Ninufa ~Polaris~ comes just a few months after the release of Toru Yonaha’s retrospective compilation Tunaka. ‘Ubiquitous’ is a word commonly associated with Yonaha who has appeared on numerous artists’ albums as well as producing and supporting many other musicians over the years. Most recently he added some vocals, sanshin, fue and taiko to the album by Okinawan women’s group Unaigumi. He has also recorded in many different styles from pop and rock to eisa and classical Ryukyu music.
The new album has eight tracks, mainly original songs, on which Yonaha sings and plays sanshin backed by guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. It was produced by Kazunari Uechi. There isn’t anything very new about any of this but Yonaha has a very good voice and everything he does is worth a listen. He has written the music for all but two of the songs and there are three tracks which are more stripped down with just sanshin and taiko.
‘Shin Eisa Bushi’ combines eisa and modern sounds reminiscent of Parsha Club on one of the album’s best tracks. Another outstanding moment is (perhaps surprisingly) the cover of the much-loved Soul Flower Union song ‘Mangetsu no Yube’. On this, the basic arrangement isn’t changed but there is some heavier electric guitar, and lyrics in Uchinaguchi written by Takashi Hirayasu. It works much better than might have been expected.
After several strong tracks the album tends to fizzle out a bit and ends at a shorter than expected 36 minutes. It isn’t the great Okinawan album we’ve always hoped for but is nevertheless a high quality release from Yonaha whose diverse musical interests are hinted at in the photos for the CD booklet which picture him dressed in both modern and traditional Ryukyu styles. For the best glimpse of the full range of his talents newcomers should start with last year’s Tunaka. For the rest of us this will do very nicely to be going on with.
Ninufa ~Polaris~ is released by J’s Records. Toru Yonaha will be promoting the new album on a live tour beginning at Mod’s Chatan, Okinawa on 28th March before moving on to mainland Japan where he plays in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.