Okinawa at the Edinburgh Festival

Posted July 4, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

Okinawan performing arts will return to Scotland this summer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Last year the ‘Ship of the Ryukyu’ collective of singers and dancers put on several shows of Bottle Mail from Okinawa which was written and produced by Megumi Tomita. This year the theatre company returns to the festival with a 45 minute performance of Okinawa Sansan directed by Haruo Misumi.

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In this year’s show “a dazzling mix of folk music, classical Ryukyu Court dances and traditional bingata patterned costumes will transport you to the tropical Okinawa Islands.” The music will include contemporary arrangements of sanshin and violin and promises to give a glimpse into daily life in the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom.

Performances of Okinawa Sansan will start at 15.05 every day from 7th to 29th August at Greenside Venue, Edinburgh. Further details and a video trailer are at the Ship of the Ryukyu website:

http://www.shipoftheryukyu.com/

 

Irei no hi 2015

Posted June 23, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Today, the 23rd June, is a public holiday in Okinawa and the day when the end of the Battle of Okinawa is commemorated as Irei no hi. It always seems to be a time of extreme heat and humidity and today was no exception. I attended the main Memorial Service which was held around lunchtime at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman. This year was a rather special ceremony as it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and even more people than usual gathered in the park.

In Okinawa Peace Memorial Park today for Irei no hi.

In Okinawa Peace Memorial Park today for the ceremony

As usual, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the ceremony and made a familiar speech full of platitudes while not really addressing the current situation in Okinawa at all. His speech, delivered in a monotone, was met with lukewarm applause and some heckling along the way. In contrast, Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga made an impassioned speech which included the following:

“To begin with, regarding Futenma Air Station whose land was forcibly expropriated from us against our will and which is said to be the most dangerous base in the world, the indefinite use of MCAS Futenma must not be endured. To the people of Okinawa, the notion that ‘Futenma will be relocated to Henoko to eliminate the danger posed by Futenma’, and that ‘if Okinawa does not like the Henoko plan, Okinawa should come up with an alternative plan’ is totally unacceptable.”

“We cannot establish a foundation of peace unless the central government impartially guarantees freedom, equality, human rights and democracy to the people.”

“I strongly urge the national government to break with its fixed ideas, decide to stop the work to relocate Futenma to Henoko, and review once again its policies to reduce the base hosting burden shouldered by Okinawa.”

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Not surprisingly, Onaga’s speech was halted several times by spontaneous applause and finally received an ovation. His sentiments were endorsed by Masaharu Kina, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:

“During the Battle of Okinawa, both the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the people of Okinawa were too powerless as they were left in the dark without being notified of what was happening. Reflecting on the lessons we learnt, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, this year once again, hereby makes a pledge to pass down to our offspring the real facts of the tragic Battle of Okinawa, together with the many participants here, to prevent the war from occurring again. We also pledge to return to the roots of democracy by asserting that it is the people of Okinawa who should decide matters for Okinawa, and we swear to stay faithful to the people of Okinawa as we do our utmost to work together to create a bright and peaceful future for Okinawa.”

 

 

Mika Sunakawa: Koi-uta

Posted June 22, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Mika Sunakawa is a Naha-based singer and sanshin player from Miyako Island. She made her debut album in 2006 when she was 22 and has since been involved in a number of different musical projects and collaborations. The newly released Koi-uta is her second solo album.

The album is almost equally balanced between traditional songs from Miyako and originals with two of them co-written by Sunakawa. Production is by Kaworu Miyagi who also helped out with some of the songwriting. The overall sound on most of the tracks is that of shimauta with sanshin backed by the standard guitar, keyboards, bass and drums line-up. On a few songs it comes close to the sort of thing Champloose, Ayame Band and others were so good at in the 1990s.

sunakawa mika

Maybe here lies the problem, because it quickly begins to sound just a bit too familiar and very much like the sort of thing heard whenever Okinawan musicians try to please Japanese tourists. Nothing wrong with that if you happen to like that kind of thing and it’s all sung and played perfectly well. But it’s only when Sunakawa tackles the old Miyako songs that the album finally lifts itself a little away from the run of the mill.

Two songs ‘Bangamuri’ and ‘Nariyama Ayagu’ (both traditional and from Miyako) are superior to anything else with arrangements that are sufficiently different while remaining simple and uncluttered. It’s a pity there aren’t more like this as both are very good. Instead, the mix of traditional and modern is a difficult balancing act and one that only a few such as Chihiro Kamiya have really managed to pull off successfully. Nevertheless, this is a decent album with a firm grounding in the islands of Miyako.

Koi-uta is released by Miikaji Music.

http://www.miikaji.com

 

 

Cinema & Awamori in Itoman

Posted June 20, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Karakara Movie

Last night there was a combined cinema and awamori tasting event in Itoman at the Do-mu cafe which is also an art gallery with displays of Okinawan pottery. This was an evening for the tasting of the high class White Tiger awamori which is sold only at Naha airport. An expert gave an interesting talk on the background and history of awamori while the rest of us sampled some of the results. Her talk was followed by a screening of the Claude Gagnon film Karakara which was introduced by the movie’s producer Takako Miyahira.

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A similar event will be held in Naha at Awamori Soko on the 28th June at 7 pm.

Here are some photos from last night:

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Rayna Gellert & The Brothers K

Posted June 17, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

It’s getting on for three years since North Carolina-based Rayna Gellert released Old Light: Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds, an extraordinary album of original and traditional songs which set the benchmark very high indeed. The album was a big step forward for American roots music and it almost created a new genre as Gellert seamlessly presented her own immensely thoughtful and original songs alongside traditional ballads.

Now she releases what she calls an EP, though it runs to a generous 34 minutes and comprises a mixture of eleven traditional and more recently composed songs and tunes. For this project she is joined by two of the musicians from the Old Light album, Kevin Kehrberg and Jeff Keith (aka The Brothers K) who add some bass, guitar, mandolin and vocals.

Cover of the EP by Rayna Gellert & The Brothers K

Cover of the EP by Rayna Gellert & The Brothers K

It isn’t until the fifth track ‘Goodbye Booze’ that we hear the plaintive tones of Gellert’s distinctive voice for the first time as she takes the lead vocal. It’s enough to make you swoon but there’s even better to come on two of the later tracks, the gospel song ‘Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There’ and the rather wonderfully sad ‘Long Time Traveling’. For the rest there are some fine tunes, some singing by the Brothers K and always Gellert’s sublime fiddle.

For a long time she has been immersed in old-time music, gospel songs and ballads. She is also a highly regarded fiddle player and teacher and has recently returned from a tour of the UK where she both performed and led fiddle workshops. She is modest about the new release and calls it a “wee little slice-of-life recording”. Well, it certainly should not be seen as the follow-up to her album. For that we will have to wait a bit longer. Old Light was in some ways a diversion for her and this new recording visits slightly more familiar territory.

Rayna Gellert

Rayna Gellert

On this recording she seems to be simply letting her hair down and making some great music along with a couple of friends. The lack of commercial pressure from record corporations or the need to maintain a high profile means instead that excellent singers and musicians such as Rayna Gellert (and others in related fields – The Sweet Lowdown and Anna & Elizabeth spring to mind) can just get on with making their music sincerely and honestly and we are all the better for that.

Rayna Gellert & The Brothers K is available as a CD only and can be bought at Gellert’s website:

www.raynagellert.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phantom Coast

Posted June 3, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Feedback on the book

The new July 2015 edition of the magazine Eye-Ai contains a six page feature on Okinawa entitled ‘The Phantom Coast’. The article focuses on the southern coast of the island and its author Stephen Mansfield includes a few paragraphs about his interview with me last year. Eye-Ai is a magazine introducing ‘Japanese Entertainment and Culture’ and is also available outside Japan in Hawaii and California.

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The part about the author’s visit to see me is reproduced below:

“While I was in the war-scarred south I wanted to drop in on Englishman John Potter, an unlikely resident of this area. John lives in the coastal village of Odo, his two-story home, shared with his wife Midori, located on well-appointed slightly elevated ground with views of the East China Sea. “The house didn’t cost much” John confided: “Not everyone wants to live here. There are many bones still lying just below the surface of the earth.” The spirits of the dead are restless it seems, phantoms still haunting this coastline.

A journalist specializing in the indigenous music of the islands, his book, ‘The Power of Okinawa: Roots music from the Ryukyus’, stands alone as both study and resource. A highly readable work, augmented with portraits and performance images, it provides both historical background and insights into contemporary developments in what is, without question, the most vibrant and diverse folk-based musical region in Japan. John keeps his ear to the ground, sounding out new trends, traveling through the islands, and supplementing the last edition of the book with regular updates on his website.

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Interestingly, his name appears on the credits of the 2012, Claude Gagnon film Karakara. Contacted by the director to advise on the Okinawan music content of the project, John was asked if he would be interested in taking on the role of a taxi driver. His performance might appear to audiences as the work of a seasoned pro, but this was his first acting stint. Perhaps it was the relaxing air of Okinawa, putting people at their ease, that helped him breeze through the audition.

One of the most pleasant places to relax in Okinawa is on residential balconies, which are often surprisingly deep and long. John’s balcony has become an extended living space, reading room and study, as well as an al fresco venue for meals. It was here that Midori served up an early, pre-sunset dinner, one enriched with local herbs and vegetables.

Okinawan interludes like this were moments when I could begin to sense an authentic state of lassitude, an almost unthinkable condition in mainland Japan. It was something to rejoice in.

I hope it isn’t too nitpicking to point out that the view at Odo is actually of the Pacific Ocean not the East China Sea. And the character I played in Karakara is not in fact a taxi driver, though much of my time on screen was spent driving a car!

 

 

London Okinawa Day 2015

Posted May 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The annual Okinawa Day will be held on Saturday 20th June this year. Admission is free and the event will take place from 10:00~18:00 at Spitalfields, London E1. The event attracted 8,000 people last year. The organising committee’s aim is to introduce Okinawan culture further in the UK and enrich the existing relationship between the UK and Okinawa which has been established through previous Okinawa Day events.

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The thriving London Okinawa Sanshinkai is also prominent in promoting the music side of things and will no doubt be showing off their skills again. This year it is hoped to include Ryukyu music and Eisa dance as well as performing arts workshops by individuals and groups from the UK and Okinawa. There will also be karate demonstrations and arts and crafts stalls from Okinawa plus food and drinks, including the inevitable awamori.

Further details are on the Okinawa Day 2015 website where there is also a video of some highlights from last year’s event:

http://www.okinawaday.org.uk

 

 

 


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