Yasukatsu Oshima: Kuitsui

Posted July 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

This is Yasukatsu Oshima’s first album for three years. Any new recording by him is usually a cause for celebration and this is no exception. The previous album Shimawataru~Across the Islands contained all original songs but on Kuitsui he has returned to the old songs – and specifically to the Yaeyama Islands – with a set of eleven traditional pieces plus one new song ‘Yunamuri’. He is helped out by just two guests, the popular Kanako Hatoma who adds vocals to four songs and plays sanshin on some others, and the percussionist Satoshi “Sunday” Nakasone who plays island drums on half of the tracks.

Oshima writes in his notes: “While Yaeyama Islands are only tiny islands scattered over the sea, their natural environment and regional characteristics are so diverse and rich, giving birth to a wide variety of beautiful songs. These songs were created, sophisticated, perfected and passed down over generations by ordinary people who suffered through a history of hardship.” He believes that folk songs keep changing and they never fit into a rigid frame. He also recalls how men of his grandfather’s generation “used to enjoy songs so playfully and freely without being bound by formalities.”


His version of what is probably the most familiar of these songs, ‘Tubarama’, is sung in the Shiraho style of his own village on Ishigaki island. Most of the songs are slower paced. All of them are sung and played immaculately but always in Oshima’s own way as he carries on the tradition without too much respect for rigidity or formality. The album of his that it most resembles is the 2000 release Bagashima nu Uta~Songs of My Islands which was another collection of Yaeyama traditional songs. In fact, three titles (‘Tubarama’, ‘Sakiyama Bushi’ and ‘Tsuki nu Mapiroma’) appear on both albums.

Despite the sparse presentation with just sanshin and island drums, the new recordings resonate in a deeper and more satisfying way than before. The new album may not be as immediately accessible as some of his others but it has a great strength of its own as Oshima invites us to listen to these stories and vignettes of life as it was lived on his islands. The fact that he has for some years lived in mainland Japan is perhaps even an advantage as he is now able to look more objectively at his own musical heritage.

Kuitsui is out now on Victor. As usual, the CD booklet contains both Japanese and English explanations of all the songs and their lyrics.




Ryuchim Band: Gekkabijinsa!

Posted July 22, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

This is the 5th album from Okinawa’s Ryuchim Band (also known as Ryukyu Chimdon Gakudan). For this recording the five members are joined by ten supporting musicians. It’s a big sound with the core sanshin, saxophone, guitar, bass and drums supplemented by brass and other instruments. They call themselves a ‘super entertainment group’ as they also perform comedy on stage and dress in colourful outfits emphasising their champloo mix of musical styles. These draw liberally on pop and traditional music from Asia and the album’s final track is sung in Chinese.

Gekkabijinsa! contains just seven tracks, all but one composed by guitarist Bobzy. The one female member, Belsachi, takes on most vocal duties and also plays sanshin. She was originally one half of the duo Tink Tink who were protégées of Rinken Teruya. In fact, there are some similarities here with Rinken Band’s approach though the most obvious likenesses are with Japan’s Shang Shang Typhoon and Shisars and the music they made in the 1990s.


Ryuchim Band will sound excitingly exotic to Western audiences and a track from their previous album was included on the Music from Okinawa CD presented at last year’s WOMEX in Spain. However, they are following a fairly well trodden path laid down by those earlier bands though in fairness they do make a very acceptable job of it as they carry forward the tradition. Everything on this short album is also played with great verve and enthusiasm. Probably they are even better live as their colourful show is best equipped to be seen as well as heard.

The one blot on an otherwise engaging album is ‘Ryukyu We Shall Overcome’ in which the traditional ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ segues into the protest anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’. Most commonly associated with the Civil Rights Movement and singers such as Pete Seeger, the song is said to be derived from gospel and this is the only justification for Ryuchim Band singing it in such a happy, breezy and theatrical way. Whatever the reason, the attempt to blend it with ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ is puzzling and the overall results are ghastly.

Gekkabinjinsa! is out now on AJS Records. An animated promotional video of the title track is on the band’s website.





Kanako Horiuchi: Hana Umui

Posted July 20, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Kanako Horiuchi is a well-travelled woman. The singer and sanshin player is originally from Hakodate, Hokkaido but moved to Okinawa several years ago to become a student of Misako Oshiro. (The story of their meeting and the album they made together is on the Features page of the Power of Okinawa website). In 2007 Horiuchi herself received a Ryukyu Music Academy Teacher Licence. She has subsequently travelled the world with her sanshin to sing traditional Okinawan songs in South America, Africa and Europe.

Hana Umui is the result of her travels in Africa and specifically to Senegal where she first listened to the sounds of the harp-like traditional kora instrument in 2009. Eventually, in February this year, she decided to return to the West African country to make more music with Senegalese kora player Falaye Sakho. Their meeting was also recorded live and has now been released as an album by Horiuchi.


This album has the feel of an old-style field recording with all the accompanying background sounds and noises left in. We hear the sea, the birds chirping and local people talking as atmospheric accompaniment to the songs. It’s a long way from a sophisticated studio recording and at first listen it might sound a bit too rough but what it sacrifices in sound quality is made up for by the immediacy and feeling of being in the moment.

The selections are mainly Okinawan and they include familiar compositions such as ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, ‘Umi nu Chinbora’ and ‘Kaisare’ but there are also songs from Senegal sung by Falaye Sakho. Horiuchi has noticed the similarity between some of the melodies produced by the two cultures and so her title track ‘Hana Umui’ is blended with the traditional Senegalese ‘Yaboyae’ and the two singers alternate vocals.

The track ‘Galgankilaki/Tanchame’ does a similar job of combining Senegal and Okinawa in song. And the recording simply entitled ‘Senegal (Live Mix)’ is a kind of jam in front of an enthusiastic audience who are eager to join in with the hayashi vocal taught to them by Horiuchi. Throughout the album her sanshin and sanba are joined by kora and also by balafon and djembe. It’s a fascinating journey of musical discovery for all involved and the album is a souvenir of that experience.

Hana Umui is released on 23rd July by Big Mouth Records.







Posted July 17, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

Elustondo is both the name of this trikitixa duo and the title of their new album. Trikitixa (diatonic accordion) and panderoa (tambourine) duos have a proud history in Basque roots music and the genre continues to be widespread. In fact, it is fair to say that it’s the most deeply rooted popular music in the Basque Country. This album carries on the tradition through Elustondo one of a large number of younger talents who emerged to perpetuate the style and offer encouragement for others to follow.

Agurtzane Elustondo began playing trikitixa when she was eight years old and studied with the great living master Laja. She presents a unique way of playing the instrument with precise rhythms but also a personal expressive touch. She is accompanied by her brother Ion on panderoa. Despite the duo’s strength and sureness this is their debut album. Many of the choices of composition are inspired by various pieces by the well-known trikitixa player Martin Aginalde while some of the music is traditional.


Both songs and tunes are represented and Ion Elustondo adds vocals as well as irrintziak: the loud joyous yelling which plays a similar role to hayashi in Okinawan songs. They are also joined by several friends and collaborators with bass, drums, guitar, mandolin and vocals here and there. Not least among the list of collaborators is the famed trikitixa player Kepa Junkera who has himself done more than most to popularise the music with recordings and appearances at world music festivals.

The small accordion is not to everyone’s taste and listening to 45 minutes of it in one go might seem a bit daunting. Elustondo do their very best to make sure the ride is a joyous one and their enthusiasm, not to mention their sheer musicianship, is so infectious that it’s more likely to make the listener want to dance.

Elustondo is released by Elkar.


Here is a link to a video of Elustondo performing ‘Non gara?’ the opening track from the album:


Seminar on Okinawa and Scotland

Posted July 14, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

A Public Seminar will be held next week in London which may interest those in the UK with connections to Okinawa. The seminar is on ‘Central and Local Governance in Japan and the UK: Lessons from Okinawa and Scotland.’

“The coral reefs, white sand beaches and sub-tropical rainforests of Okinawa, a chain of islands stretching over 600 miles of ocean between Southwest Japan and Taiwan, seem a distant world from the misty mountains and lochs of Scotland, but recent political developments in Scotland have brought to light some surprising parallels.”

okinawa and scotland

“Like Scotland, Okinawa is a smaller, once independent, area incorporated within a far larger entity, which possesses its own distinct history, culture and  political outlook. Debate on the balance between central and local governance has recently taken prominence in political discussion in Okinawa, and last September, intrigued by recent events in Scotland, several Okinawan journalists and researchers, including the founding member of a small but growing Okinawa independence movement, flew to Edinburgh to observe the independence referendum.”

In this seminar Professor Takayoshi Egami of Waseda University will discuss the historical and political background of Okinawa. The talk will be followed by discussion and a drinks reception.

When: Wed 22nd July 2015, 6.30 pm
Where: The Swedenborg Society, London, WC1A 2TH
For more information: http://www.jpf.org.uk/whatson.php#776

Skasti: Maskarak

Posted July 13, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

The nine members of Skasti first met in the town of Zarautz in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and have been together for a decade this year. Despite this musical longevity they are still a young band and the new album Maskarak (Masks) is their first on the Elkar label. They obviously impressed with their televised show as part of the record company’s Studio Sessions a few months ago and their song ‘Arima ilunen postontzi hauskorra’ was also included on the subsequent live sessions album. A new recording of the same song opens this album.


The Basque Country, just like Okinawa, is host to a great diversity of musical styles. Skasti’s members have evolved together with a passion for music to create an evocative collection of contemporary rock music with a big sound and a strong element of ska, hence the name. The ten compositions on this album (there are nine songs and one instrumental) reveal a powerful rhythmic base and an urgency and intensity of performance. The results are equally good for listening or dancing.

It is most likely in live performance that the band really comes alive, rather like England’s roots big band Bellowhead, though these recordings do a good job of showing off Skasti’s energy and musicianship. Twin vocal duties are shared by Iker Inigo and Xabier Uzin while other band members play guitars, bass, drums, synths, trombone and trumpet. All lyrics are in the Basque language.

Maskarak is released by Elkar.


A video of the song ‘Denboraren giltza’ from the album can be seen here:





Simpson Cutting Kerr: Murmurs

Posted July 10, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr are three of the most important musicians on the English folk and traditional music scene. This year they got together to tour as a trio and will be off on their travels again in September. This studio album is the result of their collaboration and it contains a fairly evenly distributed number of traditional songs and tunes alongside some originals contributed by each member.

It’s obvious right from the start that this is going to be something special. The opening track ‘Dark Swift and Bright Swallow’ is a wonderful song by Martin Simpson which just floats along effortlessly with Simpson’s vocal and guitar matched superbly with Andy Cutting’s diatonic accordion and Nancy Kerr’s fiddle as the singer blends his sighting of the first swallow of the year with the true story of a wartime disaster in Devon.


The new songs frequently touch on concerns to do with government, ecology and the environment: Nancy Kerr’s ‘Not Even the Ground’ is concerned with the practice of fracking while another Simpson composition ‘Toy Soldiers’ is about the senseless destruction of nature and wildlife. In addressing such issues they are following in a long folk tradition of songs of the people.

Most importantly, the new songs sit very well with the traditional pieces and the album as a whole is a seamless entity. While the lyrics may often be discontent the interplay of the musicians draws the listener into a constant stream of pleasure. With these three involved the quality of the playing goes without saying but Simpson and Kerr are both fine singers too and their contrasting vocal styles add great variety to the album.

simpson cutting

They also draw on sources from North America as well as England. Simpson learned ‘Fair Rosamund’ from a 1965 recording by the great Appalachian singer and banjo player Hedy West. How good it is to learn from his notes that Hedy West remains one of the most important musicians of Simpson’s life. He contributes some lovely 5-string banjo of his own to Kerr’s outstanding ‘Dark Honey’ and she returns the favour with sensitive fiddle on his ‘Toy Soldiers’. Best of the traditional songs is ‘The Plains of Waterloo’ an epic ballad collected in Ottawa, Canada, while the album concludes with a thoughtful version of Lal Waterson’s ‘Some Old Salty’. Murmurs must be a strong contender for UK roots album of the year.

Murmurs is released by Topic Records.


This is a video of the rehearsal for the recording of ‘Some Old Salty’:








Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 76 other followers