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.




A visit to Shikina-en

Posted August 29, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Shikina-en in Okinawa’s Naha is famous as a garden which was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. It was created in the late 18th century as a large second residence for the Ryukyu royal family. It was then carefully reconstructed over a 20 year period following its complete destruction in the Battle of Okinawa. The garden’s design shows many differences from the gardens of Japan and many similarities with China. Not least is the small hexagonal Chinese style pavilion known as Rokkaku-do, while the arch leading to the pavilion was carved from a single piece of Ryukyu limestone. The plants and foliage of Shikina-en also remind us that this is very much a Ryukyu garden situated in the subtropics. Despite having lived in Okinawa for five years – and having made many trips to the islands before that – this was our first visit to the garden today.

Some photos taken this afternoon:







Toru Yonaha: Tunaka

Posted August 17, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Toru Yonaha has done everything. Born in Chatan on Okinawa’s main island, he was introduced to the sanshin as a three year old. After becoming familiar with traditional Okinawan songs and music he took part in Eisa festivals and rapidly became an expert in that field. He appeared as a solo artist at Ryukyu Festivals, toured overseas, became a multi-instrumentalist, a sanshin teacher, songwriter and producer. It seemed no album could be released in Okinawa without Yonaha’s name somewhere in the credits. His collaborations included a joint album in 2009 with Misako Oshiro.

Now at last we have the release of Tunaka which is a ‘Best’ selection of Yonaha’s solo work from the years 2001 to 2014. Despite his numerous musical activities (or maybe because of them) there have been just four solo albums in all that time, beginning with his debut Yozare Bushi in 2001. His fourth album Roots came out in 2008 but this compilation adds some other newer recordings to bring us up to date.


Yonaha has dabbled in pop and rock as well as classical, traditional and shimauta, so choosing just eleven tracks for this album was never easy. He has gone mostly for the fuller sounding band recordings. The final track, however, is a 14 minute ‘Kachashi’ dance workout. There is a nice contribution from singers Mika Uchizato and Chihiro Kamiya on ‘Ashimiji Bushi’ and a good version of ‘Yoake’ a song written by Japanese pop band Spitz. There are also three previously unreleased recordings, one of them a new song co-written by Yonaha. Two other tracks have been remixed for this release.

The final lengthy dance track seems a bit of an indulgence when several more interesting songs could have been included on the one hour album. There is only one track from his excellent debut Yozare Bushi. That album included a fantastic recording of ‘Shin Daisanajya’ one of Yonaha’s finest moments and the greatest version by anyone of this traditional song. To omit it from any ‘best’ album seems a crime.

Toru Yonaha

Toru Yonaha

Yonaha still hasn’t entirely fulfilled that early potential as a solo artist though his contribution to Okinawan music in countless other ways is immense. He is still only 38 (which in Okinawa means he’s just a boy) so there should be many years left to make that really great album. In fact, the title Tunaka is an Okinawan word meaning to be on the open sea. Yonaha sees this as symbolic of being in the middle of his career with still some way to go.

In the meantime, this is a good introduction given the reservations already mentioned. Anyone yet to discover Toru Yonaha will not be disappointed with the extraordinarily accomplished and versatile singer and musician presented on this collection.

Tunaka is released by J’s Records.


Manami: Shangri-La

Posted August 15, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Okinawa has been likened to Shangri-La in the past with its laid-back lifestyle and renowned longevity. Whether or not the connection is intentional, Shangri-La has been chosen by Okinawan singer Manami as the title track of her new album. Earlier this year she collaborated with singer Awich on the CD Two but the new solo album is her first since last year’s Jungolden Night.

As before, Shangri-La is very much a joint affair as Manami co-wrote all the songs with her brother Daisuke Nakamura and he is also responsible for the arrangements, keyboards and programming. The talented Nakamura really knows how to create catchy synth-pop and gets straight down to business with the opening title track and then the second song ‘Kimi no Kaze’.


Manami’s vocals are strong and clear and she has an engaging personality which somehow manages to radiate through her singing. Her lyrics are carefully crafted and positive. But on one song ‘Koi no Yume’ she sings what sounds like a pastiche of a 1960s American pop song complete with adolescent lyrics, whistling, and a lovelorn chorus sung all in English. It’s completely silly but quite irresistible.

As on her previous album she tries some slower ballads but these are her weakest point and the frankly tedious ‘Yumeboshi’ is over six minutes but seems almost twice as long. Much better is the more adventurous ‘Mabuya’ which hints at her Okinawan background as well as her interesting work with Awich.

The album contains seven new songs plus two bonus tracks, one of them a remix of last year’s ‘Jungolden Night’, the other an instrumental version of ‘Shangri-La’. So this is another mixed bag but with enough good moments to override its weaknesses. For the first time the album is being distributed throughout Japan so she may well gain a larger following to go with the already strong fan base she has on Okinawa. The title track is also being used in commercials to advertise Okinawa’s Orion Southern Star beer.

Shangri-La is released by VillageAgain/Siesta

More details and a promotional video for the song ‘Shangri-La’ can be found at Manami’s website:






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