Towa Tei is no stranger to the world’s music industry. He first experimented with dance music when he was a teenager by creating mix tapes and sending them to various radio shows in Japan. After high school, he moved to the United States with the intent to study graphic design. It is unknown if he finished his studies as he joined the dance band Deee-Lite around 1988. Towa Tei became an overnight sensation in the summer of 1990 when Deee-Lite released their smash hit single “Groove Is in the Heart”. However, he left the group in 1994, citing “health reasons”, as he returned to Japan to focus on his solo career and work with various Japanese artists, including his idol Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Towa Tei is still pretty active as he celebrated his solo career’s 20th anniversary last year. He releases albums and singles pretty much every year with 2013’s “:LUCKY” album being one of my most recent favorites of his.
Even though Towa Tei is internationally well-known, his version of “FREE” isn’t. The song was featured on the 2002 re-issue of Towa’s third album “Sweet Robots Against the Machine”. It is a cover same-titled song by American R&B singer Deniece Williams who released it back in the 1970s. While Deniece Williams’s version is at a slow, soulful pace, Towai Tei’s take is a bit different. Towa transforms the R&B hit into a bouncy, uptempo song that is perfect for any dance clubs. Another change is the type of instruments that are used, creating the tempo but also a happy, feel good mood. Finally, the vocals in “FREE” are the typical club/dance-type song vocals; very smooth, using a lot of vibrato, and a good use of a large vocal range as the singer loves to slide a lot throughout the song. A surprise punch of flavor comes in the middle and at the end of the song with a rap. It’s a bit unexpected, as the original didn’t feature one, but at the same time, it’s refreshing and well-suited as it blends into the song perfectly.
Towa Tei’s “FREE” is a tasteful update with bouncy beats, a colorful and upbeat choice of instruments, and sweet, sassy vocals. “FREE” will make you want to get up and dance your worries away with the “happy-go-lucky” girls featured in the video. I did when I first saw this on avex’s music video streaming site back in 2002. I fell in love with it back then and I still love it now. <3