Ruper Ordorika: Lurrean etzanda

Posted December 17, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

Ruper Ordorika has for many years been one of the most important singers and songwriters in the Basque Country. Despite his long and impressive list of credits this new album Lurrean etzanda (Lying on the Ground) may well prove to be his finest achievement. He seems to have reached a new peak in his late 50s.

Last year he released Azukre Koxkorrak a collection of songs made well-known by other Basque singers and bands which had inspired him over the years but now he comes up with a brand new collection of songs and all but one are Ordorika originals. The exception is a poem by Dionisio Canas which Ordorika himself has translated into the Basque language and set to music.

The recordings were made at Elkar studios in Donostia-San Sebastian and Ordorika’s vocals and guitar are accompanied by three musicians: Leo Abrahams (guitars), Simon Edwards (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). The musicians are vital to the project and their experience obviously played a great part in the success of the album. The three have worked individually with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Billy Bragg and Tom Waits.

Ruper Ordorika

Ordorika and his musicians were recorded playing together live in the studio over three days in September with Jamie Saft’s piano and Hammond organ added to three songs later in New York. The resulting album has a thrilling rich texture with clear, simple but subtle arrangements enabling Ordorika’s deep vocals to shine. Everything is sung in Euskara (Basque).

Ultimately, it’s the songs which lift this album way above the average. The melodies are always matched by lyrics which show wisdom and philosophical depth as Ordorika reflects on hope, memory, love, and the beauty of life. It’s hard to single out the best tracks as there isn’t really a weakness on the album but the opening trio of songs ‘Giltz-Gordea’ (The Secret Key), ‘Bizitza Eder Denean’ (Life is Beautiful), and ‘Atako Bandan’ plus the outstanding ‘Itzala’ (Shadow) are all immensely satisfying.

There are no English translations in the CD booklet but if your Basque is rusty there are helpful translations of all the songs in both French and Spanish. I haven’t listened to all of Ruper Ordorika’s recorded output, which began back in 1980, but it’s hard to imagine anything better than this. Before its release, Elkar’s Anjel Valdes told me it was the finest album of Ordorika’s career. I thought he was exaggerating but realise now that he may well be right. Ordorika has delivered a piece of work full of meaning which deserves to be acclaimed not only in his homeland but much further afield.

Lurrean etzanda is released by Elkar.




The Sweet Lowdown: Chasing The Sun

Posted December 16, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

The Sweet Lowdown is a trio from Canada based in Victoria, British Columbia. Amanda Blied (guitar), Shanti Bremer (banjo) and Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle) play acoustic songs and music strongly influenced by bluegrass and old-timey. This is already their fourth album and it’s surely their best yet. All of the eleven tracks were written by the band and they have an easy flowing way with the interplay of their instruments and the frequently gorgeous harmony of their voices.

Chasing the Sun contains a mix of songs and tunes which are augmented by extra musicians playing bass and mandolin on some tracks. It’s all fairly light, breezy and melodic but the songs also touch on heavier matters such as the Fukushima disaster in the song ‘Fallout’.


The harmony singing is shown at its most appealing on the unaccompanied ‘Leaving’ while the song ‘You Can Find the North’ shows off the best of their songwriting. As well as influences from Appalachian music there is also an instrumental track with a couple of jigs. The three women are extremely accomplished musicians and they seem equally at home on whichever style they turn to next. It all adds up to a very fine album.

There are videos of The Sweet Lowdown performing two tracks from the album on their website.

Rinsho Kadekaru: Katayabira Shimauta Dan

Posted December 3, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Katayabira Shimauta Dan ~ Kadekaru Rinsho no Sekai ~ (The World of Rinsho Kadekaru Vol.1) – is one of ten new CD releases featuring recordings of Okinawan music from the 1970s. The Kadekaru release is the first of four CDs by him while the rest of the series offers compilations of other Okinawan musicians from the 70s. There are some studio recordings but most are live performances and all of them were originally produced by Rou Takenaka.

This first CD is a live performance which took place on the 28th August 1974 at Osaka Festival Hall and was part of the original ‘Ryukyu Festival: Katayabira Shimauta’. It was previously released as an LP at the end of that year. Kadekaru is accompanied by his son Rinji and by musicians such as the young Sadao China and Tetsuhiro Daiko. The festival was compered by Rinsuke Teruya.


Among the familiar songs are ‘Nakuni’, ‘Jidai no Nagare’, and ‘Umi no Chinbora’. On the plus side, the recordings are very good and are a fine addition to the already overflowing catalogue of Kadekaru’s work which has been made available since his death. On the other hand, the length of the CD is only a miserly 34 minutes.

At a time when Japanese album releases are frequently crammed with extras, outtakes and bonus tracks (many of them more than twice this length) it seems a pity that the Kadekaru recordings couldn’t have been combined on fewer CDs thus making it a much less expensive business for the buyer. That said, there can be no complaints of the quality shown here by arguably the greatest of all traditional singers and sanshin players to emerge from these islands.

Katayabira Shimauta Dan is released by Columbia.






Ojima Fish Market

Posted November 30, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

The small island of Ojima is attached by bridge to the south-east coast of Okinawa. Today we went there to visit the new Ojima Imaiyu Ichiba (fish market) which opened this weekend. It turned out to be a very popular event attended by a large crowd of people on a very warm and sunny day with the temperature at 27 degrees. The festival atmosphere at the market included many stalls selling fish as well as other food and drink and with entertainment provided by local musicians.

Some photos taken this afternoon.

The harbour at Ojima

The harbour at Ojima


Some of the fish on sale at today's market

Some of the fish on sale at today’s market


The big 55 kg maguro (tuna) is carried into the market by scantily clad men

The big 55 kg maguro (tuna) is carried into the market by scantily clad men

The big fish is then expertly sliced into pieces for sale

The big fish is then sliced into pieces ready for sale

Local musicians play shimauta

Local musicians play shimauta

Selling the fish

Selling the fish




An interview with Mio Matsuda

Posted November 24, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Interviews

Mio Matsuda is a remarkable singer from Japan. Shortly after she made her debut album Atlantica in 2005 I wrote about her for an article in the UK’s fRoots magazine (now on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website) and we have kept in touch ever since. Known for her eclectic musical tastes, and equally at home singing in Japanese, Portuguese or Spanish, she has worked with many musicians from around Europe, South America and elsewhere and has gone on to make a number of successful albums.

Her latest project sees her returning to her roots as she sings many old Japanese songs that she collected while on her extensive travels both inside and outside Japan. The result is not just a CD but also a book which she has written about the songs and her journey to discover them. Creole Japan: a journey through the memories of songs is scheduled for release in December.


Mio found time recently to answer some of my questions about this intriguing work. The interview follows below.

(JP): The Creole Japan project has no Okinawan songs. Is there any special reason for this?

(MM): I have a deep respect and love for Okinawan music and culture, ever since I was at university. I have visited Okinawa at various times and learned a lot from artists like Tetsuhiro Daiku and Yasukatsu Oshima. In the first place, I respect Okinawa as a place with a different language and history, not as one of Japanese dialect or a region such as Meiji Japan wanted it to be. With so much respect and love for Okinawa, I didn’t include any Okinawan songs as I still have a long way to go till I learn the language and the soul of Uchinanchu, which is the essence of their folklore. The aim of this project is not to make a compilation of songs from all over the Japanese territory, it is on the contrary, to undo the image of Japan through the songs.

How did you get the idea for this very ambitious project?

I have always wanted to find a repertoire in Japanese while I have been singing a lot in other languages like Portuguese and Spanish. In December 2011, in my hometown in Akita, I found an archive of old folk songs sung by local people. Then I started to encounter these fascinating songs. As for my repertoire, I wanted to find songs of Japan that transcend the images of a closed archipelago. I could have taken some of the well-known minyo, but that wasn’t my idea. I found instead that it was more interesting to meet with rough songs sung by people in their daily work, since those work songs carry the real rhythm of the body, which is now lost a lot in Japan.

You must have done a lot of travelling both outside and inside Japan. How long did the whole thing take and which places outside Japan did you go to when looking for songs?

It’s been three years since I first had the idea of looking for songs, visiting different regions, interviewing people, arranging and recording the songs and finally writing the whole book. It is a book because I wanted to write all the stories behind the songs.

Was there anything in particular that surprised you or was very unexpected during the project?

A lot. I was surprised by the fact that a song itself carries lots of stories behind it. Like the Christian songs in Nagasaki, like a Micronesian song delivered to Ogasawara, like songs made by Japanese immigrants in Brazil… there are lots of stories we would never know without looking deeply into a single song.


Do you have a favourite song or songs that you discovered? (My own favourites are ‘Song of the Mountain’, and ‘Lemon Grass’ which I can’t stop humming to myself – in my head).

Oh how nice! I love these two too. In fact, I love them all, they are precious songs from the time when people were singing in their daily lives attached to nature. All the lyrics are peculiar and somehow connected to the places across the sea. In particular “The Tale of a Small Man” as it is a Christian song made in the Meiji era and I see it as a mixture of occidental and Japanese cosmology. It reminds me of William Butler Yeats’s fairy stories. It became more and more attractive as I discovered little by little the stories behind the song.

The title of the CD-book (and the whole project) suggests that Japan is not a mono-racial or mono-cultural place at all but has a lot of mixtures and variety. This might surprise some people who don’t realise how diverse it is. Would you agree and do you have anything to add about that?

Japan was certainly formed by people of various cultural and racial roots over a period of thousands of years. The diversity has survived in the regional culture. Lafcadio Hearn came to Japan with his mixed roots, animist soul and experiences in Creole regions of the world. That’s why he understood the essence of Japanese culture. This CD-book is in a way, in response to his vision that I admire.

You have made these songs come back to life and you sing them in such a beautiful and sympathetic way. Do you see this as a separate side project or do you intend doing more Japanese songs in the future. How about your Portuguese, Cape Verde, and South American work?

This project is unique in my singing career but the essence is the same. I always see a song as a story. So I had a very deep look into particular songs and searched for their origins. I had to make it a CD-book because the stories were so dramatic and precious and it was worthwhile to write about them. I hope to translate it into English someday. The songs are not only of Japan, they are also connected to the world where I have travelled…Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Hawaii, Micronesia and so on. They are places where the people who sang those songs have travelled both physically and spiritually.

A concert to mark the release of the CD-book will be held in Tokyo at Sonorium on 4th December. ( In the meantime a fascinating glimpse into Mio Matsuda’s journey can be seen in this documentary video which is subtitled in English:






Onaga wins Okinawan election

Posted November 17, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

LDP member and former Naha mayor Takeshi Onaga won the election here yesterday and becomes the new Governor of Okinawa. Onaga is an anti-base campaigner who is committed to stopping the construction of the new American military base at Henoko. In the end his victory over the incumbent Governor Nakaima, who came second, was resounding. Onaga gathered more than 360,000 votes which gave him a runaway victory with more votes than all the other candidates combined.

Takeshi Onaga celebrates his victory

Takeshi Onaga celebrates his win

The election went beyond matters of political ideology and was more to do with the struggle for Okinawan identity. Onaga was supported by parties of both the left and right in his anti-base stance. The election result is another blow to the Japanese government whose immediate response nevertheless was to say that they had expected this result, nothing has changed, and that they still fully intend to go ahead with the Henoko base plan. Interesting times are ahead.

Singer and musician Shoukichi Kina, who is also opposed to the bases, came last of the four candidates with a meagre total of 7,821 votes. On Aguni Island he gained just 5 votes and on Kita Daito Island only one voter went out on a limb to vote for him. Kina’s response was to point out the lack of time he had to prepare plus the fact that no political party, business organisation or union gave him any support. Perhaps he will now concentrate on music but what he does next is anyone’s guess.

Kina for Governor?

Posted November 10, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Shoukichi Kina returned to music this year with the release of Washinnayo, a joint project with Dutch musician and producer Pascal Plantinga, and the mini-album has been getting a fair bit of attention overseas. The current issue of the UK’s fRoots magazine also features the pair in its ‘Okinawa Revisited’ article and offers a free download of the track ‘Munushiri Bushi’ to subscribers. Back in Okinawa, however, it is Kina’s political activities that have been attracting more attention.

His determination to stand as a candidate in the election for Governor of Okinawa – against the orders of his party – caused him to be expelled from Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan). In typical undaunted fashion he is now campaigning as an independent candidate in the election which takes place next Sunday. Kina has been out and about with his campaign which has inevitably included the singing of his trademark song ‘Hana’.

Shoukichi Kina's campaign poster

Shoukichi Kina’s campaign poster

A major issue in the election is the Japanese government’s intention to push through their plan to allow the construction of a new American military base on Okinawa in the rural district of Henoko on the coast of Nago. This would in theory replace the existing base at Futenma. It is a plan which ignores the wishes of the local people who earlier this year voted decisively for a Nago mayor who is vehemently opposed to the base and to all military activities.

Like many Okinawans who continue to protest over the proposed construction, Kina is against the Henoko plan. However, the latest opinion poll in the Okinawa Times, shows Kina lagging some way behind in the four man race to be Governor. Currently leading the way is another anti-base candidate Takeshi Onaga who is closely followed by the present conservative Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.


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