Olivia Chaney: The Longest River

Posted May 12, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

The debut album by Florence-born English singer Olivia Chaney has finally been released after a long period of waiting. Chaney has been active for several years as an interpreter of English traditional songs, as a songwriter, and as a talented musician playing guitar, piano and harmonium. But aside from a five track EP in 2010 this is her first official solo recording so in her case it really can be said to be long-awaited.


What we have now is a lovely album of thoughtful and varied compositions which shows off Chaney’s wonderful voice and her many musical skills. It all hangs together despite the very different origins of the songs. The Longest River begins with a superb version of the traditional ‘False Bride’, there’s a cover of ‘Waxwing’ by Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts, and an arrangement of Purcell’s ‘There’s Not a Swain’. There is also a version of Chilean singer/composer Violeta Parra’s ‘La Jardinera’ and a song by Norwegian jazz musician Sidsel Endresen.

The backbone of the album, however, is provided by Chaney’s own songs and there are seven compositions here – three of them new recordings of songs from the earlier EP. She is developing, albeit at her own pace, into a very accomplished songwriter and the pick of these songs is the brilliant ‘The King’s Horses’. She manages here and elsewhere to combine a gift for writing lyrical images with the ability to create nuanced observations of everyday life. She can write catchy choruses too as emphatically evidenced on ‘Holiday’.

Olivia Chaney (photo by Patrick Williams)

Olivia Chaney
(photo by Patrick Williams)

There is a slightly sparse and somewhat subdued mood on the album as Chaney relies mainly on her own accompaniments which alternate between guitar and keyboards. Her voice is aided here and there by the addition of some strings. Her background as a classically trained musician – she also studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music – is not necessarily an advantage and can tend towards stilted singing and a lack of passion. Thankfully, this is never the case here.

This is a highly recommended debut album and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Olivia Chaney. It would be great to hear more of her interpretations of English folk songs alongside her own originals. Whatever she does – and she defies categorisation anyway – let’s hope we aren’t kept waiting quite so long for the next album.

The Longest River is released by Nonesuch Records. There is an album launch on 19th May at Hall One, Kings Place, London.










Okinawan music in the news

Posted May 10, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Feedback on the book

Today’s edition of The Japan Times newspaper has a feature on Okinawan music. The article is an overview of the music scene in relation to the current situation in Okinawa. It also contains a smaller feature on Okinawan-Peruvian singer Lucy Nagamine. The Power of Okinawa also gets a mention in the main article.


‘Sound waves: the music of Okinawa’ can be read online through this link:



Toshikatsu Takahashi

Posted May 8, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Uncategorized

The sad news has only just reached us of the death of Toshikatsu Takahashi who was the drummer with Shoukichi Kina’s band Champloose for more than two decades. Takahashi, who was 56, died suddenly in an accident in Hokkaido in the north of Japan on 13th March. Takahashi was a native of Yoichi, Hokkaido. He joined Champloose in 1990 for their Niraikanai Paradise album and became an indispensible member of the band. In recent times he returned to his hometown where he was also continuing his activities as a musician.

Toshikatsu Takahashi (far right) with Shoukichi Kina & Champloose in the 1990s

Toshikatsu Takahashi (far right) with Shoukichi Kina & Champloose in the 1990s

Takahashi was an excellent drummer and an integral part of Kina’s band throughout their finest period. He fitted into Okinawa and its music perfectly and it’s hard to imagine Champloose without him. I met him several times over the years and he was always kind, welcoming and friendly. What may be lesser known is that he also had a great interest in music from around the world. We exchanged recommendations on African music more than once and he always asked me what I had been listening to. He will be greatly missed.

Golden Week in Okinawa

Posted May 6, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

The Golden Week holiday is celebrated at this time in May throughout Japan and this includes Okinawa. Today is the last day of the holidays and many people were out and about on the island enjoying the good weather and temperatures of 27 degrees.

We visited Yafu-batake which describes itself as an outdoor cafe. It looks out onto the Pacific Ocean from high up on the south-east coast. The cafe is housed in a number of open buildings and includes a play area for children and a small factory next door where brown sugar is produced.

Some photos from today:







An afternoon in Nanjo

Posted May 1, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

This afternoon we visited Cafe Mori no Terrace, one of several cafes on the coast of Nanjo in the south of Okinawa. We’ve been there a few times before but hadn’t previously explored the large garden and forested area around the cafe which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

Some photos from today’s visit:

Entrance to the cafe

Entrance to the cafe

View from the terrace

View from the terrace

The terrace

The terrace



Garden scenes at Mori no Terrace

Garden scenes at Mori no Terrace

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power

Posted April 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Mali has long been known as a nation of music and the West African country has produced many important musicians such as Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare to name just two. The latest to join this illustrious company is Bassekou Kouyate who plays the small lute known as the ngoni, a possible ancestor of the banjo. Kouyate is the world’s greatest exponent of the instrument and even names his family band, Ngoni Ba, after it. Ba Power is the title of their newly released fourth album.

For the new album, recorded in Bamako, Kouyate has added a number of guests who range from Malian guitarist Sambe Toure to Robert Plant’s Norwich-born drummer Dave Smith. The music is more electrified than previously and more Westernised in places with the addition of some brass, keyboards and effects pedals. The energetic opening track ‘Siran Fen’ (Beware) sets the tone for much of the album with the ngoni played uninhibitedly. In fact, it’s not too fanciful to imagine it sounds rather like Yukito Ara on one of his Okinawan sanshin workouts.

ba power

While applauding Kouyate and his band, some have questioned whether the addition of the extra musicians on this album is really necessary. It always raises the question of the wisdom of African (or for that matter, Asian) musicians dabbling in Western-friendly styles. But it is the Westerners, ironically, who often get more worked up about this kind of thing. Presumably, they feel that their image of pure ethnic music is being tarnished.

The only real concern is whether all this actually works. On this album it does and Ba Power is exciting and rewarding on all levels. It would be interesting to see the band performing live as on this form it must be quite an experience. The outside influences are generally incorporated well, and while it may be true that Kouyate and his band could have managed just fine without them they never detract either. The ngoni playing is, of course, masterly and Kouyate’s singing is matched by the strong vocals of his wife Amy Sacko. The pick of a fine selection of songs are ‘Abe Sumaya’ (It Will Die Out), ‘Waati’ (Time), and ‘Te Duniya Laban’ (Not Forever) when all the voices and music blend most completely.

Ba Power is out now on Glitterbeat Records.



A short video on the making of the album can be seen here:




Awamori event in Itoman

Posted April 11, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

An awamori event is being held today and tomorrow in Itoman to mark the change of name by Masahiro Shuzo Kabushiki Kaisha. The event at the company’s distillery includes shuttle buses to the site, guided tours of the awamori making process, and of course, free samples of awamori as well as free bottles for those attending early. The activities begin at 11 a.m. and go on until 6 p.m. Today’s entertainment concluded with a live show by singer and sanshin player Chiaki of the popular Okinawan duo Shakari.

Some photos from today:

The distillery's shop

The distillery’s shop

Bottles of Masahiro awamori

Bottles of Masahiro awamori

Shakari's Chiaki

Shakari’s Chiaki

Chiaki sings the song for the Masahiro commercial - with the workers

Chiaki (with Masahiro workers) singing the Masahiro commercial song


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