Imogen Heap throws Japan tsunami victims a Lifeline

In the wake of Japan’s devastating tsunami, a band of innovators strive to educate, encourage, and raise funds

Imogen Heap at Birmingham Academy, October 2006. Photo by Lee Jordan.

HOUSTON, Texas, May 20, 2011 – While multiple Grammy awards and international acclaim might puff up some, British songstress and producer Imogen Heap has a humble heart, down-to-earth personality, and an all-consuming drive to help people in crisis.  

When a violent tsunami devastated Japan, Heap was overwhelmed, and struggled to take in the enormity of the situation.

“I was watching all the news about the earthquake and the tsunami, and getting very frustrated that I wasn’t able to emotionally connect to it,” Heap said from a hotel room in Adelaide, Australia, where she recently toured.  “It took this one small paragraph [as] I was reading The Guardian.

“The journalist was in a helicopter … and he saw a young Japanese man racing for his life on a bicycle; racing for his life against the tidal wave, which was literally behind him.  I burst into tears … because I could finally imagine, on a very small personal scale, what that must have been like.”

For the country dubbed The Land of the Rising Sun, things seemed very dark indeed.  Thus inspired, Heap was determined to take action.

“I wanted to do something,” Heap recalled, “but what can you?  I mean, you can give money, but it doesn’t seem like enough.  Music is the thing that we do, and I wanted in some way to connect that to these events.”

Thus, Live 4 Sendai was born.

An innovative non-profit event organized by Imogen and her partner-in-charity, Thomas Ermacora, Live 4 Sendai raises funds and awareness for Japanese tsunami relief efforts.  By partnering with Virgin Unite and Rainmaker Social Giving, the online concert benefited Architecture for Humanity, The Red Cross, UNICEF, and Oxfam.

NASA satellite photo of the March, 2011 tsunami sweeping across Japan.

Live 4 Sendai took the form of a variety show complete with live musical performances, talking points, and interviews.  The whole thing was streamed in real time via webcast. Entertainers and speakers were piped in from locations across the globe, including London, Nashville, Boston, San Francisco, and even ground zero in Japan.

Cyber-concert attendees enjoyed a well-organized lineup of performances, and were able to interact via chat with the artists themselves.

Amanda Palmer entertained the crowd with her eccentric antics, Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five) blew everyone away with his celebrated skills as a pianist, and Imogen Heap gave everyone goose bumps with several vibrant piano and vocal performances.  

She even took a few special requests, including a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, Thriller.

Show host Ze Frank conducted interviews with experts such as James Kondo, advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister, regarding the plight of the Japanese people and recovery efforts currently underway. Architect Mark Dytham discussed rebuilding efforts, and brought home the magnitude of the devastation from his on-site location in Sendai.

By integrating information, technology, and entertainment into one accessible event, Live 4 Sendai brought Japan’s unfolding crisis starkly to life.

Artists involved in the show included Jamie Cullum, KT Tunstall, Amos Lee, Sue & The Unicorn, and Jennifer Batten.  Many of the artists, including Amanda Palmer, drummed up buzz about the cyber-benefit by saturating their Twitter and Facebook feeds with real-time updates.

In addition to raising funds, Live 4 Sendai petitioned for restorative design submissions on behalf of Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit network of over 40,000 professionals who lend their time and expertise providing sustainable design, construction, and development services to communities, such as Sendai, that find themselves in desperate need.

Heap explained that Ermacora and the CEO of Architecture for Humanity, Cameron Sinclair, collaborated on spearheading the design submission component of the event.

A U.S. Air Force helicopter flies over an international distress sign painted on a seaside freeway in Japan following the devastating tsunami of March, 2011.

“[They] put their heads together to come up with a way that people who are in these situations can have a kind of handbook,” Heap said, “on how to quickly gather information or quickly build a shelter … The idea was basically to crowd-source design ideas and also the space of where people thought help was most needed.”

Appropriately, Heap’s new single, released April 11, is entitled Lifeline. While the instrumentation hints at Heap’s East Asian musical influences, the lyrics to the pensive rock ballad are hauntingly evocative of the recent devastation of Japan.

“Lifeline, before and after, in an instant of great white gravity;
Hold tight ‘cause all is against me – every cell in my body brace and keep breathing …
Rise high! Cling to the laughter for that moment of broken tragedy.”

Heap and Ermacora are currently editing a compilation video of Live 4 Sendai’s best moments.  The footage will air online as a pay-per-view film, with all proceeds going toward disaster relief in the most devastated regions of Japan. Those interested in seeing the footage should subscribe to email updates at to be notified when the film is uploaded.


Imogen Heap

Live 4 Sendai

Imogen Heap talks to Jennifer Grassman about Live 4 Sendai:

About Jennifer Grassman:

Singer, songwriter and pianist, Jennifer Grassman is an award-winning recording artist based in Houston, Texas. Subscribe by RSS feed and read more from Jennifer at You can follow Jennifer on @JGrassman or

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Jennifer Grassman

Jennifer Grassman is a singer, songstress and pianist who inadvertently became a music industry trailblazer in the wake of the digital revolution. In addition to penning her quirky music industry column, "The Business of Being Diva," Jennifer writes songs and performs concert tours. Jennifer’s accomplishments include being nominated Houston’s best female vocalist and best songwriter and was named best keyboardist in the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards. She assisted in a campaign that raised more than $100,000 for CrimeStoppers and was commended by musician Tori Amos for her charitable efforts on behalf of domestic-abuse victims.  Jennifer has released three CDs, the most recent of which, "Serpent Tales & Nightingales," received accolades from Christianity Today, the Houston Chronicle and Brian Ray and the guitarist of Paul McCartney's band. You can check out Jennifer’s music at, like her on Facebook and tweet her at

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