Singer/Song Writer Haikaa Yamamoto recently released a video related to her song Work of Art. The song represents a multilingual, international collaboration between the singer/song writer and lyricist/collaborators around the world. We asked Haikaa and Effie Kontaxaki, one of the lyricist collaborators, to share their stories about their experience working on the song.
Haikaa Yamamoto, Singer/Song Writer
I truly believe in God and that there’s a reason why we are here. I always try to do what I think is the right thing but that doesn’t always turn out right. So “I am a work of art” is a mantra I decided to write for myself so that I would stay on the right path. People’s opinions of me were sometimes not very flattering but there was a moment when I realized that I had to have the courage to be who I was because I really didn’t have another choice, did I? To be able to look at myself as I am and honestly appreciate that I am a continuous work in progress – I don’t think it ever ends.
My relentlessness in the pursuit of my musical career had a lot to do with an equally intense urge to express what I had inside of me. And to express what I had inside of me I had to know what it was that I had inside of me first. I had many voices in my head that had become intrinsically related to my personality but they had a lot more to do with conventions than with my true feelings. So knowing myself has been a process of identifying what´s in me what´s real and what´s not, what serves me and what doesn´t. And this song is precisely about that.
From a broader perspective the song Work of Art is a celebration of the uniqueness of every individual and the diversity that results from this uniqueness. I felt that this could be a universal theme and that it would be amazing to be able to sing about that in as many languages as possible. Based on the principle of “Six Degrees of Separation”, which states that all citizens in the world are at maximum six degrees apart from each other, I started contacting the people I knew. They in turn introduced me to people they knew and after a year and a half, I had 19 full versions of the song. Out of all these versions, only two were written by people I knew before the project. I managed to connect with everybody else through the music.
I ended up with certain versions just because I happened to connect with someone who got the message behind the song from that particular country. On the other hand, I also decided I wanted to include two native Indian languages (one from North America and one from South America) because of the wisdom that I feel native people have in their relationship with nature. That took a lot of research on the internet, hundreds of emails and a couple of international phone calls to finally be able to reach those two lyricists.
This project would not have been possible without the Internet and broad band connection. I was Skyping with people around the world and around the clock because of the time zone differences, especially during the recordings when I had to get people’s feedbacks on my pronunciation. I also found some people through social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
The greatest thing I learned was that many people around the world are on the same vibe. When we read about dreadful news in the newspaper, I think we’re actually reading about the world of politics – the world of struggle for power, however, when you break it down to the level of people, there’s good and there’s understanding. My connection with people happened very fast without much explanation. I showed them the song and talked in general about what it was about and the bond was established.
For example, finding the Guarani Native Indian was very difficult because they’re not really online. First I managed to get in touch with a caucasian woman called Lucineia Vieira who is a friend of the tribe and she is the one who opened the doors and led me to my first encounter with Karai Nheery (Guarani Lyricist) in the tribe. I had expected to just meet him and then the songwriting process would begin but when I got there the lyrics were practically ready. He said to me “when Lucineia brought me the song and I read the lyrics, I knew that this song was about me”.
The greatest driving force in my life is love, and that has led me to sail on an ocean without a map. It’s frightening, uncertain and totally unpredictable but it has taught me to look up at the sky to find my guiding stars. And it´s nice to live life looking at the stars.
In April 2009 I received an email from a very good friend of mine, Pamela Chan, who I met when I lived in Tokyo, Japan, asking if someone could help Haikaa with different languages, including the Greek version of Work Of Art. Along with Pamela’s E-mail, there was an attachment of Haikaa’s E-mail describing her project and mentioning that Work of Art is a song that talks about the beauty of diversity and tolerance. I felt that this was a concept that perfectly expresses family and me, and it was a great opportunity for me to communicate a wonderful message to the world. Without any hesitation, I contacted Haikaa.
When I first heard the English song Work of Art, my initial reaction was to burst into tears. It was first time in my life that a song touched my soul so deeply. When I paid attention to the lyrics, I had no doubt that this song was about me.
Then the greatest challenge came! How could I find the real words and pass along the deep meaning of the song without changing it? How could I help an artist to sing in Greek when she has never spoken Greek and as she lives on the other side of the globe?
I grew up in an international family both in Greece and Japan, with a Greek father and a Japanese mother, and later married a Korean man in the United States. I have two wonderful children who represent four different countries and three continents. I can definitively describe our family members as “citizens of the World”. The song describes us whole heartedly.
During the 1 1/2 years of our collaboration, I had the most wonderful experience of meeting Haikaa online and exchanging several E-mails with her. From the beginning I felt there was chemistry and we were able to share many deep thoughts. I want to share with you a part of one of her E-mails to me, because this is the key point of how I was able to get connected with her more than 100%, even though we’re physically miles and miles apart, and we have not yet met in person.
“Diversity has truly been an important part of my life to the extent that it has enabled me to look at myself and at life beyond customs, circumstances and traditions. When I sing “I am a work of art”, I really am saying that I embrace myself exactly as I am, no labels, no tribes, nothing easily identifiable. As E. E. Cummings put it, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” Except that I make it a point to be optimistic, not to fight but to celebrate instead. Also, I don´t believe you have to be sad to be deep, as many artists do. That’s why I chose pop music. There are no rules as long as it sounds good. ”
Haikaa’s vision for the project – faith, love and great communication skills with all the lyricists – has been my guiding star along this way.
Working on the Greek version of the song and singing “I am a work of art” via Skype along with Haikaa was a healing process for me. The song itself gave me the opportunity to remember and heal from the struggles I faced going to a Greek school in Greece back in 1980s when my sister and I were the only Asian looking children in the entire school district and they called us “Chinese”. Or when I graduated from the Greek High school and decided to move to Japan to attend University. I was the only “white” girl in the entire school and everyone wanted to be friends with me, just because I looked different. Or when I married a Korean man and lived in an entirely Korean community of over 10,000 Koreans living in the United States, while I was the only outsider. Or how it is being back home in Greece now, raising my two beautiful Asian looking children in a Greek community.
Every single step along the way “I am a work of art” and my children are “a work of art”. Honestly, I am very proud of my little children because I know how strong they are inside and how much they are embracing their uniqueness even though they were born in the United States and live in Greece now.
My dad once said “Effie, what is important is not your gender, your age, your skin color, etc. What is important is your heart. So, brush up the diamond of your heart and make the people around you see the sprinkle of that diamond”.
Like my dad did in his very own way, and as I carried these words deep in my heart as my guiding star, I believe it is my time to teach my children, through this song, the true values of “self-acceptance, celebration of diversity, tolerance and love”. I want to dedicate the Greek version of the Song to my beloved angels Jessica and Yorgos/Joel. If they ever feel that people cannot understand the beauty of their “work of art”, they can listen to this song wherever they are and lift up their spirit, as Haikaa did for me during this time.
The greatest benefit from working on a multi-linguistic, international project was building relationships within the family, with the artist and with the rest of the world through the other lyricists. It was the ideal opportunity to start talking with my children about how great and wonderful God has created them in their uniqueness and diverse background. They always say “mummy let’s listen to our song” (meaning the Greek version of Work of Art). They dance, sing and express their feelings celebrating their uniqueness.
One Saturday morning, my 5 year old boy said “Mummy when I grow up I want to be a singer so that I can compose songs for you!” He picked up his very own melody and started singing “mommy you are wonderful, and how much I love my mama” in Greek!
Getting to know Haikaa was such a joy. She is a wonderful person with a gentle spirit and has shared the beautiful story of her life with me. I feel I have made a very good friend with someone thousands of miles away who shares a common vision.
Haikaa also put in practice and taught all the collaborators about “Six Degrees of Separation”. Although I have never talked with or met the rest of the lyricists, we all feel very closely connected through this project. We all have experienced, in one way or the other, the true values of the song Work of Art. Although we are each unique and diverse in our backgrounds, at the same time we are so much alike.
As Haikaa once said, “When you feel good, that becomes your point of attraction and then only good can flow into your life.” The Greek Version of Work of Art is an experience of a lifetime and gift to myself, to my children and to all the citizens of the world!
While I was writing the Greek version of Work of Art I experienced how amazing it is to transform words and strong feelings into music. Good things will happen through this project, because God’s work is still in expansion and I am extremely blessed to be part of this.
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Video of Haikaa discussing the song Work of Art in English
Video of Haikaa discussing the song Work of Art in Portugeuse
Video of Haikaa working with Zalmai Zahir, of the Suquamish First Nations, working on the song in Lushootseed
Video of Tunca Zen, from Turkey, discussing the Work of Art project
Video of Federico Rio, from Italy, discussing the Work of Art project