Toru Yonaha: Ninufa ~Polaris~

Posted February 28, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

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.

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‘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.

http://www.toru-yonaha.com

 

Nigenshiki: Aoi Sora

Posted February 26, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

The duo Nigenshiki were formed in Okinawa in 2012 by Masashi (vocal, guitar) and Masaki (rap). Masaki is better known as the rapper Kakumakushaka and it was under this name that he made the excellent Image Nothing CD, and before that the album Oto Ashagi with Tatsuma Chibana under the name Duty Free Shopp.

On this four track mini-album the two singers benefit from each other’s contributions on a very productive blend of rap and pop. There is also a slice of traditional Okinawan music on the third track ‘Kimi no Koe’ which employs sanshin and a children’s chorus of hayashi very effectively. The song is also used as the official theme for Yomitan Radio on FM Yomitan.

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The award-winning title track was written by the pair for a television commercial and contains lots of positive lyrics about peace, the environment and life in general. The mini-album is a varied, accessible and uplifting debut and it will be good to hear more from Nigenshiki in the future.

Aoi Sora (Blue Sky) is released on Siesta. Nigenshiki will perform with other musicians from Okinawa at Naha Output on Sunday 1st March. This is a release event for Aoi Sora and will start at 18:00.

Further details and videos can be found at:

http://kakumakushaka.com/2genshiki/

A walk in the south of Itoman

Posted February 18, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

I often go for a walk around my local area on Okinawa’s south coast of Itoman. This morning was bright and sunny and I walked inland to the village of Makabe and then back home via the coastal village of Komesu. Here are a few photos of some of the sights along the way, starting with the main street in Makabe and a field of chrysanthemums, and including a traditional shisa (lion) and some dragon fruit.

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Noboro Sakurazaka: Kagiyade Beat!

Posted February 11, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Kagiyade Beat! is a three track CD by Okinawa’s Noboro Sakurazaka. It was released just over a year ago but has been getting more attention since the title track was selected for the Music from Okinawa compilation presented at WOMEX in Spain last October. The track is based on the familiar Ryukyu classical piece ‘Kagiyadefu’ and is arranged with electronic beats and vocals. This is a new take on something very old and has a contemporary freshness but with its traditional roots intact.

sakurazaka

The other tracks are different versions of ‘South West Islands’ a love song by Sakurazaka from the 1980s inspired by his longing for the Okinawan islands. The same song is then arranged in a floor mix version. Okinawan music and electronica aren’t new but Sakurazaka gives us something just a little bit different which is very likeable and accessible. It would be really interesting to listen to a full length album.

http://www.noborosakurazaka.com

Okinawa-Asia Music Network Meeting 2015

Posted February 9, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The first Okinawa-Asia Music Network Meeting was held at Tenbusu Hall in Naha yesterday. The first part of the meeting was a briefing session in which last year’s presentation of ‘Music from Okinawa’ at WOMEX (World Music Expo) in Spain was reported on and discussed. The duo Sakishima Meeting who performed a showcase in Spain also talked about their experiences at the event. There was a speech from London-based arts manager and producer Akiko Yanagisawa who focused on ways to promote Okinawan music overseas.

This theme was taken up again in the second half which featured a discussion with three guests from South Korea and China who are all involved in the organisation of world music festivals in their own countries. There was also live music with a short performance by Kazutoshi Matsuda who was one of the artists featured on the Music from Okinawa CD presented at WOMEX last year. Some of the other artists from the CD were also at the meeting. I managed to talk with Isamu Shimoji of Sakishima Meeting during a break in the proceedings before he and Yukito Ara hastened to another venue in Naha where they were scheduled to give a live show later in the day.

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Some of the discussion at the meeting focused on the business side of promoting Okinawan music overseas; on the possibility of further participation at WOMEX events; and the desirability for Okinawa to host its own world music festival in order to become a hub for networking and spreading Okinawan music to the rest of Asia and the world. I was impressed by the talk given by Wei Gao from China who is an organiser of the annual Sound of the Xity festival in Beijing which is committed to the joint development of the Chinese and Western music industries.

Even more interesting was the presentation by Kim Min of Sonic Islands who talked about her work in organising the Ulsan World Music Festival in Korea. In her concluding remarks she made the important point that traditional music is something that needs to be constantly revitalised or else it just becomes like an exhibit in a museum. On the other hand, she stressed that it is equally important not to slavishly copy the big stars seen on television but to find one’s own musical identity sincerely. She also made the observation that WOMEX itself should not necessarily be held in such great awe and is just one method of networking.

Sakishima Meeting: Isamu Shimoji & Yukito Ara

Sakishima Meeting: Isamu Shimoji & Yukito Ara

Some of those who participated by asking questions seemed unaware that Okinawan music is really not such a big secret nowadays. In fact, it has been featured regularly for many years in magazines such as the UK’s fRoots and Songlines and has loyal followings in many parts of the world. With the growth of the internet and new ways of listening to music it has now become more accessible than ever. It could be argued that even the term ‘world music’ is becoming obsolete and has already served its purpose as a marketing tool for what fRoots calls ‘local music from out there’.

Vissel Kobe in Okinawa

Posted January 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Okinawa is a popular destination for professional soccer and baseball pre-season training camps. This year several J1 football league clubs are doing their pre-season preparations on the island. One of these is Vissel Kobe FC. The squad has been on Okinawa for almost a week along with their new manager, the Brazilian Nelsinho who won a league title with Kashiwa Reysol in 2011. My old friend Shige Hasebe is still at the club and has now been made Head Coach. Yesterday we met up with him briefly at the training session held at Zampa Misaki, Yomitan.

Some photos below from yesterday’s session, courtesy of Vissel Kobe.

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Unaigumi: Unaijima

Posted January 28, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Former Nenes member Yasuko Yoshida has just released her first album for nearly 14 years. Now we have a new ‘debut’ album from the three other original members of Nenes who reunite under the group name Unaigumi. It’s a bit like having the original Nenes back after nearly 20 years as only Yoshida is missing, her place taken by Emiko Shimabukuro. The others (Misako Koja, Namiko Miyazato and Yukino Hayane) are still in strong voice and the album is produced by Kazuya Sahara the keyboard player responsible for much of the original Nenes sound.

Unaigumi have already been playing live and appeared at last year’s Ryukyu Festival. Their album is named Unaijima (The Sisters’ Island) and is long at 67 minutes. This includes an eight minute title track co-written by Koja and Sahara, a lengthy version of the traditional song ‘Nanyo Kazoeuta’, and two recordings of the opening song ‘Winagu Dushi’. Most songs were written – and all of them arranged – by Sahara. Some have additional lyrics by Misako Koja and there are also traditional Okinawan songs with new arrangements.

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Sahara has previously produced two solo albums for Misako Koja and it is the sound of those albums which dominates this one. So there are lots of musicians and some sweeping string arrangements to reinforce the core sound of the four women’s voices and the acoustic instruments led by the sanshin. It’s a sound which will be familiar to both Koja’s fans and to early aficionados of Nenes. There is also a strong anti-war theme running through several of the songs, such as Sahara’s ‘1945 no Haru’ (The Spring of 1945).

At its best this is a glorious album with some fine songs both new and traditional and it always catches that strong and indefinable island feeling. It goes without saying that the singing is powerful and is always a delight. The hand of Sahara is very much in evidence and there is the occasional suggestion that he is so pleased with himself that there’s a danger of over-indulgence and just a little too much ambition where a bit of editing might not have gone amiss. Some songs might have benefited from a shorter length or less embellishment.

Unaigumi: (l to r) Misako, Yukino, Emiko, Namiko

Unaigumi: (l to r) Misako, Yukino, Emiko, Namiko

Of course, it’s fascinating to compare this with Yasuko Yoshida’s generally much simpler and more straightforward Sadao China produced album. Perhaps, instead of taking sides in the China v Sahara production battle, it’s best just to be grateful that we have both albums and to enjoy them on their own terms. The singing by all four members of Unaigumi is as good as it gets and it must be said that the album is much more rewarding than anything the newer line-ups of Nenes have come up with over the past decade or so. In fact, Unaijima is the closest to the original Nenes experience that it’s possible to get. That in itself is a cause for celebration.

Unaijima is released by Disc Milk. The CD booklet has English translations of all the songs (which nevertheless contain several mistakes and oddities of expression).

 


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