Seishin Taba: Shiawase Retto

Posted July 29, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Seishin Taba has been a fixture on the Okinawan music scene for a long time. While he may not command the high profile of some of his contemporaries, he has built quite a reputation for himself over the years. Now, the best of his recordings has been rounded up and made available on this newly released double album.

The album’s full title is Shiawase Retto – Taba Seishin Tokushu and it brings together 32 tracks over two CDs. All but one of these are taken from previous recordings that span the whole of Taba’s career. The exception is the newly recorded ‘Shirakumu Nagariti’ a song written by Bisekatsu and Kazutoshi Matsuda. It’s one of the best things on what is a comprehensive selection covering a lot of musical ground.

Taba recently surfaced to take part as a guest on Keiko Higa’s album Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi, reviewed here earlier this year. He also sang and played impressively when I saw him at the Higa album release concert in Koza. Just last week, he also appeared in concert as one of a trio of top traditional singers along with Sadao China and Tetsuhiro Daiku, so he is obviously enjoying something of a renaissance.

The selections on this (mainly) retrospective release include several duets with women singers, and there are two songs with the great Yuki Yamazato: one is the superb ‘Saipan Kazoeuta’. Other female singers include Naeko Seragaki and Misako Koja, while the last track of all is a recording of ‘Sah Sah Bushi’ with Keiko Kinjo. As well as the women, Shuken Maekawa joins on one song and is composer of one of the best tracks, ‘Nakankiyo’.

In 1975, Taba had a big hit in Okinawa with the song ‘Shima no Hito’ and this is also included. Another of many highlights is ‘Nakuna Shichan’ in which Taba’s typically undemonstrative and gentle vocal is evident. Despite the upbeat album title, which takes its name from the first song ‘Shiawase Retto’ (or ‘happy island chain’), several songs are sad reflections on the harsh conditions and history of the islands.

Most of the recordings are either popular shimauta or traditional minyo, but Taba is also known for his singing of kayokyoku-style compositions and there are three examples of this. For this listener, these are the weakest point of what is otherwise a very fine collection, as they take Taba far too close to Japanese enka – for my own liking anyway. Otherwise, this excellent collection is the perfect introduction to the musical world of Seishin Taba.

Shiawase Retto is out now on Campus Records.

Jusu: Sagaribana

Posted July 6, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

The complete title of this debut album is Sagaribana ~Shima o Kuchizusamu Vol.1~ and it’s by an Okinawa-based trio named Jusu. The trio comprises Ishigaki singer Makico Miyara complemented by the guitar and arrangements of Shigeharu Sasago and the sanshin of Gerhen Oshima.

While this is a new project, the members come to it with an impressive pedigree. Shigeharu Sasago and Gerhen Oshima both have more than 30 years of experience as musicians in numerous different guises, while Makico Miyara is a solo singer whose credits include writing and singing the theme song for a movie soundtrack.

Oshima began as a member of ambient unit Tingara and is keen to explore the possibilities of the sanshin. Meanwhile Sasago is a much in demand guitarist who has worked with, among others, Misako Koja and Yasukatsu Oshima. Inspired by the music of Okinawa, they formed Jusu last year with Makico Miyara, and Sagaribana contains nine songs written or co-written by Sasago and Oshima.

Famed Okinawan artist Bokunen Naka was responsible for the cover art in his unmistakable style, but he is also the composer of the lyrics for two of the songs included here. Earlier this week he joined the trio to talk about his contribution as part of a pre-release event that I was invited to attend at Sound M’s live stage in Naha.

The core sound of these songs is created by the interplay of acoustic guitar and sanshin, but some tracks have guest musicians playing flute, piano, cello, bass, and percussion. There is no obvious standout track but the whole album flows together in a natural progression. This could have slipped all too easily into the dreaded easy listening, but the musicians and the songs are good enough to avoid this.  

The first three songs are all Gerhen Oshima compositions and the best of these is ‘Shima e’ which opens the album. Miyara begins the next track ‘Ichi mudui’ with a lengthy unaccompanied vocal. This is one of the songs with lyrics by Bokunen Naka. The other, ‘Kaji ya n kai kaji’, is one of the liveliest and most engaging on the album.

This is a joint effort with vital contributions from all three, but the star is Makico Miyara whose confident but nuanced vocal delivery is strongly evident throughout. Listening to her at the pre-release event made me also want to listen to her singing some of the traditional songs of her islands. I’m sure she would do them justice but for now we can be content with the original songs she sings so well with Jusu.

Sagaribana ~Shima o Kuchizusamu Vol.1~ will be released by Jusu Records on 10th July.  Jusu will have an album release concert in Naha at Sakurazaka Theatre Hall B on Sunday 2nd October at 15:00.

Okinawan Collaborations Mix

Posted June 24, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Radio Mixes

My new radio mix is now online at K.O.L. Radio (see below). This is a mix of collaborations by Okinawan musicians. All except the final track were made with artists from outside Okinawa.

The late Seijin Noborikawa starts things off with his collaboration with Osaka band Soul Flower Union on ‘Midori no Okinawa’. This is followed by Shoukichi Kina and experimental Dutch musician Pascal Plantinga.

Takashi Hirayasu’s groundbreaking 1999 album of Okinawan children’s songs with American guitarist Bob Brozman is featured twice. There are also two tracks from another classic album by Yaeyama musician Yasukatsu Oshima and American jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer recorded in New York in 2007.

Yasukatsu Oshima and Geoffrey Keezer recording their album in New York

Yoriko Ganeko appears twice in very different musical settings. The first is ‘Nishinjo Bushi’ an exquisite duet with Japan’s Kazufumi Miyazawa. The other is from her now rare album recorded in Paris with French rock band LSD.

Other outside collaborators include Oki (Ainu), Guy Sigsworth (England), Yuko Sato (Japan), Sven Kacirek (Germany), and Makoto Kubota’s Japan-based band project Blue Asia. Kanako Horiuchi (an honorary Okinawan from Hokkaido) is here with Senegalese musician Falaye Sakho. Hawaiian-born Anjani Thomas who has family roots in Okinawa (and is known for her work with Leonard Cohen) sings her English language version of a song by Rinken Teruya who plays sanshin.

The mix ends with a new track from Okinawa Electric Girl Saya who gets together with another Okinawan, Tetsushi Hiroyama of Ryukyudisko.

On a personal note, I was very happy to arrange a meeting in Okinawa between Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Madonna etc.) and Minami Daito singer Mika Uchizato. Their song ‘Shurayo’ has music by Guy and words by Mika. I sat beside Mika in the recording studio as she composed the lyrics.

This is the playlist order with artists and song titles:

Seijin Noborikawa with Soul Flower Union ‘Midori no Okinawa’

Shoukichi Kina with Pascal Plantinga ‘Kunjan Sabakui’

Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman ‘Jin Jin’

Yoriko Ganeko with Kazufumi Miyazawa ‘Nishinjo Bushi’

Yasukatsu Oshima with Geoffrey Keezer ‘Agarikata Bushi’

Kanako Horiuchi with Falaye Sakho ‘Hana Umui’

Oki with Misako Oshiro ‘Kita to Minami’

Guy Sigsworth with Mika Uchizato ‘Shurayo’

Blue Asia with Satoru Shimoji ‘Kun-nu-Shu’

Yukito Ara and Yuko Sato ‘Famure Uta’

Yoriko Ganeko and LSD ‘Minami no Shima’

Yasukatsu Oshima with Geoffrey Keezer ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’

Anjani Thomas with Rinken Teruya ‘Okinawa Time’

Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman ‘Akata Sun Dunchi’

Sven Kacirek with Keiko Kina ‘Nagareru Mamani’

Okinawa Electric Girl Saya with Tetsushi Hiroyama ‘Acchamee!’

Irei no hi 2022

Posted June 23, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

Today is ‘Irei no hi’, a public holiday in the Ryukyu Islands. This year is the 77th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa in which more than 241,000 died. Most were Okinawans murdered by the U.S. and Japan.

There is no public holiday for this in Japan where it really ought to be a day of shame. I am also getting tired of writing about it every year as it’s always the same.

Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo

As usual, Japan’s Prime Minister – this time Fumio Kishida – came to Okinawa Peace Memorial Park near my home in Itoman and delivered a speech full of platitudes and lies about how Japan cares for Okinawa. This was met with some heckling. The reality is very different and unless Ryukyu regains independence is unlikely to change.

Only 340 were allowed into the ceremony itself but many gathered in the park to pay their respects to the dead and there were also some protesters (photo above). For today we remember all those who died and were sacrificed by Japan in the Battle of Okinawa.

When time heals nothing

Posted June 1, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

In April I wrote a piece anticipating the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. This has now been updated and expanded. The new article ‘When time heals nothing’ is published today by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in the June issue of their Number 1 Shimbun.

The front pages of the Ryukyu Shimpo on the 50th anniversary of reversion, and on 15 May 1972, with almost identical headlines.

The article can be read online here:

Uchina Jazz All Stars: Uchina Jazz Goes On

Posted May 25, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

It’s not all shimauta in Okinawa. Many other musical genres and stylistic mixes are popular too and one of these is jazz which became widespread during the American occupation of these islands after the war. In fact, top American jazz musicians such as Count Basie and Louis Armstrong came to Okinawa to play on the military bases. Jazz became widely known and by the 1960s there were jazz clubs around the island as well as on the bases.

Uchina Jazz All Stars are a collection of jazz musicians from Okinawa, and this is the first Uchina Jazz release for 14 years. Some of the musicians gathered here were active in those early days of jazz on Okinawa, and among those who play on this album are 92-year-old tenor saxophonist Alan Kahipe and 86-year-old drummer Shoei Uehara.

The album offers 15 tracks and more than an hour of music plus a couple of songs, and the CD comes with a 28-page booklet. The recordings were all produced by Naha trombonist Eiki Maezato whose many credits and involvement with the music scene include playing for Diamantes.

The essence of the album is in its big band style, and this is given a workout on several instrumental performances of Okinawan traditional songs. There are also some originals and a couple of classic jazz standards. Maezato composed the title track which begins the album, and it appears again later in a different version.

The two vocals here are both by Takako Afuso. The first is on ‘Getto’, a song of peace with lyrics that reference the tragic events of the Battle of Okinawa in an impressively poetic and oblique way. The other Yafuso vocal is for the Okinawan song ‘Endo no Hana’

There is also a 17-piece big band version of ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’; a recording of Misako Koja’s much loved ‘Warabi Gami’; a very different jazz arrangement of the Yaeyama traditional song ‘Densa Bushi’; and the American standard ‘My One and Only Love’ inspired by the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman version.

This is a mixed bag of compositions and influences firmly rooted in the Ryukyus but with its heart in the American jazz first introduced to these islands following the Second World War. The release coincides with the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. The reversion itself is no cause for celebration, but Uchina Jazz Goes On is confirmation that jazz is still alive in the Ryukyus.

Uchina Jazz Goes On will be released by Respect on 22nd June.

Kate Rusby: 30 Happy Returns

Posted May 20, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

English folk singer Kate Rusby previously released both a 10 and a 20 album to mark her years as a musician. (20 was reviewed here on its release). Now comes 30 Happy Returns, a new album to commemorate and celebrate three decades of music making.

The new album has a generous 16 songs, including bonus track ‘Secret Keeper’ a song featuring the Royal Northern Sinfonia and commissioned by Newcastle Gateshead Initiative for the Great Exhibition of the North. The rest of the album contains revisits to earlier glories and some new arrangements as well as contributions from a variety of guest singers.

Two things are immediately apparent. The first is how Rusby’s sound has subtly changed over the years in a natural development to embrace more instrumentation with the appearance of electric guitars, drums, Moog, and synths. The other is that no less than eleven of these tracks are completely original songs despite her reputation as a purveyor of the traditional. The original compositions stand up very well and are testimony (if any were needed) to her evolution as a songwriter.

Once criticised for a lack of adventure, there can surely be no complaints about any of this. The influence of husband, fellow musician, and producer Damien O’Kane would seem to be one of the reasons. The appeal of Rusby’s amazing voice and her way with a song is never compromised. However big they are, the arrangements always fit perfectly, and the guests never overwhelm. She could probably sing the phone book (if such books still exist) and sound compelling but the songs are also the stars.

‘We Will Sing’ features Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a South Africa/South Yorkshire collaboration (see video). The traditional ‘Fairest of All Yarrow’ returns in a busy revitalised arrangement with cornet and flugelhorn driving it along. The glorious ‘Let Me Be’ is almost pure pop and has Rusby sharing vocals with KT Tunstall. And the new ‘Blooming Heather’ (with Sam Kelly) easily surpasses the version on her Awkward Annie album. 

In her notes she says: “By nature, I have never been ambitious, just rolled along with the world hoping not to get flattened! There have been highs and some lows, thankfully the lows are far outweighed by the happy sunlit highs! I have been given awards and accolades, two honorary doctorates, a Mercury Music Prize, opportunities to play with musical heroes. I have shyly rolled along with it all, always thinking Do they actually mean me? Perhaps they’ve got this wrong and they’ll realise before it’s too late!!”

This new collection of songs will not just please her fans but also offers many rewards for anyone who cares to listen. Regardless of her professed lack of ambition, this is another step forward for Kate Rusby and for her team at the Pure Records family business.

30 Happy Returns is out now on Pure Records.

Kaka: Neon the time

Posted May 7, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

The 2nd edition of The Power of Okinawa has an interview with hip-hop artist and producer Tatsumi Chibana. Our meeting for this was at the Chibana family home in Onna. Among the family members present that day was baby son Kaka. Now years later, Kaka (かか) is fast becoming a musician in his own right and Neon the time is an album of his original songs. It will be released later this month on his 14th birthday.

Not surprisingly, in such a musical family, he began learning piano and drums as a young child. Together with his two sisters, he formed KiKaChi王 and they released an album when he was eleven.

This new recording has seven tracks with Vocaloid synthesiser software used to some effect and songs telling stories of great imagination. There is a good deal of creativity at work on the melodies too. The production and programming are by Kaka, while the cover design is by sister Kiki.

Neon the time will be released digitally by Akagawara on 15th May and will be available in all the usual places for streaming and download.

Victor Kinjo: Terráqueos

Posted May 5, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Last week I was invited to the We Are Okinawa!!! concert at Music Town Otoichiba in Koza. This was a fascinating meeting of different singers, musicians, and cultures, with a strong emphasis on the connections between the Ryukyus and South America. One of the main featured artists was Okinawan-Peruvian singer Alberto Shiroma from the band Diamantes. Another was visiting musician Victor Kinjo whose second album Terráqueos is released this week.  

Kinjo is a fourth generation Okinawan-Brazilian singer. He is also a songwriter, researcher, and producer who is based in both São Paulo and New York. Following the release of his first album he was nominated for a best singer award at the 2018 Brazilian Music Awards and his vocal artistry is very evident on the new release.

Terráqueos is a short but ambitious statement. The album aims for a champloo musical journey in which Kinjo “melts sounds and languages of the world in a planetary statement for nature, diversity, and peace.” The eight tracks take us through a wide variety of styles with acoustic guitar and sanshin sometimes mixed with other instrumentation but always with the vocals at its core.

It all begins with a short vocal track in which a poem in Tupi (one of the indigenous languages of South America) is fused with the well-known traditional Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’. This is sung in Uchinaguchi, the language of Kinjo’s grandparents.

The album then takes in new interpretations of songs by composers such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil as well as some original songs by Kinjo sung in Portuguese, English, French, and Uchinaguchi. The album concludes with his original song ‘Uchina’.

One of the songs on the album is ‘Vem Pro Rio’ (Come to the river) and last year he released this as a single and music video (see below). It was recorded in an artistic and scientific expedition from the source to the mouth of the Tietê River in Southeast Brazil. As part of his continuing research, he has recently been investigating the contamination of Okinawan rivers by US military bases.

It was very good to meet Kinjo last week and talk with him about his projects, both environmental and musical, as he spoke of his work and the activist musicians who have inspired him, from Pete Seeger to Shoukichi Kina. His album is well worth checking out, but the last word goes to Kinjo himself:

“There is a shimanchu teaching that says ichariba choodee, which means we are siblings when we meet. In these times of pandemics, climate emergency and war, we must, at the same time, overcome historical injustices and rescue our common ancestry as Terráqueos (Earthlings) made by land and water. I believe music has the power to unite different peoples, identities, and cultures in harmony.”

Terráqueos is released digitally on 6th May by Brazilian label YB Music:

Victor Kinjo will be performing in Tokyo at a release concert for the album on Saturday 7th May. See website for details:

Shunichi Irei: Nangoku Beat

Posted April 28, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Nangoku Beat (南国ビート) is the first album for ten years by singer, songwriter and sanshin player Shunichi Irei who is from Izena-jima off the north-west coast of Okinawa. Irei learned sanshin at high school and then went to Okinawa Kenritsu Geijutsu Daigaku (Okinawa Arts University) where he studied Ryukyuan classical music.

One of the songs here was originally a single for him in 2007. A mini-album followed the next year, and he also appeared at the Summer Sonic 09 festival in mainland Japan. More recently he has acted in films and television drama including the movie Zampa set in Okinawa.

With this release he has recorded a set of mostly original songs. There is also one co-written with Akira Ikuma as well as a cover of the J-Pop hit ‘Hanamizuki’. Alongside his own original songs there are two traditional tracks – the familiar ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’.

The overall sound is probably best described as Uchina Pop. Irei has a strong voice and his sanshin playing is prominent throughout. Also crucial is his accomplice DJ Sasa who created all the arrangements in addition to keyboards and programming. It’s already more than a decade since DJ Sasa collaborated with Kanako Horiuchi on their Ska Lovers project and some of the atmosphere of their two fine albums is reproduced here.

The title track (see video below) is a bright, poppy affair and this, like much of the album, celebrates island life and the nature of Okinawa. It’s followed by ‘Precious Days’ a song written by Irei in memory of his late grandfather. It’s a smooth pop ballad of the kind that might easily be the theme song to a TV drama series.

‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’ is the better of the two traditional tracks. It’s taken at a slow pace and with an appealing vocal sung by someone obviously at home with the classics. It’s such a great song too that Irei could hardly go wrong just by singing it straight and true. For this listener, it’s a highlight, while Irei’s own compositions will no doubt please those looking for the more pop side of Okinawan music.

A live release event is planned for 3rd May in Tokyo. There will also be a live release show in Okinawa at Naha’s Sakurazaka Central on Saturday 16th July at 19:00.

Nangoku Beat is out now and is distributed by OR.