Debo Band’s Hiyamikachi Bushi

Posted May 27, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The lively song ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ will be known to anyone familiar with Okinawan music. It was written in the 1950s to cheer up the island people during troubled times. The song is still very relevant today as the people of Okinawa continue to undergo hardships and are still suffering from the forced burden of hosting a huge number of US military bases with all the inevitable trouble that this brings.

Now comes a unique version of ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ which has been recorded for their second album by Debo Band, a large group of Boston-based musicians whose main inspiration is the roots music of Ethiopia. The band has taken the song and re-imagined it in their own way.

Debo Band

Debo Band

In an interview with PRI the band’s accordion player Marie Abe says that she felt there was a lot in common with Ethiopian and Okinawan experiences: “There are two kinds of affinity we’re expressing here: one is musical, the use of the particular pentatonic scale. The other is geopolitical/historical; both Okinawa and Ethiopia have gone through extremely challenging events like famine, military occupation, war, and immigration that have led to the formation of large diaspora[s] throughout the world.”

The full feature can be read here together with an audio sample of Debo Band’s ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’:

Thanks to Mitzi Uehara Carter for alerting me to this.

Kaia Kater: Nine Pin

Posted May 10, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

It’s hard to believe that Kaia Kater is still only 22 years old because her new album Nine Pin shows a musical maturity way beyond her years. The Quebec-born Toronto-based singer and banjo player graduates this month from a course of studies in Appalachian music and culture at West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College. Her first album Sorrow Bound was reviewed here last year and was a more-than-promising debut but Nine Pin is even better.

Kater describes herself as an eclectic traditionalist and she has an original way with roots music which is gaining her a lot of attention as one of the brightest young talents in North American folk music. The new album is largely a mix of her songwriting and interpretations of traditional songs. And we can’t see the join as her songs (plus a couple of instrumentals and three brief musical interludes) cut across boundaries to create a world at once rooted in time and place but somehow universal too.

kaia kater

The album shows influences from both Canada and West Virginia and some of the writing touches on racial issues: Kater herself is of mixed Afro-Caribbean descent. The songs explore what she says are “elements of joy and darkness and the expanding space in between”. Most begin quietly with just voice and banjo and then open up to let in other instruments such as trumpet, baritone guitar, five-string fiddle, moog and bass. Sometimes this creates a jazzy feel as on the opening ‘Saint Elizabeth’, while ‘Little Pink’ hints at the blues.

The standout tracks are ‘Paradise Fell’ and ‘Nine Pin’, both very tastefully understated and atmospheric. In fact, the whole album is rather low key and the supporting musicians are there to serve the songs by adding just the right amount of lush colour. ‘Petit Chagrin’ is the sole French language song while ‘White’ is Kater’s version of the old song ‘Long Time Travelling’. The sedate pace of the album is enlivened by two fiddle and banjo instrumentals ‘Fine Times at Our House’ and ‘Hangman’s Reel’.

Kaia Kater can be rightly proud of Nine Pin as her finest achievement to date. With talent like this it’s almost frightening to contemplate what she will do next. Best of all is that these songs and musical traditions are being kept alive and built upon by such fine young singers and musicians.

Nine Pin is released on 13th May by Kingswood Records.

Kaia Kater plays banjo and dances in this video of ‘Fine Times at Our House’, one of the tracks from the album:

La Yegros: Magnetismo

Posted April 28, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Magnetismo is the second album by La Yegros (Mariana Yegros) a singer and songwriter from Argentina but currently based in France. La Yegros has become popular as the ‘queen of nu cumbia’ and her songs and music delve into Argentinean and Colombian folk traditions that she mixes with generous doses of accordion, electro beats, and whatever else is to hand. She then serves it up with what’s been called a punk attitude.

The new album is musically varied and impossible to pin down to any dominant style. The recordings are infused with great energy and danceability and La Yegros isn’t afraid to break out into a bit of hip-hop either. She is joined by several well-chosen guests including Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla who plays the Andean stringed instrument ronroco on the album’s catchiest track ‘Chicha Roja’.


Also guesting is the band Lindigo from Reunion Island who add some vocals and maloya rhythms elsewhere. The opening track ‘Magnetismo’ immediately draws us into this world but the fast pace (it also clocks in at just 39 minutes) lets up now and then to reveal some lovely slower melodies too. Most notable among these are the dreamy ‘Hoy’ and the final traditional-sounding ‘Lejos’.

In days gone by we might have had to debate whether this should be filed under pop or roots. Now all that matters is that she has made a fine album which crosses several boundaries with ease.

Magnetismo is released on Soundway Records.

There is an official animated video for the song ‘Chicha Roja’:

Kanako Horiuchi in London Benefit Concert

Posted April 25, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The Okinawa-based singer and sanshin player Kanako Horiuchi will be in the UK next month and has a live show in South London at The Ivy House, Nunhead on 18th May. Also performing as guests will be Swiss/Japanese singer Mina Mermoud who plays sanshin and violin, and members of the London Sanshinkai. This will be a benefit concert for victims of the recent Kumamoto earthquake in Japan.

Kanako Horiuchi

Kanako Horiuchi

Kanako Horiuchi, originally from Hokkaido, is one of the Ryukyu Islands’ leading musical ambassadors, travelling the world, spreading the sounds of the islands and sometimes collaborating with local musicians. She is already well-known to readers of The Power of Okinawa blog and website for her work with the great Okinawan singer Misako Oshiro, for her experimental Ska Lovers project, and most recently for her album Hana Umui recorded in Senegal with kora player Falaye Sakho.

This is a rare chance for those in the UK to see a performance of Okinawan music and also to support victims of the earthquake. Tickets and further information are available here:

And before her visit to the UK, Kanako Horiuchi will be doing three live shows in Germany at Dusseldorf (7th May), Wachtberg (8th) and Frankfurt (10th).


Genres and open-eared listening

Posted April 19, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

People in Okinawa sometimes ask if I ever listen to other kinds of music. As you can see from a quick glance at the Roots Music from Out There category on this blog I do indeed listen to a lot of non-Okinawan music. Although this blog only covers what is loosely labelled roots music (whatever that is) I also listen to lots of stuff which wouldn’t be called roots at all and most of it would, I suppose, be classed as pop or rock.

Music genres are being crossed and defied so much nowadays that trying to categorize becomes almost meaningless. This may be inconvenient for the music critic but is good news for the listener. So Kendrick Lamar is a rapper but that only tells part of the story. His album To Pimp a Butterfly borrows and subverts such an array of styles encompassing funk, jazz and soul that to call him a mere rapper is almost an insult.


I’ve been reading Elvis Costello’s memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. It’s an illuminating read. Costello was borrowing styles right from the start of his career in the 1970s. I was already well aware of the similarities between ‘Pump It Up’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and when I saw Costello in Japan many years ago he even ran the two songs together to underline his own stylistic appropriation of Dylan’s song. But what I hadn’t thought about much, until reading his book, is the multitude of other musical motifs and lyrical borrowings in his songs.

Costello’s fascination with another Dylan song ‘Is Your Love in Vain?’ inspired the opening of his own composition ‘Possession’ while the first line of that song is the same as the first line of The Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’. More surprising (though maybe not so much when you think about it) is his borrowing of the grand piano style from ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ to rescue one of his most popular songs ‘Oliver’s Army’ from what he calls an uncertain fate.

Elsewhere in the book he makes the obvious but often neglected point that you don’t have to choose between different kinds of music. You can like it all. To this I would add that it isn’t a competition or it shouldn’t be. I love Shoukichi Kina. I love Benito Lertxundi from the Basque Country. I also love Leonard Cohen but I love Macklemore & Ryan Lewis too. I love the late great Hedy West and her ballad singing and banjo playing but that doesn’t stop me being thrilled by a great pop song from Taylor Swift.



The master guitarist Bob Brozman once told me: “I only find big egos in small musicians”. He believed that the best musicians were completely open-eared like children and placed no special value on one kind of music over another. The same applies to listeners with the proviso that everyone naturally has their own favourites and musical tastes.

But listening to something new can be very refreshing. In some sense it can be argued that the best music is always that which is being made today and to access new music from all over the world is easier now than ever. I recently downloaded for free a collection of 100 songs from artists at this year’s SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. This came courtesy of the estimable NPR music site. The good thing is that I hadn’t previously even heard of more than a tiny percentage of any of these musicians. Expecting to like only a handful of the tracks, I ended up loading more than 80 of them onto my iPod… in time I might even get around to liking some of those I left off.


Dispatch from Okinawa

Posted April 2, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The Songlines Magazine article Dispatch from Okinawa is now available to read on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website.

Kachimba4 at the showcase for the Trans Asia Music Meeting

Kachimba4 at the showcase for the Trans Asia Music Meeting

Songlines is the leading world music magazine in the UK. The May issue comes with two CDs (and a picture of me as featured contributor!).






Okinawa in Songlines

Posted March 31, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The new May 2016 issue of Songlines Magazine has a feature by me on Okinawan music. My article Dispatch from Okinawa focuses on the Trans Asia Music Meeting in Naha earlier this year and on some of the musicians at the showcase event.


Songlines is a leading world music magazine published in the UK and the new issue will be in shops from tomorrow (1st April). The article will also be published on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website in the near future.



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