Okinawa Americana in fRoots Magazine

Posted September 12, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

My interview with the duo Okinawa Americana – Merry and David Ralston – is included in the new Autumn issue of the UK magazine fRoots published this week. The one page feature is part of the magazine’s Root Salad series. The article will eventually appear in the Features Archive category of this blog.

A selection of musicians featured in the Autumn 2018 fRoots. Bottom left: Okinawa Americana

In the meantime it can be read in all its glory by buying the magazine. There is also a digital edition that can be subscribed to through the newly revamped and updated fRoots website.

http://www.frootsmag.com

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Geoffrey Keezer Trio: On My Way To You

Posted August 8, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

American pianist and composer Geoffrey Keezer has a strong connection with Okinawa. In 2007 he joined Yaeyama singer and sanshin player Yasukatsu Oshima to record an album of Okinawan songs in a New York jazz setting that has since become a classic collaboration. Keezer had been a fan of Okinawan music for some time before that and his trio recorded the Sadao China composition ‘Koikugari Bushi’ two years before his meeting with Oshima.

Sadly for us, Keezer has not returned to Okinawan music but the door is always open for the possibility in the future. What he has done is to build on his already high reputation in the jazz world with more recordings and live shows. On My Way To You is a new album on which he plays piano and keyboards together with his working trio (Mike Pope on bass and Lee Pearson on drums) plus guest singer Gillian Margot.

The album’s ten tracks are a mix of songs and jazz arrangements, mostly of well-known pieces but also three brand new originals. What makes it different is the wide range of sources that Keezer’s inventive trio draw on. These include Thelonious Monk (‘Brilliant Corners’) and Stevie Wonder (‘These Three Words’) as well as Jimi Hendrix, Jerome Kern, and Michel Legrand.

Most satisfying of all is the closing track which manages to successfully combine and reimagine John Lennon’s ‘Across the Universe’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Meanwhile Gillian Margot’s soulful contribution elsewhere adds even more variety and she provides some fine vocals on the five songs including Ewan MacColl’s much loved ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.

On My Way To You is out now on MarKeez Records.

www.geoffreykeezer.com

Tidanomiyuki – Live in Naha

Posted August 5, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The Ishigaki singer, songwriter and guitarist Tidanomiyuki gave a live performance last night at Sound M’s in Naha. Presented as one of her monthly series of live shows known as Starry Nights, this one was billed as a Special Starry Night as she sang with a band and with an invited guest – the Hiroshima-born singer and pianist Hanako Kimura.

Tidanomiyuki’s band included Yuki Irei (electric guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Yoshio Hasegawa (accordion, flute, trumpet). Her warm personality engaged the audience from the outset at this small friendly venue. A trio of songs from her recent album – ‘Mother tree’, ‘Understood’ and ‘Loves’ – were the highlights in a joyful set that ended with her own take on the traditional Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’. She sang this with just acoustic guitar accompaniment and managed to rework the well-known song into her own individual style.

Hanako Kimura joined Tidanomiyuki and the other musicians on piano for a fun-filled finale that no-one really wanted to end.

Yoko Ishikawa: Shami No Yorokobi

Posted August 1, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Last year Tokyo’s Respect label released the album Uchina Love Song which featured six different female singers. One of those was Yoko Ishikawa and she now has a debut solo album of her own Shami No Yorokobi. The title of the album comes from an original song from 1970 composed by Shizuko Oshiro. Ishikawa’s version is included here.

The well-known singer, sanshin player and teacher Shizuko Oshiro is from Yaeyama and she is also Ishikawa’s mentor. Her presence looms large on this album which Ishikawa dedicates to her and it contains several of Oshiro’s songs plus a selection of other compositions from the Ryukyu Islands, many of them traditional.

Ishikawa is from the small Okinawan island of Iheya but was brought up in Osaka where she learned to play sanshin as a high school student. There is a good balance of songs on this album, some very slow and others more exuberant and they come from throughout the Ryukyus. A standout track is ‘Chijuyagwa’. This traditional Okinawan song has been recorded often but Ishikawa takes it at a slightly slower pace than usual and her plaintive subdued reading makes it rather special. There is also a recording of the Amami song ‘Okinoerabu no Komoriuta’.

Nowadays albums can vary greatly in length and there are no rules. However, record companies in Japan seem to work under the assumption that more must always mean better. It’s therefore no surprise that this one runs to 64 minutes. No complaints about the quality but a little editing or trimming of the fifteen tracks might have produced a more focused result. But this is a fine debut from the seemingly endless supply of talented young musicians keeping Okinawan music alive and well.

Among the musicians accompanying Ishikawa are Setsuko Kikuyama (sanshin, sanba, hayashi) and Keiko Kinjo (shimadaiko). Ishikawa will play two concerts to promote the album. The first is in Naha, Okinawa at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall B) on 29th September and she will be joined by the musicians from the recording. The other date is at Tokyo Minami Aoyama Mandala on 19th October where she will play with Keiko Kinjo.

Shami No Yorokobi will be released by Respect on 5th September.

www.respect-record.co.jp

Olivia Chaney: Shelter

Posted July 12, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Sadness, poignancy, clarity, and elegance are just some of the words that spring to mind on listening to the new album Shelter from England’s Olivia Chaney. This is her second solo album and it follows 2015’s The Longest River. Chaney has been busy touring and recording ever since signing with American label Nonesuch and her releases have included a foray into folk-rock last year with The Decemberists under the banner Offa Rex. That and her previous solo album were both reviewed here.

Shelter shines with the clarity of Chaney’s lovely voice but she is also a multi-instrumentalist and the ten songs that make up the album are notable also for her accompaniments on guitar, piano, harmonium, electric dobro and pump organ. There is nothing cluttered or unnecessary and the only other significant musical contribution is from Jordan Hunt on violin. The album was produced by Thomas Bartlett and recorded in New York.

The sound is nothing like her folk-rock collaboration and there are no folk songs this time. Instead eight of the compositions are Chaney’s own. The others are Henry Purcell’s ‘O Solitude’ and the Tex Ritter country song ‘Long Time Gone’ also popularised by the Everly Brothers. The former shows off Chaney’s classical training and the latter her eclectic taste. However, they are sideshows compared to the more important bulk of the album which is built around her excellent original songs.

The album opens very strongly with the songs ‘Shelter’ and ‘Dragonfly’ – Chaney playing guitar on the first and piano on the second. ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ cleverly weaves the refrain from the traditional Irish song ‘Molly Malone’ into its coda. Perhaps best of all is ‘Roman Holiday’ with its insistently catchy piano and its lyrical beginning: “Love is on this balcony / Naked, where I rest my feet / We roam Roman ruins / Swifts, swallows, swoop and screech.”

Her poetic lyrics are carefully constructed and could stand alone but are at the same time always economical and precise. We aren’t going to rock the house and annoy the neighbours with this thoughtful album but that is clearly not the intention. The overriding feeling conveyed – to return to the beginning – is one of poignancy but there are other subtle underlying moods too. With Shelter she has created her most satisfying work to date.

Shelter is released by Nonesuch Records.

www.oliviachaney.com

A Weekend in Itoman

Posted June 24, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It has been a busy weekend in Itoman. Yesterday (23rd) was Irei no hi – a public holiday in Okinawa to mark the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. As usual it was commemorated at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman with a ceremony attended by several thousand people.

Among those in attendance was Prime Minister Abe who made the usual insincere speech full of platitudes about how much Japan cares about Okinawa. It received a certain amount of heckling from some members of the audience who suggested that Abe should go home. Sadly, nothing changes and after all these years Okinawa is still overburdened with American military bases fully supported by Abe’s government against the wishes of the Okinawan people.

On a brighter note, today was the annual Itoman Hare (or dragon boat races) when thousands flock to Itoman’s fishing port for the all day event. The races were introduced from China at the end of the 14th century and the festivities continue to this day. It was another hot day with the sun blazing down and a temperature of 31 degrees. Below are some photos taken during the races this afternoon.

 

London Okinawa Day 2018

Posted June 5, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The 10th anniversary of London Okinawa Day will be celebrated later this month. This annual event has grown each year and its purpose is to introduce and spread the culture of Okinawa in the UK. The performing arts have always been central to the culture of the Ryukyu Islands and the audience will be entertained by modern and classical music and dances from around the islands.

For this important 10th year anniversary some special guest artists have been invited to perform. Well-known singer and sanshin player Horiuchi Kanako will be coming from Okinawa and there will also be songs from Miyako Island singer Yogi Masaki and Amami Island singer Tamukai Miharu.

Other events will include Eisa drumming and dancing and performances of karate by several groups from the UK. A variety of stalls around the stage will provide more information as well as Okinawan food and awamori. You can even buy a sanshin!

Okinawa Day is an all day extravaganza that takes place at Spitalfields, Brushfield Street, London E1 from 10:00 to 18:00 on Saturday 23rd June.

https://www.sites.google.com/site/londonsanshin/okinawa-day