Peruvian Offers Musical Message of Hope

Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

KOBE — Alberto Shiroma has become known nationwide as a young vocalist striving to bridge the gap between Japanese and Latino cultures through the music performed by his Okinawa-based Latin rock band, Diamantes.

But for Kobe-area residents in particular, the 28-year-old Shiroma has become something of a local sensation due to a weekly broadcasting spot he hosts — a radio program that helps overcome the very cultural barriers he writes about in his songs.

The five-minute program, aired every Saturday at 9:50 p.m. on the Kobe-based Kiss FM radio station (89.9 MHz), is called “Hyogo Mi Amor” (Hyogo My Love), named after the popular Diamantes song “Okinawa Mi Amor” that Shiroma composed.

“It’s important to make communication” with the listeners, he says. “My five or seven minutes is a very short time, but I think it’s (going) OK.”

A typical program might include announcing local Japanese-language classes, reading and answering letters from Kiss-FM listeners, or even conducting interviews with guests involved in various social and labor-affiliated activities for foreigners living and working in Hyogo Prefecture.

And Shiroma does it all without barely missing a beat in fluent Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.

The primary target audience of the radio program, sponsored by the Hyogo International Association since April, is the increasing Latin American population in Hyogo Prefecture — particularly in the southern Hanshin area between Kobe and Osaka. An estimated 3,138 Brazilians and 875 Peruvians alone are registered as residing in the prefecture, according to Hyogo prefectural government statistics.

These are people with whom Shiroma, a third-generation Peruvian of Japanese descent, can identify with in their struggle to find jobs and make their way in Japanese society.

“In the songs we are writing or the words we are singing, people listen, and they can catch something important for their lives in each song,” he says.

When Shiroma first came to Japan in 1985, he was the proverbial amateur performer with little money and lots of dreams of making it big — as an enka singer.

When that didn’t pan out, he ended up moving to Okinawa, the native land of his grandparents.

In 1991 he formed Diamantes with six other Peruvian-Japanese compatriots, and the band’s vibrant mix of Latin rock music with an Okinawan flavor soon drew packed audiences. Thanks to television commercial exposure last year of the single “Gambatteando” from the group’s debut album “Okinawa Latina,” Diamantes managed to break out of the Okinawa circuit and tour across Japan.

The group followed up with a second album, “Esperanza,” featuring all original tunes. Shiroma’s recent emotion-filled return to his native Peru for the first time after eight years in Japan served as an inspiration for the group’s third album, now in the works.

The main message Shiroma wants to get across to listeners of his radio program is the same one found in all of his music: maintaining hope and peace for the future.

“Be as you are, always passionate and straight,” he advises, “and let’s make a good country, a good Japan, for our children.”