From left: Marlon Jackson, Japanese R&B singer AI, Jackie Jackson and Tito Jackson
As Michael Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray appeals the verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the death of the pop superstar, his brothers, along with Japanese singer AI, prepare for two tribute shows in Japan.
The Michael Jackson Tribute Live concert, to be held at Yoyogi National Stadium in central Tokyo on Dec. 13 & 14, will feature original members of The Jackson 5 Marlon, Tito and Jackie (with Jermaine noticeably absent). The tribute performances will also showcase a host of Japanese stars.
Over a year in the making the shows are the result of a collaboration between Japanese R&B star AI, the Japanese cable TV station Music On! TV, and the Jackson family. Originally AI, who was raised partially in LA and speaks English fluently, was hired by the music TV platform to interview the Jackson family for a documentary they were producing which led to the tribute idea.
AI explains to Billboard.Biz: "I was blessed to have the opportunity to interview people in Michael's life for Music On! TV and because of that I met the people who offered me this great chance to collaborate on tribute shows. She adds, "Now the time has arrived! The whole project is a bit of shock and the fact the Jacksons themselves are willing take part is wonderful. I'm full of gratitude and emotion!"
AI is a hugely popular Japanese R&B singer. Though she has never had a No. 1 Japanese hit over her 11-year career in J-pop crazy Japan, in 2005 she made waves with the track "Story" (Universal Sigma), which was downloaded more than three million times. In 2010, she teamed up with J-pop queen Namie Amuro and scored a No. 5 hit on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart with "Fake" (Universal Sigma).
The rapport between the Jackson clan an AI developed immediately and all sides were eager to do something in Japan, as it was reportedly one of Michael's favorite countries. In addition to the tribute concerts the Jacksons and AI have composed a track, "Letter in the Sky" featuring The Jacksons. AI will release it on Dec. 14.
The song will be an added bonus for MJ fans in Japan, and a unique partnership between The Jacksons and a Japanese artist. AI relates, "I was astonished when the Jacksons said they wanted to record a theme song together for these shows. The lyrical concept we employed is that of a letter to Michael. We were blessed to be able to work with currently hot producer King David the Future."
AI was initially shy about working with the R&B legends but slowly a relationship developed. She notes, "I first met the brothers when I interviewed them and naturally I was nervous but since then we've collaborated on many things, in recording a song, discussing the tribute shows, and now on the rehearsals for those shows, so I feel close to them." AI adds. "I have only met Katherine twice, but through her children I can tell that she is a lovely person. The whole Jackson family is so wonderful."
From left: American Kaleb James, music director of the Michael Jackson Tribute Live concert and AI.
Initially planned for October, the scheduling worked best in December and AI's Musical Director, the New York-born Kaleb James, will take the MD role for the tribute concerts. Explains James, "As MD I make all the music arrangements and consequently, decide the instrumentation song to song. I will lead the band for all the artists except the Jacksons themselves. Simply put, they're too busy to be here two or three weeks prior to the show and will therefore rehearse with another band in the states."
The shows will feature Americans Macy Gray and Judith Hill, as well as Japanese recording stars Crystal Kay (who is actually half African-American and half Korean), Jay'ed, Juju, and Tortoise Matsumoto. Despite missing the sizzle of stars like Beyonce and Christina Aguilera who appeared at a similar MJ tribute in Cardiff, Wales on October 8, the Tokyo shows promise to have a unique Japanese flavor.
Of the performances James notes, "Michael Jackson's songs are so closely tailored for him, the biggest challenge is arranging the song choices in ways that both allows the artists to vibe on their own without coming of like Michael Jackson impersonations. It would be very dismissive to change one of MJ's tunes into something unrecognizable just to make it easy on the guest artists but thankfully, they've all chosen classic tunes and seem ready to tackle them. I feel real good about the song list."
To round out the shows MJ's director of choreography for "This Is It" Travis Payne and dancers Kento Mori, and Yuko Sumida Jackson (no relation to the Jackson family), the only Japanese dancer to appear on stage with Michael, will perform the King of Pop's signature boogie moves.
James sums up, "For me, the best part of this whole thing is arranging these great songs as part of a genuine Michael Jackson celebration: His family, his choreographers, his various band members and myself all working on the same show. There's a clear vibe of love and admiration for his music at each rehearsal. It's such an honor to be a part of this."