She is also a popular singer of “Anime” songs (“Escaflowne”, “Wolf’s Rain”, “RahXhephon”, and many, many more).

Since 1997, she has also built a successful career as a pop singer, with no less than 7 full-length albums, 3 “mini-albums”, and 3 compilations reprising her anime work and other singles.  She’s only 31 and just getting started…

Maaya Sakamoto’s voice is incredibly pure and crystalline.  You don’t need to know Japanese to appreciate her singing (she also has a few songs in English).  She also brings an innocence and dream-like quality to her music that I find very refreshing.

To me, Maaya Sakamoto has the purest and most beautiful voice in pop today – in any language. 

Collaboration with Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

120313-YokoKannoIt’s impossible to talk about Maaya Sakamoto without mentioning Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子).

Ms. Kanno is a top Japanese composer/arranger/conductor/producer/multi-instrumentalist working mostly in TV, films, anime soundtracks, commercials, and with a wide-range of recording artists.  In the West, she is probably most well known for her work on anime series such as “Cowboy Beebop” and “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”.

Yoko Kanno is one of the most creative and versatile composers I have come across and a true music genius.  Each of her compositions and arrangements overflows with cool ideas, she has a great sense of melody, and is equally comfortable with pop, jazz, heavy metal, ballads, industrial, prog-rock, orchestral… you name it – she does it all!

Yoko Kanno composed and produced the entirety of Maaya Sakamoto’s first five studio albums and anime songs up to and including 2003’s “Shounen Alice (少年アリス)”, and a few songs here and there after that point, most notably 2008’s epic “トライアングラー (Triangler)” which has become Maaya’s best-selling single to date, peaking at no.3 in the Oricon singles chart.  She’s obviously a huge part of what makes Maaya Sakamoto’s music so great.

However, since the mid-2000s, by working with different composers and producers, and by writing more and more of her own lyrics, Maaya has been able to develop her own identity and prove that she’s not just a beautiful voice, but a true Artiste. 

My Top 10 Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾) Songs

Notes:

This is an entirely personal top 10 – these are not necessarily the biggest hits – and very difficult to get it down to 10 because there are so many great songs.  The only reason why it doesn’t include any songs from the last two albums (2011’s “You can't catch me” and “Driving in the silence”) is that I don’t have them… YET!  But you can discover some excerpts on Maaya’s official YouTube channel.

YouTube is full of pirated material and I would normally only link to official videos.  But in this case, I am making an exception because the western world – and you dear readers – MUST discover the beauty that is Maaya Sakamoto.  So I have linked a few of the tracks below and if you like them, go buy her music… some of her earlier albums are on iTunes and the others are available here and elsewhere… 

MaayaSakamoto-gravity No.1: gravity
from the 2003 compilation “Single Collection+ Nikopachi (ニコパチ)”
Lyrics by Troy / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

End credit song from the “Wolf’s Rain” anime series.  Pure, timeless beauty.
 
MaayaSakamoto-Hotchpotch No.2: 24~twenty-four
from the 1999 compilation “Single Collection+ Hotchpotch (ハチポチ)”
Lyrics by Kazumi Someya (染谷和美) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

A rare English-language track.  Light, uplifting, beautiful.  The song could have ended at 3’30” and instead it goes one-better into an unexpected final section that is just magical.
 
MaayaSakamoto-EasyListening No.3: afternoon repose
from the 2001 EP “Easy Listening”
Lyrics by Shanti Snyder / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

Another English-language track.  Pure beauty.  Here again, the song could have ended at 4’30” and would have been perfect… but instead it goes one-better and sublimes itself in the most beautiful ending.
 
MaayaSakamoto-Triangler No.4: トライアングラー (Triangler)
from the 2009 album “Kazeyomi (かぜよみ)”
Lyrics by Gabriela Robin / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)
(Gabriela Robin is thought to be a pseudonym for Yoko Kanno)

From the anime series “Macross Frontier”
A fast, upbeat track that goes into a thousand different places and somehow manages to land back on its feet.  A showcase for Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)’s “prog-pop/rock” tendencies and boundless creativity.
 
MaayaSakamoto-Grapefruit No.5: グレープフルーツ (Grapefruit)
from the 1997 album “Grapefruit”
Lyrics by Yūho Iwasato (岩里 祐穂) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

Maaya’s child-like vocals over a stripped down blend of Jazzy and R&B beats.  And again, at 3’30” the song takes an unexpected turn into a sublime bridge, before stepping back into the stripped-down groove for the ending.
 
MaayaSakamoto-Hotchpotch No.6: ともだち (Tomodachi)
from the 1999 compilation “Single Collection+ Hotchpotch (ハチポチ)”
Lyrics by Yūho Iwasato (岩里 祐穂) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

From the anime series “The Vision of Escaflowne”
I have no idea what the song is about.  The music to me represents pure bliss, a perfect Summer afternoon, a true friendship for life,… happiness.  Actually, I just checked the translation: the title is “tomodachi” = “friends” in English.  The idea of friendship was so well translated into the music that I didn’t need the words to understand it.  Masterful.
 
  No.7: パイロット (Pilot)
also from the 1999 compilation “Single Collection+ Hotchpotch (ハチポチ)”
Lyrics by Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

It’s quite fun trying to guess the meaning of the songs.  This one is more nostalgic.  Looking out the window and reminiscing on a rainy afternoon.
 
MaayaSakamoto-30minutesnightflight No.8: 30minutes night flight
from the 2007 EP “30minutes night flight”
Lyrics by Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾) / Music by Toshiaki Yamada (山田稔明)

From the post-Kanno period but equally masterful.  Blends acoustic guitar and electronica.  Upbeat and beautiful.  I love the end section with the title sang through vocoder.  This one’s a grower.
 
MaayaSakamoto-Nikopachi No.9: tune the rainbow
from the 2003 compilation “Single Collection+ Nikopachi (ニコパチ)”
Lyrics by Yūho Iwasato (岩里 祐穂) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

From the anime movie “RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio”.
 
MaayaSakamoto-ShounenAlice No.10: 03
from the 2003 album “Shounen Alice (少年アリス)”
Lyrics by Maaya Sakamoto (坂本真綾) / Music by Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)

The most beautiful voice, a piano, a saxophone in the distance, the rain outside… I’ve surrendered… I’m in love!
 

 

 

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