Music from Okinawa at WOMEX

Posted October 17, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The annual WOMEX (World Music Expo) 2016 is held from 19~23 October and it returns this year to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where it was also based two years ago. Once again there will be a stand for music from Okinawa and there is a live showcase by Naha band Maltese Rock on Saturday the 22nd.


This year two sampler CDs have been produced to be given away at the event. One of them Music from Okinawa is a compilation of contemporary music from the Ryukyu Islands and its 15 tracks present a wide variety of genres and songs including Maltese Rock, MKR Project, Churashima Navigator and Sakishima Meeting. The booklet notes are in English and Spanish.


The other CD contains Okinawa Shimauta and has 14 recordings by Hajime Nakasone, Toru Yonaha, Yoshimasa Touyama and others including one of the very best performances I’ve heard of ‘Ashimiji-bushi’ by young singer and sanshin player Narise Arakaki. The booklet also has an introductory foreword in English by Kazufumi Miyazawa who was the project supervisor for the CD.

Congratulations Bob!

Posted October 14, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

When Bob Dylan makes the front page of the Okinawa Times newspaper you know the times they really are a-changing. That’s what happened this morning with his unusually smiling face adorning the front page and with another lengthier feature on an inside page on the occasion of his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There isn’t really any point in trying to summarize his career – even if it could be done succinctly here. But to let this news go unremarked would be wrong so here’s a little something just to congratulate Bob on his great achievement. Without him roots music would not have achieved the attention it has now but, of course, his songs and music go way beyond that and have crossed all sorts of boundaries over the 54 years since the release of his debut album.


I first listened to Dylan back in 1965 when I was pointed in the direction of his Bringing It All Back Home album (probably by my friend Derek in Norwich) so I was already a bit late to the party as he had begun astonishing and outraging people in equal measure by his experiments with rock and electric guitars at that time. So I rapidly went back and listened to everything from the start and then to everything from there onwards.

Blonde on Blonde and its surreal images was a revelation to me and remains perhaps the greatest album of all. It also seemed to be the soundtrack to every party I went to for ages after its release. In the mid 70s there was another creative peak with the superb Blood on the Tracks. I’ve also seen him on stage at least ten times both in England and Japan, perhaps most memorably at the Blackbushe Aerodrome festival in 1978 when he played for nearly three hours to a crowd of more than 200,000.

By the 21st century he had reinvented himself yet again, this time soaked in roots references with Love and Theft and Modern Times. There was also the surprise publication of an excellent memoir Chronicles (Volume One) which finally managed to erase the memory of the impenetrable novel Tarantula.

If the Nobel Prize for Literature had been given to a pop singer even 30 years ago it would very likely have provoked anger and gasps of disbelief or worse. No doubt there will be some today who still won’t like it. That the Nobel Prize has gone to Bob Dylan should on the contrary be a cause for celebration and not only from his fans. Of course, Dylan himself is known for wayward and eccentric behaviour so there’s no guarantee he will accept it…

Kate Rusby: Life In A Paper Boat

Posted October 13, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

It’s hard to believe that Life In A Paper Boat is already the 14th album from Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby who has become almost a one woman English folk-roots institution. Her enduring popularity has also brought its fair share of criticism over the years from those who see her music as safe and unchanging. This new album ought to convince the doubters as it is quite simply one of the very best of her long career.

The album is fairly evenly balanced between traditional songs and originals. While her voice is as angelic as ever and the songs are treated to many of the warm appealing arrangements familiar from previous outings, there is an added edge too and an expanded sound palate that allows at various times electric guitars, moog, keyboards, percussion, drum programming and a string section. There is also brass on the playful bonus track ‘Big Brave Bill’ – about a superhero from Barnsley. It all makes for a much bigger sound than before and it works very well.


Although she became well known for her treatment of traditional material it is the new songs here that lift the album way above the average. The title song ‘Life in a Paper Boat’ was inspired by a television news story about refugees and is an empathetic glimpse into the life of a mother and baby and their perilous journey. By contrast, the equally superb ‘Hunter Moon’ tells the fanciful tale of the unrequited love of the moon for the sun.

Most remarkable – not least because she strays so far from her comfort zone – is ‘I’ll Be Wise’ a contemporary song lifted along by Damien O’Kane’s electric tenor guitar and then turned into an almost Oasis-like anthem by drumming and strings. The album is produced by Damien O’Kane who manages to bring out the best in these songs and performances.

Way back in 1995 Kate Rusby won the fRoots Critics’ Poll Best Album award for her joint recording with Kathryn Roberts and two years later was runner-up for her solo debut Hourglass. Critics no longer marvel at the rise of Rusby and her albums can get overlooked in the search for the next big thing. But Life In A Paper Boat is a superior album to either of those award winning releases. It offers a new dimension for anyone prepared to listen with open ears.

Life In A Paper Boat is released this week by Pure Records.

This video of the title track includes an introduction by Kate Rusby:



Satoru Shimoji in Naha

Posted October 6, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Miyako Island singer Satoru Shimoji performs live on Saturday 22nd October at Guuwa in Naha. This is a rare and highly recommended chance to see Shimoji on the main island of Okinawa. He has become one of the very best representatives of music from Miyako after a career which included a 15 year spell in Tokyo. He subsequently returned to the roots of his native island where he produces other musicians and runs his own recording studio.

shimojisatoruHis two most recent albums Myahk (2012) and Myahk-U (2015) reached new heights and find him at the peak of his career. Both albums were reviewed on this blog. Shimoji will play with a small band of musicians on violin, piano, and percussion, as well as daughter Minami Shimoji on sanshin and vocals. It all begins at 19:00 and entry (including one drink) is 2,5oo yen.

Kenji Yano: Sanshin Island Cafe

Posted September 27, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Kenji Yano from Osaka is an experienced musician, producer and arranger of Okinawan music whose many previous projects have included Surf Champlers and Sarabandge. He also has a hand in songs for commercials and so it’s likely that many in Okinawa will be familiar with something he’s done even if they aren’t always aware of it. Here he turns his attention to an album of instrumental versions of some of the best loved and most popular songs from around the Ryukyu Islands.


Alongside the traditional songs ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Juku nu Haru’ are some well-known modern songs that can already lay claim to be classics such as ‘Bashofu’ (Tsuneo Fukuhara), ‘Shimauta’ (Kazufumi Miyazawa), ‘Chisana Koi no Uta’ (Mongol 800), ‘Umi no Koe’ (Masaru Shimabukuro), and Shoukichi Kina’s ‘Haisai Ojisan’ and ‘Hana’.

It all might seem a bit too close to the ubiquitous ‘healing island’ music collections which are released so regularly for tourists coming to Okinawa but Yano adds an extra touch of quality to everything he does and this is no exception. The sanshin and acoustic guitar arrangements successfully create a relaxed taste of Hawaii as well as Okinawa on many of the songs.

Sanshin Island Cafe will be released by Nippon Columbia on 12th October. The album was produced by Naha’s Takara Records.

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.


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.

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.


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’.