The pioneering pianist blazed a trail through 1970s jazz and electronica and was lauded by 1980s pop royalty. Now a new generation of fans, including Clairo and Mac DeMarco, hope to bring her an international audience

Akiko Yano is laughing as she tells the story of her debut album, Japanese Girl. Twenty-one years old and unable to speak a word of English, she found herself directing a recording session in LA with US rock outfit Little Feat. “I still don’t know how it was possible,” she says, over a video call from her home in New York City. “You play this, you play that!” So clear was her vision, Little Feat tried to return their fee because they thought they hadn’t earned it. She smiles. “I feel sorry about that now.”

This singularity of purpose has been a constant in Yano’s 50-year career. A pianist with an unmistakable voice, a love of synthesisers and an ear for pop melodies, Yano is one of the most celebrated Japanese musicians of her generation. Central to the techno-pop sound that made global stars of Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) in the late 1970s, she blazed a trail that has yet to be fully recognised outside Japan, though hopefully a current reissue campaign will help, along with the vocal approval of a generation of young leftfield artists such as Clairo and Jessy Lanza. “These are such big, beautiful songs,” enthuses another fan, indie-popper Mac DeMarco, over the phone to me. “There is this fearlessness in the music that really puts gas in my tank.”

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