Michael Chapman: True North

Posted March 6, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

A couple of years ago Yorkshire-born English singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael Chapman made the album 50 (reviewed here) to celebrate half a century as a professional musician. With 50 he achieved a late career high and some attention from a new younger audience. It was a fine album of new and reworked old songs recorded for the first time in America with a small band of musicians including producer Steve Gunn.

Chapman first gained a formidable reputation as an innovative guitarist on the UK folk club scene though he was never a typical folkie and was more influenced by American jazz, blues and roots music. Along with Richard Thompson he has a guitar style that is instantly recognisable and all his own. He is also a gruff-voiced singer with a gift for creating poignant songs about love, loss, regret, and life on the road.

50 seemed a fitting end to a long career but Chapman obviously had other ideas and he isn’t finished yet. At 78 he is back now with a new album recorded this time in rural West Wales but with Steve Gunn returning as producer and guitarist. Also on board are Bridget St. John (vocals), Sarah Smout (cello) and B.J. Cole (pedal steel).

True North follows a similar formula with recordings of new songs plus a few older ones and there are also a couple of guitar instrumentals. The album is more atmospheric and minimalist and is generally not as loud or intense as its predecessor. The addition of some lovely colours from cello and pedal steel really brings out the best in allowing the songs to breathe and in complementing Chapman’s vocals and guitar.

No-one coming cold to this album would be entranced by the vocals on first listen but this is Michael Chapman and his admirers know exactly what to expect and rightly wouldn’t want it any other way. His laconic phrasing is exactly what’s needed and then there is always that gorgeous deep acoustic guitar sound which gets under the skin whether on the instrumentals or on the melodic and melancholy songs

Not surprisingly Chapman’s concerns here are most often focused on memory and regret and there is an elegiac and reflective note as he comes to terms with it all. Titles such as ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘After All This Time’ and ‘Youth is Wasted on the Young’ tell their own tale. On ‘Vanity and Pride’ he sings: “if only time were on my side” but this and another song ‘Hell to Pay’ are in fact re-imaginings of songs from his 1997 album Dreaming Out Loud.

Despite the sombre tone this is never a depressing album, rather it’s an uplifting one as Chapman really gets into his inimitable stride. The longest track ‘Truck Song’ is the centrepiece of the album and in its lyrics and languid rolling guitar phrases it encapsulates everything that is great about the man and his music. Its images evoke a Giorgio de Chirico painting of lengthening shadows and the distant sound of a train. True North is his strongest work for a couple of decades and stands up there with the very best of his many recordings.

True North is out now on Paradise of Bachelors.

www.paradiseofbachelors.com

www.michaelchapman.co.uk

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Okinawa’s Message of Protest

Posted March 1, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

Last Sunday’s referendum asked the people of Okinawa to vote on the issue of the new military base at Henoko. This issue has already dragged on for several years accompanied by numerous anti-base rallies, protests and demonstrations by Okinawans who have suffered the forced occupation of large parts of their main island by the American military for more than 70 years.

It becomes tedious to reiterate the details of the Okinawans’ burden and all the crimes, incidents, and accidents caused by the American occupation, not to mention the ongoing environmental destruction and degradation which is bound to get worse with the construction of the new base. The American military is not in Okinawa to protect the people but to pursue their own government’s interests and agenda as they always have.

The referendum result on the front page of the Okinawa Times

It therefore came as no surprise when the referendum found 71% voting against the construction at Henoko. It should also be no surprise that this overwhelmingly clear rejection of the base by voters in the Ryukyu Islands will be ignored by Japan’s government. They have already said as much. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not a fan of the democratic process unless it is advantageous to him. His government cares even less about the people of Okinawa who have always been discriminated against and treated as second-rate people by Japan.

I’m a great movie fan and recently watched the remarkable Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman which was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this week. (It didn’t win – that honour went to the admirable but much softer and more audience-friendly Green Book). BlacKkKlansman ends with some footage of Donald Trump and his disgraceful speech in 2017 in which he becomes an apologist for racism. All this in response to the riots unfolding at the time in Charlottesville, Virginia at a white supremacist rally.

Abe is, of course, a great friend and supporter of Trump and watching BlacKkKlansman I couldn’t help but be reminded of the parallels with the treatment of Okinawans over the years and their struggles to be accepted as equals in Japan. African-Americans faced, and still face, appalling violence and discrimination while many thousands of Okinawan lives were sacrificed by Japan in the Battle of Okinawa. Now the islanders’ peaceful pleas are met with cold indifference from Tokyo. And sometimes violence too against the peaceful daily protesters at Henoko who have even been reviled with the derogatory term dojin (savages).

Full marks to those who continue to protest in Okinawa and to those who organised the referendum. They might have been forgiven for tiring of their efforts in the face of such astonishing neglect from mainland Japan. Some form of independence from Japan has not been mooted yet, except by a few, but nothing changes while Okinawa is under Japanese rule.

FC Ryukyu in J2

Posted February 25, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

FC Ryukyu made history yesterday with their opening match of the new season when they became the first team from Okinawa to play in J2 the second highest tier of J.League football. What’s more they won the game 3-1 in the rain against a strong Avispa Fukuoka team. It was an exciting match with Ryukyu sticking to their all-out attacking philosophy despite having lost their manager and many of the players from the J3 championship squad of last season.

Ryukyu are now led by new manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. Two of their goals yesterday came from debut striker Koji Suzuki while the other was scored by midfielder Yu Tomidokoro. It may be a long hard season for Ryukyu but they have made a great start with this unexpected win.

http://www.fcryukyu.com

 

HARAHELLS: Delicious Club

Posted February 13, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

HARAHELLS (yes, all in capitals) are two young women from Okinawa. Delicious Club is their second mini-album release. At nine songs and 38 minutes it’s longer than some classic albums such as Shoukichi Kina’s Bloodline or even Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline but they insist it’s a mini-album. The duo comprises Ramen Maru (drums, vocals) and Nomisugi Mukumi (guitar, vocals).

In their notes for the album they say that their songs are about the food they like, the vegetables they hate, and daily episodes in their lives. This sums up very well what they are all about. They also maintain: “truth is, we are good at eating more than making music. Lately, we drink and eat everything happily, so we got chubby.” Well, I met the pair last week and later watched their live show at Sakurazaka Asylum. I don’t know how much they can eat but their music is a breath of fresh air and they are not chubby.

In fact, HARAHELLS have been around in different line-ups for a while now and were once a trio. The only original member is Ramen Maru and she composes all the songs. Their sound is very stripped back, at times almost to punk basics, with drums and guitar the only accompaniment to most of their songs. It is tempting to employ the overused word ‘quirky’ about what they do but it goes further than that and they can be hilariously funny while making some serious points.

Much of the impact relies on their deadpan lyrical cleverness and wordplay and as it’s all in Japanese it may have limited appeal overseas. Nevertheless, their show can be appreciated on more than one level and they deserve (and will probably get) a much wider audience. They have already played at a music festival in South Korea and the tiny venue where I saw them was packed with admiring fans.

The title track ‘Delicious Club’ is an ode to ramen and is almost irritatingly catchy. The video for this song is well worth checking out on their website. As well as several other songs in praise of food there are some sharp tongue-in -cheek observations of everyday life. In particular ‘Onna-bancho Saki-senpai’ in which they sing of their fear of an older bullying schoolgirl.

London-based Japanese duo Frank Chickens achieved some popularity in the 1980s and in some ways HARAHELLS are reminiscent of them. But HARAHELLS are a more innocent and straightforward duo who are adding some Okinawan flavours and new tastes to the musical dishes they serve.

Delicious Club is out now on the Music from Okinawa label. A release party will be held at Output, Naha on Saturday 2nd March at 18:30. Advance tickets 1,500 yen, or 2,000 yen at the door.

https://harahells2013.wixsite.com/sukippara

Sakurazaka Asylum in Naha

Posted February 10, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The Sakurazaka Asylum 2019 festival began yesterday in and around Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre. The festival is held alongside the Trans Asia Music Meeting and both events continue today. These pictures show just some of the many musicians who impressed us on the first day of the festival yesterday.

The band Harukakanata from Chiba, Japan

Ishigaki singer-songwriter tidanomiyuki

South Korean duo Laybricks

Drummer Hyejin Yu from Laybricks

With Kwangmin Seo and Hyejin Yu of Laybricks after their show

The band lightcraft from Jakarta, Indonesia

lightcraft

Okinawa’s Harahells

Drummer and vocalist Ramen Maru of Harahells

 

Sakurazaka Asylum 2019

Posted February 1, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The annual Sakurazaka Asylum, a festival of music and art, takes place next week on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th February. As previously, many live shows and events are held not just at the main venue of Sakurazaka Theatre in Naha but also in the surrounding live houses, cafes and bars. The aim of the festival is “to create a place where various cultures interact and new inspiration is born”.

The large number of artists taking part come from Japan and other parts of Asia as well as from Okinawa. The focus is on Asian indie bands and singers rather than on roots music. Some of the musicians from Okinawa are already very familiar faces here and there are surely not many in Okinawa who haven’t already seen the likes of Kachimba4 and Maltese Rock. For those interested in more traditional Okinawan music there will be a performance by Miyako Island singer Hirara.

Singer-songwriter tidanomiyuki is one of the most interesting of the Okinawan contingent and she will play on the Saturday afternoon. Among those invited from overseas is the exciting Korean guitar and drums duo Laybricks and they will perform at different venues on both days of the festival.

Laybricks

Also appearing on both days are Indonesian dream-pop and indie rock band lightcraft who will be here for the first time. Another guitar and drums pair worth looking out for are Harahells. These young women from Okinawa sing quirky songs about food and claim to be better at eating than music.

Full details of all the artists and a schedule of when and where they are playing can be found on the Sakurazaka Asylum website. The festival coincides as usual with the Trans Asia Music Meeting which is held at the same main venue from the 8th to the 10th. For this networking event there will be presentations by music professionals from Japan, South Korea, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India.

www.asylum-okinawa.info

Seijin Noborikawa & Sadao China: Live!

Posted January 23, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

In 2001 legendary Okinawan singer Seijin Noborikawa – the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the sanshin’ – was enjoying renewed popularity following his starring role in the movie Nabbie no Koi. On 5th September that year he got together with his former pupil Sadao China to play a joint concert at the live house CAY in Tokyo. The whole concert was recorded but for some reason was never made available in any form until now when it appears on this new 2 CD album.

Noborikawa – usually known by his nickname Seigwa – made a studio album with China three years after this. A live double album of a later Seigwa solo concert at the same venue was also released in 2011. He died in 2013.

The recording quality on the new release is excellent. Live! is subtitled ~Yuntaku to Uta Asobi~ and so we are forewarned this is going to include unedited talk and chat between the two singers in between songs. In Japan and Okinawa (as I’ve mentioned before) audiences not only don’t mind listening to rambling anecdotes but actively encourage it. It therefore comes as no great surprise to find the inclusion of Seigwa and China’s chats taking up around 50 minutes of the total running time of 125 minutes.

A mitigating factor is that Seigwa was generally considered to be an irreverent and amusing character and his jokey playful comments are preserved here as they were heard by the appreciative audience. The recording should be listened to in its entirety at least once in order to obtain the same live experience at home. However, if it gets tiring to hear so much talk repeated on subsequent listens the chatty bits (labelled ‘MC’ here) are all on separate tracks and can be edited out.

As for the music, it’s not surprisingly an exemplary performance from both singers and could hardly have been bettered. On the first (and longer) CD China begins on his own with four songs including ‘Nakuni’ and ‘Shirukumu Bushi’ before inviting Seigwa on stage. Seigwa then tackles some of the big traditional songs. Among them are Okinawa’s ‘Nakuni’, Yaeyama’s ‘Tubarama’, and Miyako’s ‘Togani’ before the pair get together again for ‘Yachaguwa~Yanbarutimatu’.

By the second CD Seigwa is in full swing as he veers off into several playful diversions – one of them an idiosyncratic sanshin instrumental of ‘Kimigayo’. Towards the end Seigwa presents what he calls ‘Minyo Fushi Watari’ which is an almost eight minutes run through of 22 traditional Okinawan songs. For that and the final song ‘Achameguwa’ he is joined by Takashi Hirayasu on sanba and by two members of Osaka band Soul Flower Union, Takashi Nakagawa and Hideko Itami.

The two encores are also two of the best. First is Sadao China’s moving solo version of ‘Jintoyo Waltz’ a song co-written by his father Teihan China and Rinsuke Teruya. Then finally comes Seigwa’s own song ‘Midori no Okinawa’ which he fittingly sings with Takashi Nakagawa who had recorded the song with him.

This is a masterclass by Seijin Noborikawa and Sadao China and it’s an important and unexpected release. It must have been a fun evening if you were lucky enough to be there but it can now be re-lived by anyone interested in two of the Okinawan music greats.

Live! is released today (23rd January) by Respect.

www.respect-record.co.jp