Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Posted October 29, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

The new self-titled album by Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn is a duet by two of the best musicians currently active on the roots music scene of the USA. Abigail Washburn is already known to readers of this blog and her solo album City of Refuge was reviewed here on its release in 2011. She attracted attention at that time because of her singing, banjo playing and songwriting which draws on her American heritage as well as influences from her experiences in China.

Bela Fleck is one of the greatest banjo players and an award-winning musician whose work encompasses many different genres. On this album the pair use seven different banjos and no other instruments or musicians are involved. But it would be a mistake to think that this is limiting in any way or that it’s an album for banjo obsessives. The range of their playing is quite astonishing and the nine songs and three instrumentals are given space to breathe in arrangements that are never flashy or showy.

bela abigail

Washburn sings all of the songs in her immediately recognisable style and they include both traditional and new compositions. Her very moving ‘Ride to You’ is sad and inspiring at the same time and an early high point while Fleck’s ‘What’cha Gonna Do’ is his response to the recent devastating tsunamis in Asia. Washburn’s ‘Shotgun Blues’ takes the Appalachian murder ballad genre and rewrites it to “seek retribution for all the ladies”.

Among several traditional songs ‘And Am I Born to Die’ (learned from a recording by Doc Watson) is outstanding with its chillingly delivered vocal from Washburn. This and several other songs reflect on matters of life and death which is an underlying theme running through the album. It sounds at times strange and familiar, ancient and modern but ultimately this is timeless music made by two remarkable people.

Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn is released by Rounder Records.


Sakishima Meeting at WOMEX

Posted October 27, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

Music from Okinawa was successfully introduced at last week’s Womex event in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. As well as the presentation of a new CD compilation of music from the Ryukyu Islands there was a live performance by Sakishima Meeting (Yukito Ara and Isamu Shimoji).


Sakishima Meeting at Womex last week

Sakishima Meeting at Womex last week

The duo were also featured in a special World on 3 programme from Womex broadcast on BBC Radio. They played two songs for the show and Isamu Shimoji was interviewed by presenter Mary Ann Kennedy. The show can be listened to for the next four weeks through this link:





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.







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