Music from Okinawa at WOMEX

Posted October 16, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

A reminder for anyone in Galicia, Spain next week that the annual WOMEX (World Music Expo) is being held in Santiago de Compostela from the 22nd to 26th. As mentioned previously it will include a stand for Okinawa and there will be a live performance by Sakishima Meeting (Yukito Ara and Isamu Shimoji). An English booklet introducing Okinawa and some of its musicians has been produced for the event along with a special 16 track compilation CD of Music from Okinawa 2014.

The English booklet and Music from Okinawa CD ready for WOMEX.

The English booklet and Music from Okinawa CD are ready for WOMEX

As well as a song from Sakishima Meeting (‘Tome Dome’ from the film Karakara) the CD includes artists such as Kazutoshi Matsuda, Chihiro Kamiya, Tatsumi Chibana and Ryukyu Chimdon Gakudan alongside others both familiar and not so well-known. The music spans several different genres and the invitation to apply for inclusion on the CD was open to anyone resident on these islands, not just to Okinawan musicians. I know this only too well as I was asked to be one of the judges to choose the artists and tracks. As expected, this turned out to be an extremely difficult but fascinating task.

Ryuji Noda (Sakurazaka Theatre) and Sachiyo Tsurumi (Okinawa Arts Council) who will represent Okinawa at WOMEX

Ryuji Noda (Sakurazaka Theatre) and Sachiyo Tsurumi (Okinawa Arts Council) who will represent Okinawa at WOMEX next week

There will be a presentation by Ryuji Noda at WOMEX as part of the Asian Pacific Network Session and he will introduce plans to further develop intercultural exchange through music.



After the typhoon

Posted October 15, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

The strong typhoon which struck Okinawa last weekend was originally categorized as a Super Typhoon and named Typhoon Vongfong. By Friday evening the wind and rain was already doing its work. Driving home from Naha to Itoman (normally a half hour journey) took around two hours owing to the slow-moving traffic which had built up with people trying to get home.

Once again, the power in our area was cut off by Saturday morning and didn’t return until sometime on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, we are very used to typhoons in Okinawa and the damage on the island generally was not as great as it might have been.




These photos taken by British photographer and Okinawa resident Chris Willson show the aftermath of the typhoon and the recovery process which involves cleaning debris from the roads, fixing power lines and dealing with small landslides.



Soul Flower Union: Underground Railroad

Posted October 9, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

This new album by the Kansai based roots-rock band Soul Flower Union is being advertised as their first in four years. That’s stretching a point as in that time the band has released three lengthy ‘mini-albums’ while singer and leader Takashi Nakagawa has made a solo album. There has also been the release of a 6 CD Soul Flower Box of their early work and last year there was a double album Best to commemorate their 20 years together. So their fans have hardly been starved of new releases.

Underground Railroad comes beautifully packaged and designed with an inner sleeve containing lots of photos plus all the Japanese lyrics of the songs alongside their English translations. The back cover photo is of a street banner displaying the slogan ‘Show Racism the Red Card’. The band themselves add their own words to the jacket to make sure there is no doubt of their intentions: ‘Anger is an energy. Silence is a war crime. No place for racism. This CD kills fascists. Best of Japonesian crossbreed rock ‘n roll.’

sfu-underground railroad

The album begins with ‘Ground Zero’ a typical blast of SFU with Nakagawa’s impassioned vocal mixed with a big sound and this sets the tone for what follows. SFU is now more of a collective centred around Nakagawa who plays guitars, sanshin and bouzouki. The six members of the newest line-up also include original members Shinya Okuno on piano, organ, accordion, synthesizer and programming, and Hideko Itami (sanba, hayashi). To these core members are added a total of 19 ‘associate musicians’ and among them this time is Okinawa’s Tatsumi Chibana.

Unfortunately, the album does not always match the commitment and fine musicianship of its members. The problem is obviously that the band has been so prolific that there is a sense of their now running out of new ideas. For those familiar with SFU’s past catalogue, listening to many of these songs will give a feeling of déjà vu as too many of them sound too much like other songs from other SFU albums. Nakagawa’s songwriting has plundered many of the tunes and melodies of his past with just a minimum of tweaking. The words of the songs range as usual from the political to the impenetrable.

No Soul Flower Union record is ever less than interesting but the cacophony of sounds and the familiar paths the songs take can be a bit relentless over 61 minutes. It comes almost as a relief when we hear the simple and direct cover of ‘Is This What Freedom is All About?’, a song written by Miki Toriro and adapted (with a new verse by Nakagawa) from a version on an NHK programme from 1954 called ‘Jodan Ongaku’ (Joke Music). It sounds more relevant than ever in today’s Japanese political climate. The other cover is Lee Perry’s ‘Upsetting Rhythm’ an instrumental providing some respite from all the impassioned songs. The title track of last year’s mini-album ‘Let’s Dance! Don’t Let Them Dance Us!’ is also included.

Underground Railroad is out now on BM tunes.








Awich and Okinawan rap

Posted October 1, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The rapper, poet and DJ known as Awich (Akiko Urasaki) has been featured here before, most recently for her collaboration with Okinawan pop singer Manami on one of this year’s most interesting CD releases. She has just returned from a trip to New York and is featured in the new issue of the magazine Vogue.



In the Vogue interview she describes growing up in Okinawa and her discovery of rap. She explains that to her rap and the more traditional music of Okinawa are not all that different: “Okinawan songs are so hip-hop to me. They talk about struggle, they talk about the blues.” The online feature includes several videos of Awich and of other artists she recommends in Okinawa and is available here:


Gary Edward Jones: The Cabinet Maker

Posted September 27, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Gary Edward Jones is indeed a cabinet maker as well as a singer, guitarist and songwriter from Liverpool, England and this is his debut album. Jones has been around for a while performing and writing songs and has at last put out this short album of nine songs. Supporting musicians include Skeet Williams (guitar, dobro, tenor banjo) and Oscar South (double bass) who also pops up with a burst of Okinawan sanshin on the album’s final track ‘Vampires’.


There is nothing here that pushes any boundaries and the country-flavoured style which runs through many of these songs is very familiar. That said, Jones is a fine singer with a distinctive voice and the album as a whole is an enjoyable and easy listen. The addition of two female backing vocalists on most tracks also adds to its general warmth and accessibility.

The best songs are the opener ‘Free Falling’ and the love song ‘All I Want is You’ with their catchy and insistent melodies. The sanshin doesn’t appear until almost the end and adds little that a banjo couldn’t have done but it’s interesting to hear it played on a mainstream Western album. Everything is crisply performed and beautifully recorded and The Cabinet Maker shows that Jones is a craftsman of songs as well as wood.

Tickets are on sale now for the album launch concert which is on 15th November at St. George’s Hall, Liverpool.






Okinawa at WOMEX 2014

Posted September 20, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

WOMEX (World Music Expo) is celebrating its 20th anniversary with its 2014 event which takes place from 22nd to 26th October in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. Acknowledged as the most international hub of all music meetings worldwide, the trade fair brings together professionals from the worlds of folk, roots, ethnic and traditional music and there is a full programme of concerts, conferences and films. This year’s WOMEX will include a stand introducing music from Okinawa and there will be a live performance by the duo Sakishima Meeting (Yukito Ara and Isamu Shimoji).

Sakishima Meeting

Sakishima Meeting

There will also be a new compilation of music from Okinawa which is being distributed on a CD produced especially for the event. Earlier this summer I was asked to act as one of the judges to decide which artists and tracks should be included on this Music from Okinawa 2014 CD. In order to showcase a very wide range of music being produced on these islands, the organisers asked for submissions of new music for possible inclusion and more than 40 groups and artists responded.

I have therefore spent much of the past few weeks listening to lots of music in an attempt to make some near impossible choices and have been reminded of the enormous variety of sounds which are being produced around the Ryukyu Islands. The submissions ranged from classical Ryukyu court music to jazz, hardcore, electronica, salsa, island reggae and hip-hop as well as the familiar Okinawan minyo and shimauta.

The CD jacket features a bingata design by Makoto Otoguro

The CD jacket features a bingata design by Makoto Otoguro

The final decision has now been made and the 16 tracks chosen for inclusion on the CD are by the following artists:

Oomari, Sakishima Meeting, Kazutoshi Matsuda, Hirara, Ryukyu Koten Jyoshi Gakudan Uminai, Kachimba 4, Tatsumi Chibana, Maltese Rock, Nee-Nee, Noboro Sakurazaka, Piratsu Quartet, EPO, Ryukyu Chimdon Gakudan, Jun, Yusuke Maehana, Chihiro Kamiya.

Sakishima Meeting will also be in concert next week at the Sakurazaka Theatre in Naha. The concert is on Tuesday (23rd) which is a public holiday and it begins at 16:00.


Kate Rusby: Ghost

Posted September 6, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Ghost is the new album from English folk singer Kate Rusby. A couple of years ago she released a compilation to celebrate twenty years as a musician and it still comes as a bit of a surprise to realise that last year she reached another personal milestone when she turned forty.

The years seem to have flown by since I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with her at a folk festival in England not so long after she had released her first solo album Hourglass in her early twenties. Since that time she has become widely known for her lovely singing voice with its Yorkshire tones and for her superb interpretations of traditional English songs. She has also developed enormously as a songwriter whose own songs sound – in a good way – as if they had been written many years ago.


She has surprised even herself with her prolific album releases and with these you always know what to expect. A new generation of English singers may have been experimenting in all sorts of ways but Rusby largely sticks to a familiar path and style. Each album is subtly different in emphasis – her 2010 recording Make the Light was made up entirely of original compositions – but the overall sound and arrangements are never radically changed. This is no bad thing as Rusby and her musicians (who have also changed over the years) are a finely tuned unit who always serve up the very best accompaniments.

This latest offering is a lesson is how to make an appealing and uplifting album and ranks with the very best. It opens with the traditional ‘The Outlandish Knight’  followed by ‘The Youthful Boy’ which includes husband Damien O’Kane on electric guitar and Ron Block on banjo adding a slightly new twist here and elsewhere. The lush sounding ‘Bonnie Bairns’ is outstanding with its use of flute and strings. Later, the heartbreaking ‘After This’ is a contender for Rusby’s finest composition to date. Ghost ends with the title track, another Rusby original, and this time she dispenses with her musicians to sing alone at the piano. There isn’t a false step anywhere. You may not be shocked or surprised by any of this but Ghost is a terrific and, yes, a haunting album.

Ghost is released by Pure Records.





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