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Ever since her album ‘Undeniable’ touched the souls of soul-lovers back in 2019, Nao Yoshioka is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of R&B.
Soulful in approach and meticulous in detail, the Japan-born vocalist has been working alongside legendary musicians to continue her ascent into international consciousness.
But global acclaim was never her intention. Growing up in Osaka, Japan, Nao’s creative future was mapped out from a young age – a birth right, more than a goal.
“I joined a band fairly early on and like most singers, the first time I sand in front of a crowd of people, I felt ‘This is it.’”, she tells Student Pages. With her future in clear view, Nao packed her bags and headed for the US: a move that would prove fruitful in bringing her sound to the global stage.
Now backed by an impressive four-album discography, we caught up with the talented singer ahead of her latest release ‘Loyalty’ – out now.
The beginnings of Neo-Soul
If there’s ever existed an artist that showcases the global appeal of modern R&B and soul, then we’re sure to have found it with Nao. Her unique sound has caught the attention of Billboard, Rolling Stone and Earmilk – as well as multiple spots in Spotify’s editorial playlists.
But what makes her music standout?
It all boils back down to her passion for soul. “For me, soul music is not a genre,” Nao explains. “It’s how people are looking at and perceiving the music. When making music, I always have a concept and incorporate my life experiences. Depending on the message I want to get across, I rely on elements of different styles of music. Sometimes jazz, sometimes blues and sometimes neo-soul.”
Above all, though, it’s her ability to redefine genres that has caught the attention of her fans. Critics across the globe have been unable to shoehorn Nao’s sound into one subgenre – and that’s the beauty of her offering. She describes soul as music that simply has a soul – not a particular style, nuance or sound. Instead, it’s music that evokes the deepest feeling from its listener, speaking directly to their hearts and communicating on a transcendental level.
“I want people listening to my music to feel loved and free,” the US-based artist expands. “I want to make them feel like they are being forgiven for being their true selves. That’s what I love to feel when I listen to music, so if I can make listeners feel that way, I’m fulfilling a dream.”
Moving to the big apple
Nobody likes to be the new kid. Whether that’s your first day at school, a new office, or moving across the globe – change, at first, is an inherently scary prospect. When Nao Yoshioka decided to uproot her life to the US back in 2018, she was instilled with positivity for what was to follow – but was not immune to the jitters attached to moving somewhere new.
With the move acting as the muse for many of her most successful songs, it was a tactic that certainly paid off. Speaking of her decision to take the leap, she tells us “During my music career, I’ve always abided by this simple message, “Don’t wait for the change, we gotta make the change”. This message is super-simple, but I’ve been encouraged by this message so many times in my career. […] So I decided to follow my heart and moved to New York from Japan a second time.”
Music has the power to knock down barriers. Music has the ability to transcend time zones and, at its very core, transport people to another time or place. But above all – music is personal.
Nao Yoshioka realised this very early on in her career. After being told to give up singing in English to become more commercially successful, Nao learnt a very important lesson: to always stay true to herself. “The definition of success for me is to be myself,” she stresses. Advising others to follow their own path, she continues “Always strive to be authentic and unique. Just be that special person that only you can be. Speak to yourself and find your definition of success. There will always be so many rules and paths that you may think you need to follow or take, but you can always control those rules and paths by making your own way!”
No stranger to the adversities faced when embarking on your own path, Yoshiaka found it tough to fit in at school. Eventually dropping out of education and blaming herself for her inability to interact with others, the international vocalist was taunted for her dream to become a musician.
“People would laugh when I told them about my dream of moving to New York,” she recollects. “However, now that I’m an established international singer, I feel that being different from other people back then is now my overwhelming strength. I am Japanese, but I sing soul music in English. When I get up to the stage opening for well-known artists, people still look at me like “what is going on” by my appearance. As we all know, music knocks down barriers and connects hearts. Because I am different to others, there are certainly some things that only I can do.”
Above all, Nao stresses the key to success – whatever that means to you – lies in following your heart. “Do what your heart demands even though sometimes not everyone will be supportive of what you’re doing or will try to stand in your way. If you continue doing what your heart demands, there will be no one to stop you and – in the end – hopefully, they will support you.
So if there is something different about you from the next person, you may want to consider yourself lucky.”
Nao’s reworked version of ‘Undeniable’ is out now and has the perfect vibes for a post-quarantine summer – we can’t wait to tune in.