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:






Okinawa in Edinburgh

Posted August 13, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The first performance of Okinawan music and dance known as Bottle Mail from Okinawa took place at Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe last Saturday. The 50 minute show by the ‘Ship of the Ryukyu’ collective is directed by Megumi Tomita and will be at the festival until the 24th August. Members of the cast and staff have also been out in the streets of Edinburgh to perform and promote the show.





Bottle Mail from Okinawa was featured here in an earlier post. More details can be found at the Ship of the Ryukyu website:



Misako Oshiro: Kana Uta

Posted July 31, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

It has often been said that Misako Oshiro is the greatest living female singer of traditional Okinawan songs and her story as a singer and sanshin player (and occasional actor in films) is well known. The veteran musician has been performing for 57 years and is still active as a singer while also running her own minyo bar in Naha known as Shima Umui.

This new double album is a ‘best’ selection of 33 songs. It has a total running time of 138 minutes and takes us from 1962 up to 1998. There are nine songs previously unreleased on CD and a further eleven which have never been released in any format until now. The package comes with essays on Oshiro by singers Sadao China and Kazufumi Miyazawa, film director Yuji Nakae and writer Norieda Okabe.


The sound quality is generally very good and it all begins with the earliest recording of her first single ‘Kataumui’ from 1962 which was composed by Teihan China. Two other versions of the same song are also included in the release. The first CD contains recordings sourced from the Marufuku, Maruteru and Victor labels. These are mostly from the 1960s but there are also three songs from Oshiro’s appearances at the Ryukyu Festivals in 1975.

The second CD has two more Ryukyu Festival tracks and several rare recordings which are made available for the first time. Most of these are from 1997-98. There are also three tracks from her 1998 collaboration with Naeko Seragaki. Oshiro’s more recent 21st century recordings – she made two albums for Tuff Beats and a further three for Respect (with Kanako Horiuchi, Oki, and Seijin Noborikawa) – are not drawn from at all so it could be argued that this is not a representative selection of her entire recording career. Nevertheless, the focus on her earlier work is no bad thing as it presents her when she was at the peak of her powers.

Misako Oshiro

Misako Oshiro

Among the songs are several of her famed duets with Rinsho Kadekaru and also some songs with Sadao China. Her version (with Kadekaru) of ‘Kunjan Defuku’ is a high point and so is her recording of ‘Chibumi’ with Naeko Seragaki. All the expected songs are present and very correct. Listening to these songs is a great reminder of Oshiro’s importance as an interpreter of Okinawan songs and a testament to the longevity of the songs themselves.

Kana Uta is released by Nihon Dento Bunka Shinko Zaidan (Japan Traditional Cultures Foundation) and is distributed by JVC Kenwood Victor Entertainment.









Benat Igerabide: Orbainak

Posted July 27, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

Benat Igerabide is from Gipuzkoa. After participating in several groups he has spent more than three years working on this first solo project which is entitled Orbainak (Scars). The songs on the album were all written by Igerabide who sings and plays guitar. They have obviously been created with great care and he is joined by a trio formed especially for these recordings which comprises Gorka Urra (guitar), Maria Soriazu (bass) and Gustavo Gonzalez (drums).

Igerabide lived for a while in Los Angeles before returning to the Basque Country and he studied Audio Engineering at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. Still only 26 Igerabide has used this valuable experience to create his own Sonola Studio where the album was recorded. So he’s involved not just as singer and composer but also as musician, recording and mixing engineer. He has an expressive voice, and writes good lyrics combined with fresh interesting music in a pop-rock style and all eleven songs here have strong melodies.

benat igerabide

Igarebide’s songwriting already has a maturity and breadth which keeps the music interesting and varied within the limits of mostly slow building verses and anthemic choruses. While there isn’t any obvious influence from Basque roots music – you won’t find any trikitixa here – the album as a whole very definitely displays an indefinable Basque sensibility and an empathy for Igarebide’s homeland. All the songs are written and sung in Euskara.

Among the best are the second track ‘Esperantxa argiz’ (With light of hope). Like many of the songs it’s a plea for hope, rebirth and for finding a new way: “The sky will dress with light of hope, the dreams will colour the earth”. The slower ‘Oroimenak eraikitzen’  (Building memories) has a poetry in its lyrics which shows a great maturity. Themes of passing time and the need for new directions and identities are pursued on several songs, most pointedly in the insistently melodic ‘Norabide gabe’ (Without direction).

Benat Igerabide and musicians

Benat Igerabide and musicians

In some ways the songwriting is reminiscent of Takashi Nakagawa’s work with Japanese band Soul Flower Union, but Igerabide has his own style and keeps it generally tighter and more direct with not so many flights of fancy. One or two songs such as ‘Hiria’ (City) show a tougher, more rock influenced side which provides added light and shade to the album but it’s on the more reflective songs that Igerabide really shines. This is a well balanced album and a fine solo debut.

Orbainka is released by Elkar.


Here is a video of one of the album’s songs ‘Merezi ote’ (If it’s worth it):









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