Campus Records 45th Anniversary Album

Posted November 12, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Campus Records has been a mainstay of music in Okinawa for 45 years and this album celebrates it with a 19 track collection of some of the best recordings at various stages throughout that period. The record company is run by well-known island personality Yoshikatsu Bise (popularly known as Bisekatsu) who is a goldmine of information on Okinawan music. He records, produces and promotes most of the albums he releases, runs his own record shop, and has also co-written a number of songs as lyricist.

The tracks are arranged in chronological order beginning with one recorded back in the late 1960s by Four Sisters. This is followed by a 1975 song from Rinsho Kadekaru, the late godfather of Okinawan minyo. Most of the selections which follow are either traditional songs or more modern shimauta. There are songs by many of the familiar Campus artists such as Minoru Kinjo, Hirokazu Matsuda, Akira Wakukawa, and Deigo Musume.


The early recording of ‘Juku no Haru’ by mainland Japan ‘folk singer’ Shuji Kurokawa is one we could perhaps have done without. It was a hit at the time but now sounds somewhat lame. On the other hand, it’s good to be reacquainted with Kazumi Tamaki’s ‘Heiwa no Negai’. Tamaki may be best remembered for her contribution many years ago as back-up singer for Ryuichi Sakamoto and for her experimental album Tinin but this later recording is a fine reminder of what a superb singer she is and her track really stands out here.

Bisekatsu himself is co-writer of ‘Yoroshiku gozaimasu’ a typical tacky shimauta by Masae Nakada with a spoken part by Sachiko Nakada. It’s a style which is sometimes treated a bit sniffily by outside listeners but it captures the spirit of what a lot of Okinawans enjoy and provides some light relief in this context. Bringing us up to date, the two final tracks offer a version of Yasukatsu Oshima’s ‘Agarikata Bushi’ by Kazutoshi Matsuda and then the sublime voice of Mika Uchizato with ‘Nanjo Kouta’ from her Mika no Uta album last year.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already a decade since Campus were celebrating their 35th anniversary with a double release and I interviewed Bisekatsu around that time for an article which is on the Features page of The Power of Okinawa website. The new album has a similarly composed cover image in the style of Sergeant Pepper and a running time of 75 minutes. Congratulations to Bisekatsu for reaching another milestone.

Campus Records 45-shunen Kinen Album will be released by Respect Records on 16th December.





Shoukichi Kina – 8 Days Live

Posted November 4, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

Shoukichi Kina is currently celebrating 50 years of musical activity. An exhibition of photos and film is already on display at the Okinawa Times Building in Naha. Meanwhile, at Chakra on Kokusai-dori, Kina is holding an event, 8 Days Live: Peace and Celebration, in which he sings with his band Champloose every evening and talks on stage with a variety of different guests. There is a different theme each evening and the one I attended last night was focused on Kina’s travels around the world.


It was back in 1992 when he previously held an 8 Days Live event. The time has passed very quickly and it’s also hard to believe that Kina, now 67, was just 16 when he wrote ‘Haisai Ojisan’. That song inevitably ended the performance last night with many of the full house getting up and dancing around the tables. Kina and his band were called back for an encore.


Before that we had been given a rather different show to the one which fans of Kina and Champloose are normally used to seeing. On some occasions in the past Kina has been tense or cantankerous on stage with the atmosphere filtering down to all around him. Last night, however, it was a real joy to be part of the audience as a new relaxed Kina revisited songs from all stages of his long career and sang them passionately with obvious happiness and life-affirming enjoyment.

The superb ‘Omoibana’ was an excellent opportunity for him to demonstrate once more that he really is a great singer. And this time he was keen to allow others around him to shine as well. In an exuberant party atmosphere, several young musicians were invited to the stage to perform their own covers of Kina songs. An electric guitarist joined Champloose for the traditional song ‘Jin Jin’ and was urged by Kina to let rip with a blistering solo. There was even the appearance of a quartet of belly dancers who danced in front of the stage.



While Okinawa is renowned for its performing arts and has also become home to many different contemporary musical styles, the show put on by Shoukichi Kina last night was a wonderful reminder of the many boundaries he has pushed over the past half century. Most importantly, he continues to be a brilliant singer and performer like no other that Okinawa has produced.

8 Days Live continues until this Saturday (7th) at Chakra. Doors open at 18.30 and events begin at 19.00. Tickets are 2,500 in advance or 3,000 yen at the door.

Shoukichi Kina Exhibition

Posted November 4, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

An exhibition Shashin to Eizo de Tsuzuru: Kina Shoukichi – Hanseiki no Kiseki is currently on show at the Okinawa Times Building in Naha. The exhibition of photographs and film is to celebrate half a century of work by Shoukichi Kina.

As well as being a singer, musician and songwriter Kina is well-known as a social and political activist who has travelled to many parts of the world. His work also includes books and paintings. The show runs until 7th November and admission is free.

Some photos from the exhibition:







Posted October 26, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Wales and India don’t usually spring to mind as obvious musical partners. But the new album Ghazalaw is a musical pairing which draws together the Indian ghazal and the Welsh folk traditions. It focuses on the singing of Tauseef Akhtar from Mumbai and the singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn from North Wales. Akhtar accompanies his singing with harmonium while Glyn plays guitar and the pair are helped along by a small band of musicians on tabla, harp, violin and guitar.

Glyn was introduced to Akhtar three years ago and they began exchanging musical ideas around the affinity between the songs and music of their respective traditions. They appeared under the name Ghazalaw in India where they developed the songs further along with other musicians and then in 2013 were selected to be showcased at WOMEX in Cardiff. This has led to their finally releasing this eponymously titled debut album.


The ten tracks on the album feature the two singers exchanging vocals with Akhtar singing in Urdu and Glyn in Welsh. Ghazals are ancient love poems which spread to India from Arabia and are still popularly sung. According to the album’s sleeve notes: “Today the ghazal is as much a part of Indian and Pakistani culture as the curry, and fills a gaping absence just as well.” In turn, Glyn contributes her own settings of some love poems from the Hen Benillion an anthology of anonymous poems of old Wales.

The two weave these sources into the songs so well that at times it’s easy to forget they are singing in different languages. The music is sumptuous and accessible. At times it’s so relaxed that it’s like soaking in a warm bath but still has just enough edge to save it from becoming bland. One hesitates to use the much maligned term ‘fusion’ but this is a fusion of styles in the true sense which really works.

Ghazalaw is released by Marvels of the Universe.








Sven Kacirek: Songs From Okinawa

Posted October 21, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Songs From Okinawa is a new album from Hamburg’s Sven Kacirek. He studied music in Germany, the Netherlands, and New York where he concentrated on drums and marimba, and has subsequently worked on numerous musical projects in a wide variety of genres including jazz, classical, and film scores. In 2011 he released an album The Kenya Sessions on which he collaborated with local African musicians. Now he has turned his attention to Okinawa.

Kacirek’s project in the Ryukyu Islands has been bubbling under for some time and he began travelling and recording here in 2012. The results are finally being released next month. On his travels he was accompanied by Mina Mermoud, a musician and researcher based in London, and meetings were arranged with both professional and amateur musicians. So this is very much an album based around the field recordings they made. Back home Kacirek selected some of these recordings and added new elements with marimba, stone xylophone, brushes on various materials, piano and bass marimba while maintaining the basic arrangements performed by each of the singers.


During his journey Kacirek visited three groups of islands – Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama – but almost all the songs which make it onto the album are traditional songs from the Yaeyama Islands. The exceptions are two sung by Keiko Kina. One of these is ‘Koi no Hana’, which nevertheless originated in Yaeyama, while the other is her very different version of ‘Nagareru Mamani’ a lovely song co-written and previously recorded by her famous brother Shoukichi Kina.

The most easily recognisable name among the other featured singers is Tetsuhiro Daiku who has become a kind of ambassador for Yaeyama songs and his inimitable deep voice can be heard on two songs, ‘Tsundara Bushi’ and ‘Tsuku nu Kaisha’. At the other end of the spectrum there is a simple prayer song with unknown title from Taketomi Island sung by ‘Mrs Uesedo and her daughter’. The album ends with an instrumental version of ‘Densa Bushi’ in which the focus is on the interplay between sanshin and marimba.

The marimba is not to everyone’s taste and some may be concerned that the addition of this and other instruments may dilute the performances or soften the music to make it more palatable to outside listeners. However, Kacirek has an understanding and respect for these songs, his research has been thorough, and the finished recordings retain all that is good about the songs while sometimes enhancing them in new ways. In some ways the album has an affinity with Daiku’s Gamelan Yunta recordings in Bali a few years ago. Kacirek’s is an unusual and welcome release and should encourage overseas listeners especially to seek out more traditional Okinawan music.

Songs From Okinawa is being released on 20th November by the German label Pingipung. It will be available in both vinyl and CD formats as well as a download.

This video documentary by Agnieszka Krezeminska shows the recording process and some of the singers featured on the album:





Pandemonium: The Essential Bellowhead

Posted October 15, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

English roots big band Bellowhead are calling it a day. Jon Boden decided to leave earlier this year and they prefer not to continue without him. So this new 13 track album is a carefully chosen ‘greatest hits’ and goes under the title Pandemonium: The Essential Bellowhead. The album includes songs from all six of their CDs. No new versions or rarities, so fans should have all of these already but this is a chance to listen to the band’s own favourites in one go, while for those new to Bellowhead it really is an absolutely essential introduction.


As a Norfolk man I was pleased to see the inclusion of both ‘Yarmouth Town’ and ‘Fakenham Fair’ but if pushed to choose the highlights on an album packed with them it would be ‘New York Girls’ and ‘Roll the Woodpile Down’. What is noticeable is how adventurous the band became over their 11 year reign as England’s premier folk band. They were continually adding more styles to invigorate these old songs while the production on their last three albums reached and maintained the highest standards they had always strived for in recreating some of the immediacy (bordering on mayhem) of their live shows.

Sadly, they never came to Okinawa but the acquisition of the Pandemonium album and a look at their Hedonism Live DVD would be the next best way to enjoy them and the great legacy they will leave. On the other hand, they haven’t left us yet and are embarking on a two part farewell tour of the UK beginning in November. Tickets are already sold out for many of the concerts including the last three which will be in Norwich, Nottingham, and finally at Oxford Town Hall on May Day 2016.

Running a folk band with 11 members as a viable concern is a major operation and that they managed to do it so well and for so long is a remarkable achievement. All the musicians have other solo and side projects so will no doubt be moving onwards and upwards in different directions. In the meantime be grateful for this and thanks to the band for putting English traditional songs and music to the forefront in such an exhilarating way.

Pandemonium: The Essential Bellowhead is out tomorrow (16th October) on Navigator Records.







An interview with Guy Sigsworth

Posted October 13, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Interviews

UK musician, composer and producer Guy Sigsworth’s long list of credits includes production and songwriting collaborations with, among others, Madonna, Britney Spears, Alanis Morissette, Alison Moyet and Imogen Heap. He also made significant musical and co-writing contributions to Bjork’s albums Homogenic and Vespertine as well as touring with her as keyboard player and musical director. This month he has been visiting Okinawa for the first time along with Norwegian singer-songwriter Kate Havnevik and the pair played a successful concert at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre at the end of their Asian tour.

Guy Sigsworth in Okinawa

Guy Sigsworth in Okinawa

Much less known is that classically trained musician Guy Sigsworth has also had an interest in Okinawan music for many years and was keen to visit Okinawa this time in order to meet and record singer and sanshin player Mika Uchizato for a new music project he is working on. I was lucky enough to be able to put the two of them together and to spend time in the studio with them as Mika flew to Okinawa from her home on Minami Daito Island last week to record some vocals for Guy’s compositions.

I also took the opportunity to record a short interview with Guy and his answers to some of my questions are below:

(JP): How did you become interested in Okinawa and its music?

(GS): I remember buying the album Beauty by Ryuichi Sakamoto. It was at the time when I started going out with my wife and it was the one album we could both agree to listen to because of our different musical tastes and so we listened to it a lot. And I just fell in love with that singing and I wanted to know more about it. Curiously, I wound up in Japan playing keyboards for Japanese singer Nokko and in the band was Talvin Singh. He was also, funnily enough, a huge fan of that Sakamoto album. Later, when we got back to London and he was making his own album he actually worked with Nenes on a track.

So I’d been aware of the flavour of Okinawan music from that experience and periodically I’ve gone back and tried to listen to more of it. It’s not the easiest music to find in the UK. There tend to be a lot of compilations and you have to import full albums, but I think it’s the singing and the sound of the voice that’s just really special.

You came here to play a concert with Kate Havnevik and spend some time in Okinawa but there’s another reason for the inclusion of Okinawa at the end of your tour isn’t there?

It’s a kind of busman’s holiday. I think I wanted to record an Okinawan singer and with your help I’ve tracked down Mika Uchizato. I’ve written some pieces which I think are very influenced melodically by Okinawan music and I just wanted to hear an Okinawan artist play with those melodies and take ownership of them and so far it’s looking great. Mika really delivered on two of the tunes I had prepared.

So now I’ve got to go home and turn them into finished pieces of music. It’s a real treat and I would love to do more with those voices. Yesterday you introduced me to some of the fantastic male singing which I wasn’t so aware of. I think on the CDs I’ve heard before all the male singing tended to be in the style of what sounds to me more like party tunes and so it was hearing those longer melodies yesterday that I loved.

Mika Uchizato

Mika Uchizato

Why did you choose to work with Mika Uchizato?

I went through your book The Power of Okinawa and then I was listening to various different artists I discovered there and she stood out with her very strong vocal personality. I like that sort of raspy quality in her voice. I was so used to Nenes which is unison singing, which I love, but I thought that the idea of working with a single artist rather than a kind of track sound of three or four singers was really appealing to me.

Is the aim ultimately for you to make your own solo album?

Yes, I think so. It’s a kind of journey of discovery. I try and find out as I go along. I don’t always have a clear picture, although sometimes I do. There are times when I know exactly what the album art is going to look like right at the start but this time it’s more of an adventure and I was trying to think how to situate the music in a context which isn’t just ethnic vocal over breakbeat music as I think that’s been done a lot already. So I was kind of wary about doing anything that sounded like that. That’s why so far I haven’t put any drums on anything. It’s not that I won’t but I want it to feel more joined at the hip with actual Okinawan music and then if a beat comes along it comes along.

Do you think it’s fundamentally the same working with Mika as it was working in the studio with Bjork or Britney Spears or any of the many other singers you’ve recorded with?

Well, it was so different. I actually put Mika in quite a tricky situation. I’d come with very clear ideas of my own and she had to adapt to them which probably wouldn’t have been the case working with Bjork or someone. But she rose to the challenge marvellously. That’s something which is intriguing because she was under a lot of pressure whereas I suppose in my first outing with those other artists I had to take on the pressure myself in order to keep the pressure off them. I have to say that Mika responded to the music very well and was amazingly adept at finding lyrics and vocal phrasings. She did it all so quickly.

Guy Sigsworth (right) with Kate Havnevik (centre) and members of MKR Project

Guy Sigsworth (right) with Kate Havnevik (centre) and members of MKR Project

On your tour with Kate Havnevik you went to China and Taiwan and then to Okinawa. How was it?

I really enjoyed Taiwan a lot and then coming here to Okinawa was great. It was actually quite fun here in Okinawa because we had these support artists, MKR Project, and I was able to jam with them at least for one song and didn’t make too much of a mess of it. We literally just went on stage and I didn’t even realise the bass player wasn’t around when we were talking about doing the song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’. He was suddenly on stage and wondering what key we were in. But in a way you need those seat of the pants moments, don’t you?

And so you’d like to come to Okinawa again?

I’d definitely like to come back to Okinawa. I have the feeling that it’s a very musical island. It’s a very tricky thing to get right, this balance, because if you are too possessive of your musical culture then you almost close it off hermetically. But if everything goes then it just gets devolved and everybody is doing the same music that you could hear everywhere.

One weird effect of globalisation is that you can travel the world to arrive somewhere where they have exactly the same shops and the same brands and exactly the same pop music playing as the place you left. I sense in Okinawa that people are aware they’ve got something special here and they treasure it. It doesn’t mean that they’re not up for innovation and playing with it and taking it to new places but they also realise it’s unique to them.




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