Ayaka Hirahara puts some live concert magic into latest album

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ayaka Hirahara

Even though the pandemic has kept us from going out to enjoy live performances, Ayaka Hirahara’s newest album may make listeners feel as though they were front and center at one of her concerts.

“Save Your Life” is a compilation album consisting of tracks taken from audio and video from concerts in various venues nationwide between 2013 and 2019.

“When I close my eyes and listen, I feel like I’m up on stage,” Hirahara said.

The album’s 43 songs were handpicked by Hirahara herself, giving the singer a chance to reminisce and reflect on each of her performances. Her method when creating this album, however, was quite different from how she usually goes about the process.

“I barely offered any opinions compared to my previous albums because the songs were chosen from performances that I brought out my best in. I wanted to prioritize the opinions of listeners around me,” she said.

“In some songs, I sang in a kind of rough way, but that was how I felt at that time. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with each performance being a unique experience, and I’m pretty sure that’s why listeners [of the new album] can enjoy that live concert feel.”

In her Live Tour 2016, she sang “Concierto de Aranjuez ~ Spain,” a rendition of an iconic Chick Corea piece. She incorporates a style similar to scatting that her fans have called a language all her own. She says that the style came about during her childhood, when she would freely sing along to the instrumental music that played during foreign weather forecast programs.

“The sounds that I sing are different each time and I’m not actually thinking of any particular words,” Hirahara said. “It really gets the crowd excited and they begin to applaud enthusiastically.”

The lively sounds of vocal percussion and the audience’s cheers and whistles are also featured in the recordings, conveying some of the euphoria from the concert venues.

On top of her signature hits such as “Jupiter” and “Ohisama — Taisetsuna anata e” (Sun — To my dearest), the new album includes Hirahara’s rendition of the hymn “Joyful, Joyful,” a song that first got her noticed when she performed at her high school culture festival and eventually led to her debut. Her powerful voice in this version is also sure to leave listeners breathless.

“The way I thought about live performances changed as I got older,” she said. “I realized what I consider perfect and what the audience considers perfect are not the same thing. Perhaps thinking this way made things a little easier.”

Hirahara grew up admiring the appeal of live performances up close, watching her saxophonist father Makoto perform. Hirahara said live performances are a form of emotional support, because no matter how tough of a time she’s having, whenever she sets foot on a stage, “I can become the me I want to be.” For that reason, being able to gradually begin to perform again, even during the pandemic, has been such a source of joy for her.

“I want to continue to cherish each and every one of the songs that I perform and enrich the hearts of my audience,” she said.