Trans Asia Music Meeting 2017

Posted January 13, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The Trans Asia Music Meeting is being held again in Okinawa and takes place this year on the weekend of 21st/22nd January. Organised by ‘Music from Okinawa’, the focus of the conference is on introducing Okinawan music overseas and on ways to build an Asian music network.

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The keynote speech on the 21st will be given by Kazufumi Miyazawa, former leader of The Boom whose hit song ‘Shimauta’ has become a classic in Okinawa. There will also be live music on the 21st from Hirara and Sakishima Meeting. The music showcase on the 22nd features thirteen different performances and includes music from South Korea and Taiwan as well as Okinawa.

Full details are on the Music from Okinawa website:

www.musicfromokinawa.com

Goodbye 2016 – A Year in Music

Posted December 29, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

Another year is almost over. I was asked to vote again in the 2016 Critics Poll by the UK’s fRoots magazine, and also in the annual music awards for another UK magazine Songlines. For the best album category fRoots voting is open to all albums released anywhere in the world over the past year and so I was able to slip in a couple of my Okinawan favourites, but the Songlines awards are only for albums that have been reviewed in the magazine. Sadly, that rules out music from Okinawa this year.

It hasn’t really been a great year for Okinawan releases but two of the best albums among the six choices I made for fRoots were the debut record Minishi by Yaeyama singer Mayuko Higa and Ten by Okinawa’s Hajime Nakasone. But in fact, my number one favourite roots album from Okinawa this year came just too late for inclusion and that was Takashi Hirayasu’s first solo album for 18 years, the subtly subversive set of traditional Okinawan songs, Yuu.

best2016

The roots albums from ‘out there’ that I liked best this year were the big and magnificent Upcetera by England’s Jim Moray – quite possibly his best yet – and the remarkable second album Nine Pin from Toronto-based Kaia Kater, a superb album of originals and North American traditional songs with an underlying theme of racial issues. Incredibly, it was recorded all in one day. Both these and the Okinawan albums above were reviewed on this blog as was the album Lodestar by Shirley Collins which was the overall winner in the fRoots best album category.

If Okinawa wasn’t exactly bursting with bright new albums there was plenty of music being made elsewhere that I listened to with great pleasure – in both roots and other genres. A real find for me late in the year was the album True Born Irishman by Dublin’s Daoiri Farrell who sings and plays bouzouki and is a unique talent obviously inspired by the likes of Irish masters Donal Lunny and Christy Moore.

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The debut album Nothing’s Real by Shura was also one of the best things I listened to and was a glorious throwback to the synth-pop of the 80s but with a very new twist. Then there was This Unruly Mess I’ve Made the second album from Seattle hip-hoppers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: only a broken leg stopped me from attending their concert in Osaka. Meanwhile Basque singer Ruper Ordorika went to New York to make another fine album and I enjoyed New Yorker Paul Simon’s inventive return to form at the age of 75 with Stranger to Stranger.

Better still was Leonard Cohen’s final album You Want It Darker. Cohen’s death along with the untimely demise of other hugely popular and influential musicians such as David Bowie, Prince, and now George Michael has made it a rather sombre year to say the least and that’s without mentioning all the craziness of the political world and the ongoing colonial treatment of Okinawa by Japan and the USA. Don’t get me started on that one. Instead I will just mention one more thing that came to mind following this week’s news of the loss of George Michael at the age of 53.

On an evening in January 1985 I found myself sitting on the front row of a massive hall in Osaka. I was there to see the pop duo Wham! I had only just arrived in Japan and had somehow (through a Japanese friend with connections) obtained the best seat in the house. I wasn’t even really a fan of Wham! – I was more of a Bob Dylan man and saw him too in Osaka the next year. Okinawa and its music were still a few years in the future.

As George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley came on stage that night the entire audience rose to its feet as one to leave me standing head and shoulders above the excited crowd of mostly teenage girls. Even then I was the oldest for as far as I dared to look. I tried crouching down, as tall people tend to do, but that only made me more conspicuous especially to the musicians on stage. I can’t remember much of the music now but can confirm that it did not disappoint and left everyone feeling very happy including me.

The years since have, I hope, enabled me to open my ears more than ever to all the diverse and wonderful music that is being made in so many different places. Let’s hope 2017 is a good year for music in Okinawa and all around the world.

 

Battlefield Band: The Producer’s Choice

Posted December 22, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

In 2016 Battlefield Band were inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, after almost half a century as internationally acclaimed ambassadors for Scottish folk music with numerous albums and thousands of concerts worldwide. Over this time many great musicians have passed through their ranks, some staying for decades and others just for a couple of years but all have been important in maintaining the distinctive freshness and creativity of the band.

An important part of this continuity can be traced to the band’s long-term producer and manager, Robin Morton of Temple Records. Morton has produced 26 of their albums and this is his chance to celebrate their new award and indulge himself a bit by choosing his own personal highlights and favourite tracks from many of the albums he has produced. And so The Producer’s Choice contains 19 tracks and also features 19 of the musicians who have played with the band over the years.

battlefield

It goes without saying that the album is full of wonderful tunes and songs and excellent musicianship. There are bagpipe and fiddle-led instrumentals as well as traditional and original songs. None of this is presented in chronological order and it’s impossible to detect at first listen which tracks were recorded recently and which are decades old, such is the common thread and cohesion of the band despite the many personnel changes.

So to indulge myself and mention a few personal highlights of my own, the instrumental that stands out is John McCusker’s beautiful ‘Leaving Friday Harbor’. The tune takes its name from the small port on San Juan Island in the straits between the State of Washington coast and Vancouver Island. Alan Reid’s song ‘The Road of Tears’ entwines history with contemporary issues of great relevance. Equally poignant is ‘The Last Trip Home’ featuring Davy Steele, while Karine Polwart shines on the traditional ‘Shepherd Lad’.

The Producer’s Choice is released by Temple Records and clips can be listened to on their website where the album is available to buy as a download or CD with free shipping worldwide.

www.templerecords.co.uk

Ruper Ordorika: Guria Ostatuan

Posted December 15, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

Basque singer-songwriter Ruper Ordorika has achieved near legendary status in his homeland for an impressive career that has bridged musical genres ever since his debut album in 1980. Two years ago he found a new creative high with the release of arguably his best ever album Lurrean Etzanda a set of mostly original songs touching on hope, memory, love and the beauty of life.

Guria Ostatuan (Guria Inn) is his first album since then and follows in a similar vein just as successfully. This time the recordings were made in New York with another small group of musicians. Kenny Wollesen (drums) and Jamie Saft (keyboards) are both familiar with Ordorika’s work having played on the previous album. They are joined here by Tony Scherr (double bass, electric guitar). There is also the crucial addition of strings by Arkaitz Miner on a few tracks.

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It’s an album of great depth and it rewards repeated listening. Ordorika draws the listener in on the opening song ‘Ireki Atea’ (Open the Door) and holds our attention on eleven songs that end with the album’s most gentle and reflective track ‘Zatoz’ (Come).

All of the music is composed by Ordorika but three songs have lyrics by other writers. One of these is by the exiled Basque poet Joseba Sarrionandia whose work has been drawn on before. Another is ‘Munduko Ostatuetan’ an adaptation of Gary Snyder’s poem ‘Dillingham, Alaska, The Willow Tree Bar’. The lovely ‘Hamar Negu’ (Ten Winters) is the busiest sounding with its effective use of strings while ‘Ahots Urrunak’ (A Distant Voice) is the closest to a Dylanesque anthem with its rolling rhythm and uplifting chorus.

This new later style (if it can be called that) is generally quieter and more reflective as Ordorika’s inimitably warm and familiar voice sings of memories, moments and sensations with great subtlety alongside some engaging melodies. He has always been a literary songwriter and this is evident again in these songs though they are never over-wordy and always convey their emotions with economy. It’s ultimately a life-affirming album and a fine way to end the year.

All lyrics are in the Basque language and the CD booklet contains translations in Spanish and French.

Guria Ostatuan is released by Elkar.

www.elkarargitaletxea.com

www.ruperordorika.com

Okinawa’s south-east coast

Posted December 11, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Here are some photos taken today in glorious sunny December weather. The pictures are all from Yaese and Nanjo on the south-east coast of Okinawa.

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Bottle Mail

Posted December 3, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Ship of the Ryukyu is a theatre company of singers and dancers from Okinawa. Last night I went to see their performance of Bottle Mail (Message in a Bottle) at Tenbusu Hall, Naha. The one hour show is written and directed by Megumi Tomita and has already been performed to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and in France at the Festival off d’Avignon.

The story depicts the small ancient kingdom of Ryukyu and how its people sent messages across the sea in bottles to make contact with the wider world and to tell people there about life on these islands. It’s no surprise that Bottle Mail was so well received in Europe as the entire show is full of warmth, energy and vitality.

bottle-mail

Songs and dances are alternated with a video backdrop that tells the story with subtitles in Chinese and English. The performances, by just eight members of the collective, cover songs and dances from the Ryukyu court as well as the everyday lives of the people. Included are ‘Tanchame’ which is performed as a duet, ‘Kurushima Kuduchi’ from Yaeyama, and the cheerful work song ‘Inishiribushi’ plus the ever popular Eisa.

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Bottle Mail can be enjoyed by anyone and by all ages. It was a great evening and managed to be both entertaining and informative at the same time. If you are in Okinawa and want to have your spirits lifted it’s still possible to see the show today (3rd December) or tomorrow (4th) when there are two afternoon shows at 13:00 and 16:00.

Takashi Hirayasu: Yuu

Posted December 1, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Yuu, the new album by Okinawa’s Takashi Hirayasu, opens with an insistent repetitive rhythm and a female trio providing call and response behind Hirayasu’s voice. We could almost be in West Africa. But this is ‘Danju Kariyushi’ and like all the songs that follow it’s a traditional Okinawan composition.

Hirayasu’s first solo album for 18 years was recorded at his own studio in Tokyo where he has been based for quite a while. Long ago he was known as the electric guitarist in Shoukichi Kina’s band Champloose before deciding to go it alone. In 1999 he achieved worldwide recognition for his groundbreaking album of Okinawan children’s songs ‘Warabi Uta’ famously recorded on Taketomi Island with American guitarist Bob Brozman. A second album by the pair was made in California the next year.

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So after a long absence from recording we now have this new release of all traditional songs from the Ryukyu Islands. Most of the nine tracks are from Okinawa but there is also a recording of ‘Tubarama’ from Yaeyama and there’s a short instrumental interlude ‘Okinawan Slack Key Guitar No.1’. The mood is much quieter and gentler than we might have expected from the man once described by Brozman as “a master musician inside a 17 year old wild man”. This is no bad thing as the whole album hangs together better than his previous solo work.

Standout tracks are his versions of ‘Aha Bushi’, ‘Yacchar Guwah’, and especially ‘Keh Hittwuri Bushi’ a staple song for Okinawan singers but brought to life here with an exceptional sensitivity and an unhurried blend of voice, sanshin, guitar and backing vocals. Perversely, on ‘Tubarama’ he dispenses with the usual background vocal to create another idiosyncratic take on this very familiar song.

Hirayasu plays both sanshin and guitar throughout as well as bass, Ryukyu harp, and taiko and his only accomplice, apart from the female vocalists, is Gerhen Oshima who produced the album and also adds some sanshin and guitar. It isn’t perfect and the final ‘Ashibi Shonganeh Bushi’ with just vocal and sanshin seems a slight anti-climax but only because of the strength and quality of all that’s gone before.

So why does it work? It may be that Hirayasu’s experience (he can be called a veteran nowadays) or perhaps even his physical distance from Okinawa has aided him in finding a fresh perspective on these old songs and the results are not just subtly subversive but quite unlike any other musicians in this field. For once, this really could be called a unique album. It’s certainly one of the best this year.

Yuu is released by Coco-Musika Records.

http://cocomusika.com/

A digest of the album can be listened to here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz6OQwvm2Pc