In a country where the estimated number of Christians are less than one per cent and the rest are either Shinto or Buddhist, native Jamaican Olivia Carter has been shining her light around Japan through her voice. It is a phenomenon that gospel entertains the Japanese as much as other genres do. The English language teacher moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2014. She is a solo artist and part of a gospel music choir in demand for her alto and soprano voice skills. Events she’s been part of were broadcast on Japan’s main broadcasting channel, NHK1, with a one million viewing audience potential. The message in her music, which has its roots in Jamaica’s spiritual traditions, drives her.
“Music always brought the family together.” She ponders over a memory of her grandmother singing hymns. The Carter family is a melody of sound and song. Her brothers played different instruments whilst her parents and sisters sang at church. They’ve prayed all kinds of prayers through music and have had them answer hope to the souls of those who listened. After living in Japan for eight years, Carter has seen a different kind of prayer answered. She has since stepped into the limelight of lead singer and songwriter rather than the supporting role she took at her old church, Evangelical Tabernacle, in Bog Walk, Saint Catherine.
The Japanese remain unconvinced that anything can be better than reggae. So what could make a crowd that pays homage to a different religion stay through a gospel song? They see a Jamaican perform with the same conviction as reggae artistes and want to be part of the conversation that Jamaican artistes create.
She reflects on what she’s observed over eight years. “The idea of singing to your deity is a very Western thing to do compared to Buddhism. Everyone has a Shogenai approach to life (can’t be helped, get by, go with the flow). People want to get along and ensure they don’t impose on others. Music challenges us to a different flow even brings about revolutions.” Revolution is part of the Jamaican trademark. Her successes started in 2015 with her soul teacher, Mr G.
“He gave me an opportunity to sing gospel around Japan. Then in 2017, a friend connected me to John Lucas. He toured Asia with gospel choirs,” the gifted singer recalls. “John sought an alto in the Nodojiman The World talent concert. “We represented Jamaica and were [placed] third in the competition.” These wins helped develop Carter’s confidence by performing at more concerts and competitions. Since then, she’s released her first single, You Brought me Through, and is currently part of the main 2022 Jamaica Independence Day event that the Jamaican Embassy in Tokyo supports.
Becoming a solo artist in Japan has given the gospel singer some valuable life lessons to pass on. “You cannot come with a Western mindset if you want to be successful in Japan. Learn the people and understand them. Respect what you see. They opened their borders to let you in, and from that place, you serve your dish. If they want it, they take it.” Jamaican wisdom.
To contact Olivia Carter, please visit her Instagram account: @oliviavcarter