Dreamtime for the Ryukyus

Posted October 20, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

I read a news report this week about the Marshall Islands, a nation comprising more than a thousand islands in the north Pacific. Because of rising sea levels, some of the islands are likely to disappear completely as they go underwater. Majuro, the islands’ capital is projected to find 40% of its buildings permanently flooded. Marshall Islands’ status as a nation would even come under threat.

It’s not such a stretch to imagine a similar scenario eventually arising in parts of the Ryukyus. As if there wasn’t already enough for the islanders to contend with along with colonisation by Japan and land taken without the people’s consent for American military bases.

Dreamtime…with shisa

This is all a far cry from the tropical tourist paradise frequently portrayed, or the ‘healing islands’ image of mainland Japanese: an image that never fails to annoy me. Apathy among the electorate in Japan also means this month’s election won’t change anything for Okinawa. Those who do vote will return a government that has no interest in democracy or the will of the Okinawan people. Sadly, many Okinawans are disillusioned with politics too and see resistance as futile.  

Outside these islands (and even within Japan) there is little or no awareness of the history of the Ryukyus and of their ongoing problems. However, there have been several books recently published in English by ‘outsiders’ who through their writings have tried to draw attention to what goes on here.

Welsh investigative journalist Jon Mitchell has done painstaking work, in the face of much opposition, to uncover secrets the American military would rather we hadn’t found out. Akemi Johnson has written an excellent book drawing on the stories of women connected in various ways with the bases; and Elizabeth Miki Brina’s superb memoir Speak, Okinawa seamlessly blends a summary of Ryukyu history with her own experiences of coming to terms with her Okinawan heritage.

All these books have been mentioned before on the Power of Okinawa, but now there’s a new addition to this small but distinguished group of publications that in their different ways have all focussed on the predicament facing Okinawa. This time it comes in the form of a novel by English author Venetia Welby whose new book Dreamtime is set largely in the Ryukyu Islands. 

This is Welby’s second novel and she spent considerable time travelling in the Ryukyus while researching the background for her book. The story is set in a dystopian near future and its protagonist is Sol, a young American woman who emerges from rehab in Arizona to embark on a journey, together with friend Kit, that takes her to Okinawa in search of her absentee father who was stationed on the island as a marine. All of this takes place against a backdrop of global climate meltdown.

In what is also something of a road novel, there are scenes in Naha, Chatan, and Yomitan, as well as the outer islands of Ishigaki and Iriomote. These locations along with the characters and cultural depictions from the Ryukyus are convincingly represented and it’s clear that Welby has done her research thoroughly.

But this is a novel, not a factual account, and is all the better for it. It should first be appreciated as literature and as such is a very satisfying read. The story is fast-paced, and the genre defies categorisation. It’s science fiction set in a near future (Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a relative). At the same time, it looks back to the history of the Ryukyu Islands. Important issues are addressed such as climate change, the evils of colonisation, and the continual dangers arising from hosting military bases. There’s also a love story at its heart.  

Welby has done a fine job of creating an unusually compelling and prescient novel that should be of great interest to all readers, not just those with a particular interest in Okinawa. Perhaps it will also help to awaken the outside world to what is happening in the Ryukyus now and what might happen in the future.

The Power of Okinawa – 20th Anniversary

Posted October 5, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s hard to believe that the book The Power of Okinawa: Roots Music from the Ryukyus is already celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. For it was in October 2001 that the 1st edition (the pink one) was published in Japan.

The updated, expanded, and much improved 2nd edition followed nine years later, not long after I moved to Okinawa. The 2nd edition (the blue one) is still on sale in some bookstores around Okinawa and is the one to read if you can find it.  

Meanwhile the Power of Okinawa blog continues to update with occasional reviews of new Okinawan releases plus some other roots music from overseas. There is also the odd ‘Notes from the Ryukyus’ rant, while the ‘Features Archive’ is the place to go for some other articles I’ve published in music magazines over the years.

Thanks to everyone who has read the book and/or followed the blog!

Camp Talganie Soundscape

Posted October 4, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

A Soundscape Okinawa pre-event took place yesterday in the grounds and building of Camp Talganie, a small museum of contemporary art in a picturesque setting in Komesu, Itoman.

The venue is within walking distance of my home, and I took these photos yesterday. The relaxed and enjoyable pre-event was well attended by audience and participants alike on a very warm and sunny afternoon:

This pre-event was for the main Soundscape Okinawa. Last year’s Soundscape was also previewed on the Power of Okinawa blog and the next one will be held at the same ancient Ryukyu site of Itokazu Castle in Tamagusuku, Nanjo. The website information states:

“Soundscape Okinawa adds a layer of sound to the scenic beauty of a traditional Gusuku site… A mixture of concert and ‘exhibition of sounds’, musicians create a soundscape that is ‘in tune’ with a location of stunning beauty, while providing the audience with a new kind of experience in which the amalgamation of landscape and soundscape construct a different notion of environment.”

The Soundscape Okinawa main event will be on the 20th and 21st November. Further details in English, including a video of what to expect, are to be found here:


Harararude ~Yonaguni no Warabe Uta~

Posted September 29, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

The new album Harararude contains a rare collection of Yonaguni children’s songs performed by three singers from that island – Izumi Ota, Keiko Yonaha, and Yuu Yonaha.

The original idea came from producer Kenichi Takahashi. Last year his record company Respect released an album of songs from Yonaguni by Yuu Yonaha. That album – Kaze no Fuku Shima – was reviewed here. Takahashi found himself moved by the children’s songs of Yonaguni and especially by their words. Discovering there were many more songs like this he decided to ask Yonaha to record them along with his sister Izumi Ota and wife Keiko. This album is the result.

What distinguishes these songs lyrically from those in Japan is that the words of the Yonaguni songs frequently describe the tough situation faced by families on the island, who were often at the mercy of harsh taxation and the outside elements. By contrast, Japanese children’s songs have less significant words and are more connected to the idea of play.

There are 24 children’s songs here and it all begins with the most familiar, the title track ‘Harararude’. (It was also the title of an An-chang Project album several years ago). ‘Nagayama’ is another well-known song while ‘Nichi nu Sanaiti’ describes the difficult lives of Yonaguni people: the children of the song pray that it won’t rain because their parents are working outside. Some songs are more carefree and ‘Kazoe Uta’ is one in which the names of fish are sung and counted.

It’s very unusual for these songs to be gathered like this and introduced on one album. Izumi Ota did extensive research to find the correct versions of the songs and the three singers combine to sing them. Most of the vocals are unaccompanied in the way they would have been sung originally and each track is very short.

Following the 24 children’s songs there are six lengthier bonus tracks – in fact these bonus tracks add up to more than half of the album’s 51 minutes. Here we find performances of other songs such as ‘Densa Bushi’ and ‘Tubarama’ sung in their Yonaguni variants. For these bonus tracks the three singers are joined by Toru Yonaha and Kazuaki Yamaguchi on fue and vocals.

A 44-page booklet accompanies the CD, containing photos and Japanese translations of the songs as well as the original lyrics. Top marks once again to all involved for revitalising these island songs from Yonaguni.

Harararude ~Yonaguni no Warabe Uta~ will be released by Respect Records on 3rd November.


Spiers & Boden: Fallow Ground

Posted September 21, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

It’s been ten years since the last Spiers & Boden album The Works but now, after forays into other projects – most notably with the folk big band Bellowhead – the pair are back with this new album of songs and tunes, Fallow Ground.

The highly regarded Bellowhead established themselves as England’s folk super group (and were also enthusiastically reviewed on the Power of Okinawa). The band decided to go their separate ways in 2014 but two founding members, John Spiers and Jon Boden, had been playing as a duo for a long time before that and have now been making music together for 20 years.

And it’s great to have them back with this new album recorded during the UK lockdown. In fact, it’s a sheer joy and shows how important they are and how much their duo work has been missed. Right from the start there are two superb performances by an older, wiser, and better than ever John Spiers (vocals, melodeons, and concertinas), and Jon Boden (vocals, fiddle, and the occasional stomp).

The first of these is the Australian song ‘Bluey Brink’ learned from the great Norfolk traditional singer Peter Bellamy. It’s a wonderfully rhythmic and jaunty tale with excellent use of light and shade. More fun immediately follows with ‘Butter and Cheese and All’ another song recorded by Bellamy who learned it from Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner.

The title track is a love song while ‘Yonder Banks’ is another standout that deals with memories of lost time. There is also an atmospheric version of what is probably the best-known traditional song, ‘Reynardine’. It’s most familiar to me from Sandy Denny’s version sung with Fairport Convention all those years ago. Although it’s the most ominous and potentially dramatic of the selections, Boden sings it with admirable restraint and the arrangement breathes new life into a song of brooding menace.

But let’s not forget the tunes, as Fallow Ground has plenty of them and the album comprises seven instrumental tracks mixed in with the six songs. They include Morris dances, jigs, and hornpipes – see the video below. My own favourite though is the slower, melodic original piece ‘The Fog’ by John Spiers with its beautiful interplay of fiddle and melodeon. It almost brought me to tears (in a good way).

A slightly surprising thing – this being English folk song – is the absence of the usual doom-laden ballads of murder and death. The overall tone is far more upbeat, and Jon Boden has commented: “I guess we were looking for songs with a sense of fun.” On this they have succeeded and then some. With only the two of them and a bunch of songs and tunes, they have made an intoxicatingly vibrant noise. They are at the top of their game.

Fallow Ground is out now and is released by Hudson Records.



The Fragility of Life

Posted September 13, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

Okinawa is still in a so-called ‘state of emergency’ because of the pandemic. Despite this, the beach near my home is more crowded than ever with weekend visitors, swimmers, snorkelers, and surfers. Few seem to take much notice of the crisis. But last week all this was overshadowed for me by news of how fragile life can be when I learned of the very sudden and unexpected death of my friend and neighbour Nao Nishimata. 

About ten years ago I was contacted for the first time by Nao. She had heard of my interest in Okinawan music and got in touch to introduce herself. It turned out that not only did she live close by, but she was living in the very same street just a few seconds walk from my home. 

Shortly afterwards, Nao introduced me to the Okinawan-Peruvian singer Lucy Nagamine and the two of them came to my house armed with sanshin, guitar and sanba to perform a live set in my own living room. Nao was a great organiser and as well as playing guitar for Lucy she was important in promoting her career in Okinawa. I once asked if she was Lucy’s manager, but she always insisted on describing herself simply as a ‘supporter’.

Nao (left) and Lucy at my home, February 2011

She arranged for me to interview Lucy that year for the UK’s fRoots magazine (now in the Features Archive of this blog). And in August of that year, she invited my family to a beach party in Nanjo where a photo session took place for the release of a new Lucy album. We are all there, captured on the CD inlay photo, dancing on the beach. Later that evening she and Lucy played at our local festival.

Three years ago, when Basque singer Mikel Urdangarin came to Okinawa for the Basque Ryukyu Project, Nao came to my aid again with ideas for venues for him to play, and she invited Mikel to be the guest on Ichariba Amigos! the weekly radio show she hosted so expertly. After playing music together on the show, she and Lucy then spent the rest of the day with him introducing him to all things Okinawan.

In her unobtrusive way Nao was also part of many other activities involving Okinawan music and the performing arts and she had connections everywhere. This was brought home to me at her funeral ceremony last week attended by so many people, some coming from mainland Japan. Apart from all this, she was the finest neighbour it’s possible to have. She is already greatly missed.

But the sadness of last week doesn’t end there as just three days after Nao’s passing came the news that English singer-guitarist-composer Michael Chapman had died at his home at the age of 80. Michael had been one of my teenage heroes ever since I first saw and met him at the Jacquard Folk Club in Norwich back in the 1960s. I’ll repeat (from a previous blog post) how this came about on the evening I went to see the Incredible String Band:

“… a small man with a northern accent appeared with a guitar and asked if he could play. He went on and performed to a very enthusiastic response. This turned out to be Michael Chapman. He almost stole the ISB’s thunder with his songs and guitar skills and a couple of weeks later was booked to play as guest at the club. He soon became a regular visitor to the area and his second album Fully Qualified Survivor contained ‘Postcards of Scarborough’ a song that to this day brings back many memories – even though I’ve still never been to Scarborough.

Chapman soon became a fixture on the folk circuit and went on to a long career with numerous albums. In the 1990s I finally ran into him again in London when I went to see him play at a small club and he was just as good as ever.”

Michael Chapman

That London meeting – in 1995 – was the last time I saw him in person. We talked during the break, he remembered me from the folk club days, and he was curious about why I was living in Kobe at the time. The city had just been struck by a major earthquake. He gave me a copy of his novel Firewater Dreams which he signed and inscribed “To John after all these years”.

He had just made the album Navigation which was a huge return to form. Much more was to follow and in his last years he made two of his best albums 50 recorded in America and True North (both reviewed on this blog) and was discovered by a new younger audience. We stayed in touch for a while after that last meeting and I tried unsuccessfully to arrange some dates in Japan for him in the 90s which is something I always regret not being able to do.

Michael Chapman was never a big star, but he was uncompromising in his musical honesty and integrity, and he managed to create and sustain a living as a professional musician for more than half a century. His unique guitar style draws on elements of blues and jazz as much as it does on the folk tag that was often erroneously given to him. He leaves behind a large body of recorded work – I’m listening again to some of it now – and there won’t be another like him. I just wish we could have met again.

Forever Chemicals & Okinawan Spirit

Posted August 18, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

“A situation is arising in which people from outside the islands, such as yourself, can inspire Okinawans to understand their own culture and identity.” These words were spoken to me by iconic Okinawan singer and activist Shoukichi Kina several years ago during an interview included in The Power of Okinawa book. (Well, he said it in Japanese, and this is the English translation).

We were talking about independence for the Ryukyu Islands and how the younger generation of Okinawans were too influenced by Japan nowadays to give much thought to such matters. Years later not a great deal has changed regarding independence which is still not a vital issue in most people’s minds. Equally though, not much has changed (or is ever likely to) while the islands remain under the colonial rule of Japan, with the use and misuse of large swathes of stolen land by US occupation forces and their military bases.

Accidents and incidents, crimes, and environmental degradation, all continue with the tacit approval of a Japanese government that has no intention of doing anything to seriously relieve Okinawans of their burden, let alone grant more autonomy. Prime Minister Suga follows the same path trodden by his predecessor Abe and is only remarkable for his self-professed ignorance of Okinawan history, his disregard and lack of empathy for the sufferings of the Ryukyu people then and now.

Kina surprised me a bit by his optimism and belief that change – or at least more awareness – could come from the outside. This might come from non-Okinawan ‘allies’ interested and concerned about these islands, and equally from those in the large Okinawan diaspora who have family roots back in the Ryukyus. 

Maybe Kina had a point. Welsh investigative journalist Jon Mitchell is one ‘outsider’ who has worked tirelessly on Okinawan issues. His book Poisoning the Pacific was a thoroughly researched, eye-opening record of the US military’s secret dumping of chemical weapons. He has also co-directed a 24-minute video report with an Okinawan TV station which is essential viewing. (The video now has English subtitles). Forever Chemicals is a shocking look into how the US military contaminated the water for 450,000 Okinawans:

Watching the video (as I hope you will too), it was most disappointing to see the indignation of local people met with such apparent indifference from their own government officials all too keen to avoid making a fuss or fighting for their rights.

The American-Uchinanchu activist Byron Fija has written of Okinawans being the victims of Stockholm syndrome, unwilling to free themselves from attachment to their Japanese and American oppressors and even sympathising with them. This term came to mind again when I read the short story ‘Gubeikou Spirit’ by Te-Ping Chen from her book Land of Big Numbers published earlier this year.

In the story a group of passengers are delayed on the Gubeikou station platform by a late train. They are told to stay in the station until the problem is fixed. However, the delay goes on for hours, then days, then weeks. Food, drinks, and other supplies are delivered to them by station employees. They are even given t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Gubeikou Spirit’ and praised for their patience and resilience. Gradually the stranded passengers come to accept their predicament, and they begin to prefer it to life outside. It’s an allegory that could well have been written about Okinawa.

The logo for the Ichariba Choodee podcast

But to return to those engaged in discussions about the Ryukyus, there is an entertaining and informative new monthly podcast named Ichariba Choodee. Subtitled ‘Okinawan Voices and Stories’ its purpose is to explore various topics, from identity to language revitalisation. Episodes feature guest speakers who are usually involved in a specific subject connected to Okinawa. In the latest episode there is a discussion of hajichi, the traditional tattooing that was eventually banned after Japan took control of the islands. A second part on this topic is coming soon.  

The hosts are Mariko Middleton, Erica Kunihasa, and Tori Toguchi who are all based in the USA but with Uchinanchu family roots in Okinawa. What is so engaging about the discussions up to now is that the three bring such a lightness of touch to the proceedings as they chat freely about their own heritage.

They are concerned, in their own words, with “celebrating and preserving our culture, connecting the diaspora, and both proudly and humbly educating and learning along the way”. The title of their podcast, available in all the usual places (website link below), is the Ryukyu saying sometimes translated as: ‘When we meet, we become brothers, sisters, family’.

There are others outside the islands who have done important work recently in drawing attention, in their own different ways, to Okinawa and its issues through their writing. Among them are the authors Akemi Johnson (Night in the American Village) and Elizabeth Miki Brina (Speak, Okinawa) whose books have already been discussed elsewhere on this blog. 

Shoukichi Kina has always been fond of talking about the need for great ‘Okinawan spirit’. It’s become almost his mantra. Perhaps his idea that those outside the islands can help inspire Okinawans to a greater understanding of their own spirit, culture, identity, and indeed rights, will come true after all. I hope so.


Chihiro Kamiya: Utayui

Posted August 10, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

In 2003 I interviewed Chihiro Kamiya for an article on young women singers. ‘Young Okinawa’ was published the following year in the UK’s fRoots magazine. (You can still read it in the ‘Features Archive’ here). Since then, a lot has happened. The singer from tiny Tsuken Island, off Okinawa’s east coast, went on to make a couple of albums in the pop and rock field. Then in 2012 she came up with Utaui, her best work yet, in which she found her own style mixing both old and new.

All then became silent as far as recording was concerned and she became busy with a new life as a mother bringing up a young family of her own. Now, after a nine-year hiatus, she has been back in the studio and the result is the similarly titled album Utayui which is another mix of original and traditional songs.

The new album begins quietly with piano on ‘Hanagasa Bushi’ a traditional Okinawan song. As soon as Kamiya starts to sing it’s apparent that she is back on top form and the arrangement gradually adds her sanshin in a lovely opener. It’s followed by ‘Anmaakutu’ a song she wrote in the familiar shimauta style. This mix continues, and the songs are sung sometimes in Uchinaguchi, sometimes in Japanese, and occasionally in a hybrid of the two languages.

There are two tracks that go under the name ‘medley’ – something both Japanese and Okinawans are fond of, but that often ring the alarm bells for me. However, all fears are blown away on listening. The ‘Warabi Uta Medley’ of four children’s songs recalls the classic Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman collaboration but this is just as good in its own way. (We also get to hear Kamiya playing a bit of Ryukyu kalimba). Later, there’s an eight minute ‘Eisa Medley’ but this too is so well conceived and executed that it slots in perfectly with the rest of the album.

‘Shirakumu Bushi’ and ‘Nakuni~Hantabaru’ are two very familiar traditional tracks given the Kamiya treatment and for these she is joined by her father Yukihiro and brother Yukitaka to make it a real family affair. Of the other original compositions, ‘Human Song’ is a waltz that comes close to emulating the excellent ‘Coral Song’ from the previous album, while ‘Awatiina’ has a fast tempo and an arrangement not unlike Nenes at their best.

Even the most accomplished Okinawan singers and musicians sometimes make substandard recordings, either because the songs are watered down in attempting to appeal to a wider audience or the albums are simply churned out without enough thought or regard for quality control. So, it comes as a real delight to discover a new album such as this which has a carefully considered balance of old and new, and of tone and variation. And all recorded with thoughtful arrangements and obvious care by Kamiya who produced and directed.

Above all, it is Chihiro Kamiya’s superb singing and phrasing that stands out and ultimately makes Utayui an album of such quality. Now in her late 30s, she is surely one of the greatest singers to come from these islands.

Utayui is released tomorrow (11th August) by Sinpil Records.


More Notes on Nenes

Posted July 24, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

It’s almost two years since I wrote the first ‘Notes on Nenes’ for this blog. It’s still there so you can look it up. At that time, my interest in the original Nenes quartet had been rekindled by a meeting with Henry Johnson who was visiting Okinawa from New Zealand where he is Professor in the Department of Music at Otago University.

I’ve only met Henry a few times when he has been let loose on one of his research trips to these islands, but – apart from us being fellow exiled Brits – we always have plenty to talk about and he’s obviously a very fine chap. He is the music expert while I’m just the music enthusiast, so it’s always good to learn more by asking him lots of theoretical questions.

His further planned visits to Okinawa have had to be curtailed owing to the dreaded pandemic so I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. However, on our last meeting he talked of a book he was working on about the Nenes phenomenon. This year the book sees the light of day as part of the Bloomsbury Publishing series of short books on popular music albums.

The Nenes book is published under Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Japan series. These are in-depth examinations of Japanese albums of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (so Okinawa is shoehorned in). Among the titles already published are studies of albums by Perfume and Shonen Knife.

At under 200 pages, the new book is titled Nenes’ Koza Dabasa and subtitled ‘Okinawa in the World Music Market’. As its name suggests it is focused on an analysis of Koza Dabasa the fourth album by Nenes released in 1994. The album received critical acclaim (not least from me) and is widely regarded as their best with contributions from several American musicians including Ry Cooder and David Hidalgo.

This is much more than just a study of the album. What the book also does is to place Okinawan music in relation to Japan and the world. An early chapter on ‘Uchina Pop and Chanpuru Culture’ explains much of the background to the music of these islands. This is followed by a chapter on the members of Nenes and their related personnel such as mentor Sadao China, arranger Kazuya Sahara, and the guest musicians they have worked with.

Another chapter on ‘Island Culture’ discusses the concepts of shima, hometown, and shima-uta, with a detailed look at their recording of the traditional song ‘Kurushima Kuduchi’. Later, there is another close analysis, this time of an original song, ‘Amerika-dori’. This forms part of the chapter ‘War and Peace’, where there is a discussion of history and the relative lack of focus on war and military base issues in much of the Nenes repertoire. Generally, their song lyrics prefer to celebrate the positive aspects of island life. ‘Amerika-dori’, for instance, is a joyful song about the mix of people and cultures in Koza and it steers clear of both the conflict between Okinawa and its military occupiers America and colonial oppressors Japan. It is suggested, however, that it’s possible to read the song in a slightly different way if you scratch beneath the surface.

Koza Dabasa was, of course, a product of the original Nenes line-up, but the book doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that the group has continually changed its members since that time and has evolved into a kind of music franchise under the direction of Sadao China. His energy is now mostly channelled into promoting live performances at their home venue in Naha where they cater mainly to audiences of tourists.

The appendices to the book gather details of all the recordings and include a run down on members of the ever-changing Nenes line-ups. I also learned some interesting nuggets of peripheral information along the way. I had no idea that Japanese band Shang Shang Typhoon had guested on Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 album Sisters of Avalon – an album I’ve listened to many times. I was also initially surprised that Four Sisters had toured overseas – until I saw the reference to this was from my own book The Power of Okinawa. Thanks for the reminder.

Nenes’ Koza Dabasa is well-written in a readable and clear style. For such a relatively slim volume it covers just about everything you need to know. It may be primarily an academic book, but it will be of great interest to any general reader, myself included, who is an Okinawan music enthusiast. It will be especially valuable to those who would like to know more of the story behind Nenes.

That story continues up to the present day and since the completion of Nenes’ Koza Dabasa there has been yet another new Nenes album release. (Or rather Nenez, as the romanisation of their newest incarnation now appears). The album was released last month and is titled Gajumaru. It is being promoted as music to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Nenes album.

Much like one of its recent predecessors Reborn, the Gajumaru album contains re-recordings of 14 songs from previous albums. Whereas Reborn was a reworking of some of the classic Nenes songs of old, the new release contains what is described as recordings of songs ‘carefully selected’ by Sadao China from four albums by the post-original line-ups: Chura Uta (2002), Shu (2004), Sai (2008), and Okurimono (2010).

The cover image is created in the same style and in similar red colours to the Nenes debut album Ikawu (1991). This would seem to be one for completists only though it may well satisfy tourists and some uncritical Okinawans. For the rest of us, it’s perhaps better to read Henry Johnson’s book and give ourselves a treat by listening again to Koza Dabasa when the original Nenes were at their very best.

Naomi Goeku: Ashita o Shinjite

Posted July 19, 2021 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Ashita o Shinjite is a new release by Chatan born singer and sanshin player Naomi Goeku who makes a long overdue album debut in her 70th year. Goeku has a teaching qualification from the Okinawa Minyo Kyokai and is a songwriter as well as an experienced performer who has been singing at various ‘live houses’ and izakaya on Okinawa.

The concept underpinning the album is an optimistic one to celebrate life on these islands and to offer some positive feelings in a time of pandemic. Goeku composed or co-wrote several of the songs while producer Yoshimi Arakaki also lends a hand with songwriting and joins Goeku on sanshin.

A small group of musicians accompany Goeku on some of the tracks with keyboards, sanshin, bass, and guitars. The arrangements of all the songs are by Tatsumi Chibana who is well-known for his promotion of other Okinawan artists as well as for his own hip-hop work with the Duty Free Shopp collective. He plays guitar here on one track.

What we have is a mixed bag of original shimauta starting with ‘Imi nu Hana’, a song composed by Goeku in a typical style found around the islands and ever-present wherever shimauta is played.

The tracks tend to be shared equally between faster and slower moods. ‘Churajima Uchina’ is another typical shimauta (even the title is generically Okinawan) but is none the worse for that and is one of the best tracks in a largely unexceptional but very likeable set. Later, there is ‘Ashibi Shinkanucha’ a bright and shiny piece reminiscent of something that might have been done by Ayame Band.

Two of the songs sung by Goeku were nominated for the Miuta Taisho, an annual awards contest sponsored by Radio Okinawa for more than three decades to find the best new shimauta compositions. Both songs are included in new recordings here. They are ‘Kui nu Umuibana’ (nominated in 2008), and ‘Hana nu Ashibina’ (2012).

The only mild disappointment is the inclusion of ‘Moichido’ midway through the album. It sounds more like a lame Japanese singer-songwriter offering and seems a bit out of place, and frankly unnecessary, among all the Okinawan melodies.   

The album ends on a high note with the song ‘Ashita e’. With its anthemic chorus it manages to leave us suitably uplifted and in a positive mindset.

Ashite o Shinjite will be released this week, on 21st July, by Office Arakachi.