La Yegros: Magnetismo

Posted April 28, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Magnetismo is the second album by La Yegros (Mariana Yegros) a singer and songwriter from Argentina but currently based in France. La Yegros has become popular as the ‘queen of nu cumbia’ and her songs and music delve into Argentinean and Colombian folk traditions that she mixes with generous doses of accordion, electro beats, and whatever else is to hand. She then serves it up with what’s been called a punk attitude.

The new album is musically varied and impossible to pin down to any dominant style. The recordings are infused with great energy and danceability and La Yegros isn’t afraid to break out into a bit of hip-hop either. She is joined by several well-chosen guests including Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla who plays the Andean stringed instrument ronroco on the album’s catchiest track ‘Chicha Roja’.

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Also guesting is the band Lindigo from Reunion Island who add some vocals and maloya rhythms elsewhere. The opening track ‘Magnetismo’ immediately draws us into this world but the fast pace (it also clocks in at just 39 minutes) lets up now and then to reveal some lovely slower melodies too. Most notable among these are the dreamy ‘Hoy’ and the final traditional-sounding ‘Lejos’.

In days gone by we might have had to debate whether this should be filed under pop or roots. Now all that matters is that she has made a fine album which crosses several boundaries with ease.

Magnetismo is released on Soundway Records.

There is an official animated video for the song ‘Chicha Roja’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQ5XhJ-LXsc

http://www.layegros.com/

Kanako Horiuchi in London Benefit Concert

Posted April 25, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The Okinawa-based singer and sanshin player Kanako Horiuchi will be in the UK next month and has a live show in South London at The Ivy House, Nunhead on 18th May. Also performing as guests will be Swiss/Japanese singer Mina Mermoud who plays sanshin and violin, and members of the London Sanshinkai. This will be a benefit concert for victims of the recent Kumamoto earthquake in Japan.

Kanako Horiuchi

Kanako Horiuchi

Kanako Horiuchi, originally from Hokkaido, is one of the Ryukyu Islands’ leading musical ambassadors, travelling the world, spreading the sounds of the islands and sometimes collaborating with local musicians. She is already well-known to readers of The Power of Okinawa blog and website for her work with the great Okinawan singer Misako Oshiro, for her experimental Ska Lovers project, and most recently for her album Hana Umui recorded in Senegal with kora player Falaye Sakho.

This is a rare chance for those in the UK to see a performance of Okinawan music and also to support victims of the earthquake. Tickets and further information are available here:

https://www.wegottickets.com/event/356476

And before her visit to the UK, Kanako Horiuchi will be doing three live shows in Germany at Dusseldorf (7th May), Wachtberg (8th) and Frankfurt (10th).

 

Genres and open-eared listening

Posted April 19, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

People in Okinawa sometimes ask if I ever listen to other kinds of music. As you can see from a quick glance at the Roots Music from Out There category on this blog I do indeed listen to a lot of non-Okinawan music. Although this blog only covers what is loosely labelled roots music (whatever that is) I also listen to lots of stuff which wouldn’t be called roots at all and most of it would, I suppose, be classed as pop or rock.

Music genres are being crossed and defied so much nowadays that trying to categorize becomes almost meaningless. This may be inconvenient for the music critic but is good news for the listener. So Kendrick Lamar is a rapper but that only tells part of the story. His album To Pimp a Butterfly borrows and subverts such an array of styles encompassing funk, jazz and soul that to call him a mere rapper is almost an insult.

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I’ve been reading Elvis Costello’s memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. It’s an illuminating read. Costello was borrowing styles right from the start of his career in the 1970s. I was already well aware of the similarities between ‘Pump It Up’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and when I saw Costello in Japan many years ago he even ran the two songs together to underline his own stylistic appropriation of Dylan’s song. But what I hadn’t thought about much, until reading his book, is the multitude of other musical motifs and lyrical borrowings in his songs.

Costello’s fascination with another Dylan song ‘Is Your Love in Vain?’ inspired the opening of his own composition ‘Possession’ while the first line of that song is the same as the first line of The Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’. More surprising (though maybe not so much when you think about it) is his borrowing of the grand piano style from ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ to rescue one of his most popular songs ‘Oliver’s Army’ from what he calls an uncertain fate.

Elsewhere in the book he makes the obvious but often neglected point that you don’t have to choose between different kinds of music. You can like it all. To this I would add that it isn’t a competition or it shouldn’t be. I love Shoukichi Kina. I love Benito Lertxundi from the Basque Country. I also love Leonard Cohen but I love Macklemore & Ryan Lewis too. I love the late great Hedy West and her ballad singing and banjo playing but that doesn’t stop me being thrilled by a great pop song from Taylor Swift.

Macklemore

Macklemore

The master guitarist Bob Brozman once told me: “I only find big egos in small musicians”. He believed that the best musicians were completely open-eared like children and placed no special value on one kind of music over another. The same applies to listeners with the proviso that everyone naturally has their own favourites and musical tastes.

But listening to something new can be very refreshing. In some sense it can be argued that the best music is always that which is being made today and to access new music from all over the world is easier now than ever. I recently downloaded for free a collection of 100 songs from artists at this year’s SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. This came courtesy of the estimable NPR music site. The good thing is that I hadn’t previously even heard of more than a tiny percentage of any of these musicians. Expecting to like only a handful of the tracks, I ended up loading more than 80 of them onto my iPod… in time I might even get around to liking some of those I left off.

 

Dispatch from Okinawa

Posted April 2, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The Songlines Magazine article Dispatch from Okinawa is now available to read on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website.

Kachimba4 at the showcase for the Trans Asia Music Meeting

Kachimba4 at the showcase for the Trans Asia Music Meeting

Songlines is the leading world music magazine in the UK. The May issue comes with two CDs (and a picture of me as featured contributor!).

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

 

 

 

 

 

Okinawa in Songlines

Posted March 31, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The new May 2016 issue of Songlines Magazine has a feature by me on Okinawan music. My article Dispatch from Okinawa focuses on the Trans Asia Music Meeting in Naha earlier this year and on some of the musicians at the showcase event.

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Songlines is a leading world music magazine published in the UK and the new issue will be in shops from tomorrow (1st April). The article will also be published on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website in the near future.

http://www.songlines.co.uk

 

An interview with Kirk King

Posted March 22, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Interviews

Kirk King is an ethnomusicologist from Vancouver, Canada who has a great interest in Okinawan music. After several years living in Nagano in mainland Japan, Kirk is currently engaged on doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia as a member of their Public Scholars Initiative and is spending some time in Okinawa to do research for his dissertation which will be a study of the great Okinawan musician Rinsho Kadekaru (1920~1999).

I first met Kirk about three years ago when he was on another visit to Okinawa and at that time he came to my home to talk to me about my book The Power of Okinawa. This time I managed to turn the tables and sat him down to answer some questions of my own. Kirk is enormously knowledgeable about music but is always eager to find out more and he has a genuine love of traditional music in Okinawa. We could have talked all night and in the end we almost did. What follows are some of my questions along with Kirk’s thoughtful answers.

Kirk King

Kirk King

 (JP): How did your interest in Okinawa and its music begin?

(KK): I lived in Nagano Prefecture for ten years and participated in traditional music there. I performed the accompanying music for lion dancing in my local community, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on that topic. At that point I was really looking to branch out and try a different area of research but still within Japan. As fate would have it, a good friend of mine introduced me to a lot of Okinawan music and lent me a stack of CDs which included a couple by Kadekaru Rinsho which I listened to and was extremely moved by. It was just something about his sound that really grabbed me so I started reading about Kadekaru and his life. I thought it would make an excellent biographical study to look at his life in connection with the music that he made and his particular style of singing and playing. That’s where it all started.

Did you find that Okinawan music was very different from Japanese music?

Yes, I think it’s very different. Not just the music itself and the elements of composition but more than that what strikes me as the greatest difference is the cultural context. I always think of Okinawan music as a living tradition but I think in the Japanese mainland some of the traditional arts kind of exist in the past and are trapped in time. However, in Okinawa it’s still very much alive and is very much a part of everyday life.

How did you become interested in music to begin with?

I always loved music ever since I was a kid and studied piano and guitar. But what really aroused my interest in ‘world music’ was that when I was 15 I lived in Indonesia for a year with my parents in West Timor. I started learning a traditional instrument there called the sasando and listened to a lot of gamelan music at a young age. Ever since that time I had an interest in world music and did my undergraduate degree in Music History and then my Master’s in Ethnomusicology.

What do you focus on in your dissertation on Kadekaru?

My research is a biographical study of Kadekaru which looks at key events and experiences in his life and how they shaped his musical output. I’m not so interested in a complete life history which I think is extremely difficult to do regarding Kadekaru and also I’m not sure it’s particularly suited to an ethnomusicology study. But what I am interested in is collecting as many stories as possible about Kadekaru from people who have something to say about him, or some impression.

I’m also very interested in the legend of Kadekaru and how he’s remembered today in Okinawa. I’m also interested in the networks that surround a great artist like him because I believe that to become a person of prominence in a musical world it takes much more than talent. There are other reasons, there are certain circumstances that bring them to that position and there are people that surround a person who validate them as a musician and raise them to a position of prominence. Since he has been such a great influence on musicians, even today, I wondered to what extent he also helped to shape the sense of Okinawan identity which is so closely tied to music and the sanshin.

Rinsho Kadekaru

Rinsho Kadekaru

Did you ever see Kadekaru when he was performing?

Unfortunately I didn’t. I wish I could have. But I’m fortunate enough to talk to a lot of the people who knew him and they’ve been very cooperative and this is an important part of my research. I’m a member of the University of British Columbia’s Public Scholars Initiative (PSI) which was created last year by the Faculty of Postgraduate and Doctoral Studies. The objective of the PSI is to support scholarship that bridges a gap between academia and the public. It also encourages people to re-imagine the dissertation not as a document that is going to sit on a shelf collecting dust but as something that has impact in the community.

For me public scholarship means looking at these people who contribute to my research not as research informants but rather as participants. So I don’t come in as an anthropologist or a musicologist and collect data and leave. I’m really interested in developing relationships and letting their voices come through to tell the story of Kadekaru. In this way I see them also as public scholars in a sense because of their great knowledge and experience.

When you are not studying or listening to Okinawan music what other kinds of music do you particularly like?

I like all kinds of music. I’m a big fan of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and have been listening to that lately. I also listen to jazz, especially early New Orleans jazz. I like classic rock and I’ve been listening a lot to David Bowie lately since he passed away because he has been a huge influence on my life in general.

Are you playing music yourself nowadays?

A little bit, when I have time for it. I started taking sanshin lessons in Nagano out of a research interest to try and understand the instrument better. As much as I like listening to it I find that when I play sanshin it carries me away on a wave for a while. When I come back I feel rejuvenated so I really enjoy it even though I know only about five songs right now. I’m not taking lessons now but I’ve been playing in Vancouver where we have an Okinawa Kenjinkai and an Eisa group.

How about your own future? Do you see yourself in Japan or Okinawa or Canada?

Well, it’s hard to say at this point. I’m open to the idea of living in Japan and definitely Okinawa would be nice if I can work here. I would like to take a position in academia because I really like teaching and I like working with people. If I could do it with something I really love then that would be the perfect work for me. As an ethnomusicologist, the connections I’ve established with people are very important because that’s how I do my work so I’d like to just continue meeting new people and finding new opportunities.

Kirk has his own page on the UBC Public Scholars Initiative website where you can read more about his research:

https://www.grad.ubc.ca/campus-community/meet-our-students/king-kirk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cats without homes

Posted March 10, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

I’ve always loved cats and my home doesn’t seem right without a feline friend in residence. Sadly though, since moving to Okinawa I’ve seen far too many cats without a home. Some of these stray cats must have been abandoned by their owners and they seem to be everywhere on the island.

One large group of cats congregates near the beach close to my home where a kind local woman feeds them every day. These are in some ways the lucky ones as they are at least assured of some regular food and water. Even so, some may be suffering from eye problems and other health issues and these are just the ones who have survived long enough to grow up.

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I wish I could do something to help the cats in our neighbourhood but so far have managed to offer a home to only one of them. Sachi (as I’ve named her) has been living with us for almost two years and has become an important member of our family. She is healthy and affectionate now and has a glossy patterned coat in complete contrast to the thin, scruffy and bedraggled creature we first knew.

I’m occasionally asked what I think are the not-so-good things about Okinawa and I usually respond: military bases, typhoons and traffic jams. To these I would now have to add the sorry sight of so many homeless cats (and I haven’t even mentioned dogs yet!).

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The photos show some of the cats I see most days near my local beach.


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