Ichiko Aoba is a Japanese folk singer and songwriter who was born in Urayasu, Chiba and raised in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. She releases music on her own label, hermine. Her main instrument is guitar, which most of her music is mainly composed of, but she also plays the piano, clarinet, accordion, and flute on her own. Aoba is known for her acoustic sound and songwriting which is inspired by her dreams.
After creating her label, hermine, last year to celebrate her tenth anniversary in music, Aoba Ichiko released the most complex and rewarding work of her career, 2020’s Windswept Adan. While audiences in the west are only just learning she exists, her accomplishments are unquestionable; she contributed to the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, was cited by Owen Pallett as an inspiration (“I’ve never been so blindsided by a musician as I was by Aoba Ichiko”), and has collaborated with the likes of Hosono Haruomi, Cornelius (who met her only two years after she first picked up a guitar and was blown away), Sakamoto Ryūichi, and recently Mac DeMarco.
Aoba’s iconic voice and classical guitar playing are immediately recognizable, timeless sounds. Windswept Adan, envisioned as a soundtrack for a fictional film, builds its own world with sweeping co-production and arrangements from Umebayashi Tarō, which “recall the Wes Anderson scores of Mark Mothersbaugh or the cinematographic swells of American composer Jherek Bischoff” (Bandcamp). It is the story of a young girl sent to the island of Adan, a place where there are no words. While international listeners of Aoba Ichiko may not understand the words she sings, and despite the central importance of lyrics in her writing, it is a testament to the power Aoba wields that one can resonate so deeply with her work. Opener “Prologue” places the listener squarely on Adan, with bells, birds, and a field recording of the sea that Aoba made herself on the Honohoshi Coast of Ōshima Amami. No matter the breadth of her sonic palette, and on Adan her scope is as wide and encompassing as Joanna Newsom’s on Have One on Me, Aoba manifests an intimacy that makes one feel in the room with her. Though standout songs like “Porcelain” and “Dawn in the Adan” sparkle throughout Windswept Adan, it is anchored in cinematic moments like “Parfum d’étoiles” where Umebayashi plays a roomy piano while Aoba sings sporadically, distantly and quietly.
Aoba’s work gained greater exposure in the past year as the need for comfort grew while we sequestered in solitude. She has a rare musical gift that is matched only by her ability to hone it into meticulous craft. Her music embraces and elevates alone time to a generous and tranquil place. In it, listeners are invited to feel a sense of consolation and possibility. The magic she imparts yields articles like “Ichiko Aoba and the emotion of space during the pandemic;” in other words, her effect is singular. On June 21st 2021, Aoba Ichiko held a chamber music style concert at Shibuya Bunkamura Orchard Hall, joined by the musicians that recorded Windswept Adan.