Lena Maria refuses to let disability stand in her way



Yukiko Kishinami Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

It's quite something to be successful at both the arts and sports, and particularly so if you have physical disabilities.

That's basically the case with Swedish singer Lena Maria Klingvall, who first made a name for herself as a Paralympic swimmer.

Known simply as Lena Maria in Japan, where she enjoys a large following, the singer with the pleasant soprano voice was born without arms and half of her left leg. Her left leg is artificial, and she uses her right leg to carry out hand functions.

"For me, personally, my handicap is a very natural part of my life," she said. "I think that's the way with my singing, too. At first, it's always the handicap that kind of catches (people's) interest, (but) I also sing. It doesn't really matter to me if people want to listen to me because of my singing or because I'm different, as long as they get something out of it."

Lena Maria's disability did not stop her from trying various sports and artistic activities in her youth. She excelled at swimming, representing her country at the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul. That same year she visited Japan for the first time.

She acheived fame here first and foremost as a gospel singer, developing a wider repertoire over the years. In the past decade, she has visited Japan nearly every year and performed in 45 of the nation's 47 prefectures.

She often sings in Sweden, too, but has not achieved the celebrity status she has in Japan.

"It's impossible for anyone in Sweden to understand what I'm doing here," she laughed. "When I'm home, I'm just an ordinary person. When I'm in Japan, it's so busy, and it's kind of a strange life I have here, even though I enjoy it very much."

She studied singing for musicals and jazz at the Royal Academy of Stockholm, yet it was never her dream or goal to become a professional singer.

"There were other things that I wanted to do when I was younger, such as (become) a telephone operator or a truck driver," she said with a giggle. "But people started to get to know me and they knew I could sing, and they wanted to know about my life. So people started to ask me to come and sing. And then things started to happen in Japan, and it's gone very well. Suddenly I am a singer."

Lena Maria also paints and writes books and songs. Some of her songs are featured on her CDs, which are available only in Japan.

A devout Christian, Lena Maria regularly attends a Baptist church. She has been happily married to a fellow Swedish musician and sound engineer for seven years.

"Family and the church are the most important things for me. That's where I have safety in my life. The church is like a spiritual family for me, and I think family is one of the most important things in our society today. There are a lot of divorces and broken families. It's hard, I think, for all the children to grow up with mom here and dad there," she said.

Her third CD, Every Little Note, will be released Oct. 9. The disc contains standard jazz, classical and musical numbers, plus four original compositions and four songs in Japanese, including "Ue o Muite Aruko," better known in the English-speaking world as "The Sukiyaki Song."

"This is the first time I recorded 'real' Japanese songs, not translated ones. I took a lot of time to go through everything with a Japanese friend I have in Stockholm. The producer also came to the studio when I was recording and helped me," she said.

And she has found she has an affinity with Japanese music.

"I don't know very much about Japanese music, but I really enjoy the songs that I've been singing," she said. "Actually, pentatonic scales (in Japanese melodies) are also found in Negro spirituals, old Gospel songs, as well as in traditional Swedish folk music. Swedish music heritage I think is in some ways like Japanese music. Both Swedish and Japanese (music) focus more on beautiful melodies than the rhythm or lyrics."

During her forthcoming tour of Japan, which will start Oct. 11 in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, Lena Maria will visit 11 cities, including Tokyo and Osaka. She will be accompanied on piano by her longtime collaborator, pianist-arranger Anders Wiek. She will tour Japan again in December.

"The songs I want to sing are ones that encourage (us) and bring hope and love, and that have a positive message. There are so many things in our society today that pull us down and make us sad. There are also so many things to be thankful for and so many things that can cheer us up if we just find them in our daily life," she said.

Lena Maria will also perform Oct. 12, 6:30 p.m. at Big Eye Hall in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Oct. 14, 6 p.m. at Akishima-shi Shimin Kaikan in Akishima, western Tokyo; and in nine other cities including Kochi (Oct. 18) and Nagasaki (Oct. 25). (06) 6762-3020





Copyright 2002 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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