Okinawan music in The Guardian

Posted April 18, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

Justin McCurry is Tokyo Correspondent for the UK newspaper The Guardian. Earlier this year he came to Okinawa to report on the situation here. For his feature on Okinawan music I was able to introduce him to singers Lucy Nagamine and Tatsumi Chibana and he also made contact with Shoukichi Kina and the band Nenes.

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After several delays the article has finally been published in today’s edition of the national newspaper. The online version contains a video of Lucy performing live in Naha. Justin also managed to squeeze in a mention of my book. The online article with video is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/okinawa-musicians-focus-japanese-protest-military-bases

 

Shizuko Oshiro: Washita Shimauta

Posted April 14, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Shizuko Oshiro is a veteran singer and sanshin player and this album Washita Shimauta (subtitled Oshiro Shizuko Ketteiban) is the latest in the growing list of album releases by influential Okinawan artists on Kenichi Takahashi’s Tokyo-based Respect label.

Oshiro was born in 1947 on Ishigaki Island. She played taiko from the age of five, began learning sanshin at six, and at 15 came to Naha with the intention of becoming a minyo singer. She recorded the song ‘Asabana’ the following year and it became a big hit around the islands. After this she appeared regularly on television and radio and started her own minyo kenkyujo (school). She played at the minyo club Hantabaru for 30 years until 2005.

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Oshiro is well-known as a teacher of traditional songs and sanshin as well as being a singer and two of her pupils are Keiko Kinjo and Lucy Nagamine. On this album Lucy appears as a guest singer, most notably to duet with Oshiro on the song ‘Shin Digunu Hana’.

There is also a recording of Oshiro’s first hit ‘Asabana’ which comes originally from Amami Island. Five of the songs were either written or co-written by Oshiro, including ‘Kui Shinubu Kukuru’ which she wrote when she was 22. The title track is by Bisekatsu and Tsuneo Fukuhara and a highlight among the other songs is the excellent ‘Nuchi nu Shientaku’. The album ends with a strong performance of another Oshiro co-written song ‘Utushibi nu Uta’.

Shizuko Oshiro

Shizuko Oshiro

This is generally a slower paced album with Oshiro’s voice accompanied just by sanshin and occasional taiko. Oshiro plays the six string version of the sanshin throughout the album while Lucy plays three string sanshin. There is a fairly even balance of old and newer songs among the 13 tracks and the album has a timeless feel which makes it almost impossible to distinguish between the two.

Washita Shimauta will be released by Respect Records on the 23rd April.

Elkar Records and the Basque Country

Posted April 7, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

The music of the Ryukyu Islands and the Basque Country may have little in common at first glance but the themes and concerns of the people who produce it have many similarities. Not least are an independent spirit and pride in local traditions, music and culture. They have also the shared, sometimes uncomfortable, experience of being smaller groups subsumed within much larger nations. The Basques also have a language of their own which is apparently unrelated to any other and is thought to be the oldest in Europe.

For almost twenty years I have been fascinated by the music of this land known to its people as Euskal Herria and located in northern Spain and south-western France. This interest began when I requested an album for review from Anjel Valdes the record producer and coordinator for Elkar Records which is the leading company for Basque music. Since that time Anjel and I have kept up a long-running email correspondence and he has regularly sent me important album releases. Finally after all these years I was able to meet him in person when I travelled to the Spanish Basque Country last week.

The main Elkar offices in Donostia-San Sebastian

The main Elkar offices in Donostia-San Sebastian

Anjel Valdes shows me around the Elkar studio

Anjel Valdes shows me around the Elkar studio

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Elkar is both a record company and a book publisher with many shops selling CDs and books – a large number of them in Euskara (the Basque language). Thanks to Anjel I was given a tour of the Elkar offices and recording studio in Donostia-San Sebastian and was also introduced to two of the most important Basque singers and composers. First I met the near legendary Benito Lertxundi and sat with him outside a café in the small town of Orio. The next day I met another important musician Ruper Ordorika and had lunch with him in his hometown Vitoria-Gasteiz in the inland region of Alava.

Meeting the great Basque singer Benito Lertxundi

Meeting the great Basque singer Benito Lertxundi

One of the Elkar shops in Bilbao

One of the Elkar shops in Bilbao

With Ruper Ordorika in Vitoria-Gasteiz

With Ruper Ordorika in Vitoria-Gasteiz

I was also introduced to Aizpea Goenaga who is the Director of the Etxepare Basque Institute, and saw a television programme being recorded at EITB (Euskal Irrati Telebista). Anjel’s remarkable friendliness and hospitality even extended to taking us on tours of the coastal and mountain areas and a trip to his home of Durango.

The coast at Donostia-San Sebastian

The coast at Donostia-San Sebastian

No trip to Bilbao would be complete without a visit to the Guggenheim Museum

No trip to Bilbao would be complete without a visit to the Guggenheim Museum

In the town of Durango with Elkar's Anjel Valdes

In the town of Durango with Elkar’s Anjel Valdes

I have already introduced Anjel to the music of Shoukichi Kina and Yasukatsu Oshima. Now it just remains to entice him to Okinawa and to further cement relations between the two cultures.

 

 

Kina & Plantinga on Australian radio

Posted April 7, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

On the 5th of last month three tracks from the recently released (and reviewed here) double single Washinnayo by Shoukichi Kina and Pascal Plantinga were featured on the Australian weekly radio show Enter the Dragon which comes from Melbourne community broadcaster PBS FM. The one hour special entitled ‘Okinawan Island Spirit’ can still be listened to by going to the PBS website:

http://pbsfm.org.au/node/33691

In addition to Kina and Plantinga the show includes tracks from Ryukyu Underground and Amami’s Rikki as well as The Boom. PBS is a provider of independent and diverse music and it’s good to know that this now includes something from the Ryukyu Islands.

Pascal Plantinga is interviewed on Peter Barakan's radio show

Pascal Plantinga is interviewed on Peter Barakan’s radio show

Pascal Plantinga visited Okinawa and Japan in February to promote the collaboration with Shoukichi Kina and was interviewed on Radio Okinawa and also on Peter Barakan’s show Weekend Sunshine which is broadcast on Saturday mornings by NHK FM.

 

Seijin Noborikawa anniversary concert

Posted March 6, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

A concert will be held on the 29th March at Okinawa’s Uruma Shimin Geijutsu Gekijo Hibiki Hall to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Seijin Noborikawa. “Seigwa”, as he was known, was one of the most important singers and sanshin players that these islands have ever produced and he was active as a performer and recording artist right up until his demise last year at the age of 80.

seigwa

The list of musicians scheduled to appear reads like an all-star cast from the minyo world and includes Koutoku Tsuha, Sadao China, Seishin Taba, Tetsuhiro Daiku, Koichi Kamiya, Misako Oshiro, Aiko Yohen, Yuki Yamazato, Katsuko Yohen, Keiko Kinjo, Four Sisters, Yasukatsu Oshima and Toru Yonaha. Tickets are just 2,000 yen (2,500 yen at the door) and the concert starts at 6.30 pm. Unfortunately, I will have to miss out on this one as I will be in the middle of a three week trip to Europe at that time.

Kinder International Film Festival in Okinawa

Posted March 3, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

The first Kinder International Film Festival in Okinawa (KIFFO) was held yesterday in Naha at Okinawa Youth Hall. It was introduced by the festival’s director Takako Miyahira and included the screening of a Dutch movie The Zigzag Kid (2012) which was winner of the Grand Prix at the Kinderfilmfest Kyoto. This initial one day gathering was really a pre-festival event and Miyahira’s aim is to run a complete festival annually with the presentation of good films and informative and entertaining workshops to encourage young people into the world of films.

Festival director Takako Miyahira

Festival director Takako Miyahira

The 25 KIFFO youth staff members introduced themselves to the audience at the end of a very entertaining and enjoyable day. Entry to the festival was along a colourful handmade carpet which was designed and created by the young staff. The event itself is modelled on the Berlin International Film Festival’s Generation Section. KIFFO is the first children’s film festival in Okinawa and the third in Japan.

IMG_4812002kiffo

http://www.kiffo.kukuruvision.com/

Mika Uchizato: Mika No Uta

Posted February 20, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Is it really a decade since Mika Uchizato’s last album? It was back in 2003 when I first met the singer and sanshin player from the small isolated island of Minami Daito which is to the east of Okinawa. She had been recording some vocals for a Ryukyu Underground album and I interviewed her for an article about Okinawa’s ‘girl power’. The following year she released her second full-length album Kaze No Shonkane which was a big step forward for her. But after that her recording career seemed to come to a halt. So the release this month of a new third album, Mika No Uta, is long overdue.

Over the past ten years her contemporaries have taken various different paths. The talented Kanako Hatoma moved to Tokyo and pops up every now and then with her Hatoma Family band while recording just one more solo album. Chihiro Kamiya has experimented with different styles and recordings both modern and traditional, while Ayano Uema signed with a major record company and became the new acceptable face of Okinawan music for many Japanese. Meanwhile Uchizato, now 33, was being busy becoming a mother and she devoted much of the decade to bringing up her children.

mika

Mika No Uta opens with a lovely version of the traditional ‘Sa-Sa Bushi’ and comprises ten songs plus a bonus track of ‘Abayoi’ a song much associated with her and originally recorded on the debut album Tabidachi. Most of the songs here are either traditional or shimauta but there are also two tracks – ‘Sakura’ and ‘Akisare’ – which were co-written by Kazutoshi Matsuda who also produced the album and joins Uchizato on vocals for one song. Matsuda himself released a fine album last year (reviewed on this blog) and he writes in his notes to Mika No Uta that it was the discovery of Uchizato’s superb singing on her first album which led him astray from eisa and into songs and songwriting.

Mika No Uta is less heavily arranged and produced than its predecessor and is more of a back-to-basics recording which demonstrates the simplicity that Uchizato says she has always strived to capture. ‘Ishikubiri’ is a particular highlight which shows her at her best on the slower songs. She plays sanshin and taiko on the album and is joined by Matsuda’s sanshin and also by some piano and guitar. Her slightly husky, deeper voice is reminiscent of Misako Koja and she sings with great expression and emotion throughout. If anything, her more mature voice is better than ever.

Mika No Uta is out now on Campus Records (TUNE-15).

Mika Uchizato’s earlier interview is in Chapter 8 of The Power of Okinawa and also in the article ‘Young Okinawa’ on the Features page of the website:

http://www.powerofokinawa.com/features/young%20okinawa.html


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