Mayuko Higa: Minishi

Posted September 24, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Minishi is the newly released debut album by singer and sanshin player Mayuko Higa from the Yaeyama Islands. It was around twelve years ago that I first encountered her as a 14 year old when she sang ‘Tubarama’ on stage with Kanako Hatoma at the Hatoma family’s live venue Bashofu in Ishigaki city. Even at that young age it was obvious she was already a talented musician with a love for the old songs. The lively youngster was a regular visitor to Bashofu where she would play her sanshin at every opportunity.

Following in the footsteps of Kanako Hatoma she eventually moved to Okinawa at the behest of Sadao China and was for a time a member of one of his Nenes line-ups. Unfortunately, this was also the quartet who made arguably their worst ever album, Okurimono, in 2010. She subsequently left Nenes and is pursuing a solo career with this album which has been produced by Sadao China and is released by his record company.

higa

Not surprisingly, China’s mark is stamped on the album and he contributes four of his original compositions while the other five tracks are traditional Yaeyama songs. He also plays sanshin on one track and koto on four others. Having the weight of Sadao China behind you can be a double-edged sword as it means that Higa will be immediately noticed in the world of traditional Okinawan song but may have less control over how she actually goes about making her recordings.

The Yaeyama songs are all played straightforwardly and with little in the way of accompaniment to Higa’s voice other than her own sanshin playing. They are strikingly simple and all very good. She has developed into a fine singer and knows exactly how to deliver a satisfying performance. She demonstrates this right from the opening ‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’ to the final ‘Kuroshima Bushi’. The four China songs, by contrast, use guitar and sometimes keyboards to fill out the sound. The title track ‘Minishi’ is the most successful of these.

There is a version of China’s ‘Yon no Michi’ (also the title track of Kanako Hatoma’s debut album 15 years ago) while his ‘Dokyumento’ (Document) is a song written especially for Higa and touches on incidents in her own life. It is probably intended to be the centrepiece of the album but although it’s the kind of song that may go down well with many Okinawan listeners it cannot avoid being just a little too maudlin and predictable.

The juxtaposition of traditional songs and originals is not altogether a smooth one and it left me wondering why the old songs are left as they are but the originals are given more ‘modern’ arrangements, mostly by guitarist Yoshiro Maehama. If it had been the other way around it might have been more imaginative, or at least surprising. And while China is an important singer and songwriter, the whole album might have benefited from a more innovative producer. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mayuko Higa’s singing or playing and she puts on an exemplary performance throughout. This is way better than her group work with Nenes and she fully justifies her solo status. She has already come a long way since I first saw that raw 14 year old and she promises to be even better in the future.

Minishi is released by Dig Records.

http://digmusic.jp/

Misako Oshiro: Ryukyu No Kaze To Umi To Tsuki

Posted September 21, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Misako Oshiro’s new album is to celebrate ‘around 60 years’ of her career as a performer. Ryukyu No Kaze To Umi To Tsuki is a fairly spartan and straighforward ten track album of traditional songs from the Ryukyus recorded earlier this year and released by Oshiro herself in August (MSK-001).

She has been very active in recent times not just as a live performer but also with collaborative recording projects. There have been joint albums with Toru Yonaha (2009), Kanako Horiuchi (2011), Seijin Noborikawa and Ainu musician Oki (both 2012). Two years ago saw the release of a 33 track double album retrospective. So just when we might have expected her to rest on her laurels she has been back in the studio again.

oshiro

The album contains no surprises and is a simple and solid addition to her long recording career. Oshiro sings and plays sanshin throughout and is joined by the experienced Seibun Tokuhara three times for duets. The most notable of these is ‘Iejima Monogatari’. On another song she is joined by Kozue Chinen.

Oshiro’s singing and playing are always to the fore with occasional slight embellishment by taiko and hayashi and by Tokuhara’s sanshin on the tracks where they get together. The album begins with a strong version of ‘Katami Bushi’ and also includes the well-known ‘Ranku Bushi’ and ‘Ishikubiri’.

https://www.shimaumui.net/

Aragaki & An-chang in Tokyo

Posted September 20, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

If you live in Tokyo there’s a highly recommended event at the end of this month with music from the Ryukyus at Cancolor Cafe, an Okinawan cafe in Shinjuku that regularly features acoustic live shows. The cafe hosts a joint appearance by Mutsumi Aragaki and An-chang Project on 30th September in an evening entitled Ryukyu Koros: chorus. It all starts at 19:30 and promises to be a special evening.

an-chang

Aragaki is a superb singer and sanshin player from Okinawa with eclectic musical tastes who performs solo and also with her trio MKR Project. She is equally at home with traditional songs and with her own innovative compositions. Joining her on the 30th will be Jun Yasuba’s An-chang Project from Japan (featured in The Power of Okinawa book) who are well-known for their lively harmonies and songs from the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and Micronesia.

http://cancolorcafe.com/

The Japan Times: Okinawan chronicles

Posted September 17, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Feedback on the Book

The Japan Times newspaper has featured a number of books about Okinawa in English in its ON SUNDAY section for the past two weeks. Under the heading Okinawan chronicles: the many sides of life in ‘paradise’, the second of these editions on September 11 includes this mention of The Power of Okinawa.

cover1

The Power of Okinawa: Roots Music from the Ryukyus

John Potter

RYUEI KIKAKU

Nobody who has spent any time in Okinawa can fail to notice the primacy of music in the lives of islanders. English music journalist John Potter, who has made Okinawa his home, is eminently well placed to guide us through the history, key figures and new developments in an ever-evolving music scene.

Potter’s passion for his subject, his tireless research into the origins of the music and its bifurcating forms, has resulted in a study that is both accessible and hugely satisfying – a book that even those with only a passing interest in the topic will enjoy.

Potter demonstrates how Okinawa has long been fertile ground for the kind of instrumental fusions, genre blends and collaborations we now call World Music. The writer was instrumental in bringing together the American pianist Geoffrey Keezer and the Okinawan singer and sanshin player Yasukatsu Oshima, who would go on to create a studio recording with a small number of jazz musicians.

“The Power of Okinawa” comes with an appendage of recommended albums to assist further explorations of this vibrant musical scene.

Thanks to the The Japan Times for this generous review.

Pride before the fall

Posted August 25, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

One of the deciding factors in buying our house in Okinawa was the deep spacious balcony with a view of the Pacific Ocean that runs around two sides of the building. These large balconies are common features in the concrete houses built all around the island as people began to rebuild their homes and lives following the devastation of the Battle of Okinawa.

Our balcony has become an important place for us to relax, to eat al fresco, and to sit with a glass of awamori while listening to music in the evenings. However, the way I shall think in future about my prized balcony has changed forever following the events of the afternoon of the 10th August.

I was visited that day by an old friend from Kobe who used to edit Kansai Time Out magazine many years ago when I first began writing about Okinawan music. I hadn’t seen him for at least 18 years and had never met his wife who was with him on a rare trip to Okinawa where they decided to look me up.

It had been raining heavily that morning but I was eager to proudly show off the balcony so it wasn’t long before we went up there. Foolishly, I chose to wear a pair of worn out old slippers. The accident waiting to happen soon did as I slipped, skidded across the wet balcony and crashed unceremoniously onto the concrete gashing my head and cutting my fingers and elbow, but this was almost nothing compared to the excruciating pain coming from my left leg. Soon an ambulance was called and I made the half hour journey to Tomishiro Chuo Hospital where after an examination and x-ray (and more excruciating pain) it was determined I had a bad fracture of my thigh bone close to the hip.

Tomishiro Chuo Hospital

Tomishiro Chuo Hospital

So I have gone from complete helplessness: having to suffer the indignity of painkillers being shot up my backside, and of being taken to the toilet by nurses and then washed all over by them, to a position where my progress is apparently better than expected. I have graduated from a wheelchair to a walking frame to crutches, and now I’m hobbling around at home with a rather elegant cane.

During my two week stay in Tomishiro Chuo Hospital I soon discovered that the amiable Head of the hospital Dr Arakaki is a keen student of English and he paid me regular visits most mornings for no other reason than to practice his English conversation at my bedside, much, I suspect, to the amusement of other doctors and nurses. This culminated in a more than one hour evening session when he asked me to go to his room and correct the English for his Power Point presentation lecture in Tokyo next month. I now know more about knee replacement surgery than I will surely ever need.

My hospital stay was originally predicted to be three weeks so I am lucky to be out early. The process of rehabilitation will continue for a long time with visits to another hospital and there is a lot to be done before I can hope to be back to anything like normal. At the moment just a good night’s sleep would be very welcome but I’m not allowed to sleep in certain positions for fear of dislocating the new bone. While I hated being hospitalized I have to admit that the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital were without exception extremely kind, hard-working and attentive.

Despite the progress made it’s very unlikely that I will be fit enough to travel to Kansai for our 30th wedding anniversary trip next month. (And I’d already bought the tickets for the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concert in Osaka!). I suppose everyone in this situation thinks of what might have been. None of this would have happened if my friend had chosen a sunny day for his visit; or if I had ignored Midori’s advice to put those old slippers on the balcony and had just thrown them out instead. But in the end it’s my own fault for being too proud of my balcony and too eager to show it off. It has made me think about all kinds of things to do with my life and the future…but for now I just want to get better.

Hajime Nakasone: Ten

Posted August 2, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Hajime Nakasone’s new album Ten is his first for four years. The singer and sanshin player from Okinawa made his earliest recordings when he was only 12 and still has such youthful looks that it’s hard to believe he’s already 28. Not so with his voice. Nakasone’s mentor for many years was the late Seijin Noborikawa and he still retains the remnants of a singing style modelled on Seigwa’s which makes him sound like a much older man.

On the new album his purpose was to choose and present some old songs in order to show the roots or essence of his music and alongside these he includes nine original songs that he has written or co-written. There are some accompanying musicians on a few of the recordings but mostly it’s kept very simple with just the vocals and sanshin as the main focus.

nakasone

The aim to acknowledge his roots begins with the opening track ‘Tunbaru Nakuni~Yaka nu Hama’. Later on there is also another version of ‘Nakuni’, this time played as a duet with his grandfather Seikou Nakasone who also appeared on the previous album. This second version is one of four ‘special tracks’ at the end, making in all a lengthy 70 minute running time with 16 tracks.

One of the originals is ‘Kuishi Nmarijima’ sung here by Nakasone’s own pupil Hiroki Itokazu from Kudaka Island. When Nakasone sang it in 2015 it won the annual Miuta Taisho award for new songs. Another standout among the newer songs is ‘Ichihata nu Kui’ co-written by Nakasone and performed as a duet with young singer Narise Arakaki.

The four special or bonus tracks include a live recording of ‘Yomitan Uta Ashibi’. Perhaps the most intriguing song comes right at the end. This is ‘Kahakai Chijuya’ a Nakasone composition inspired by the story of immigrants from Okinawa who went to Hawaii in 1899. On this successful Hawaiian and Okinawan mix he plays the sanlele: a hybrid of sanshin and ukulele. Apart from this there are no big surprises just a solid album with a mix of old and new from an accomplished performer.

Ten is released by 2Fee Records.

http://hajime34utaifukui.ti-da.net/

Manami: Odore Tida

Posted July 28, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Here’s another mini-album from Okinawan singer Manami, the third in a line that follows on from Jungolden Night (2013) and Shangri-La (2014). All three contain songs used in Orion Beer commercials. This time there are five songs plus an instrumental version of the title track. There isn’t much of what could be called roots music here, though one song ‘Horizon’ mixes in some East Asian sounds that recall the work of Ryuchim Band.

manami

Odore Tida is mostly straightforward pop with positive lyrics by Manami and some uplifting music composed by her younger brother Daisuke Nakamura. In fact, it’s Daisuke who is the unsung hero of everything Manami does with his apparently effortless knack of composing, arranging and programming all the catchy tunes. This release is no better or worse than its predecessors and comes nicely in time for summer.

Odore Tida is out now and is released by Sorafune.

www.manami-sorafune.com