Nenez: Reborn

Posted October 5, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

It isn’t a spelling mistake. The quartet formerly known as Nenes are celebrating 25 years since their formation with a new album and are henceforth to be known as ‘Nenez’. This is all the idea of their new record company Tokyo’s King Records whose roster includes pop idols AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z. King has made no secret of its intention to promote Nenez with them in mainland Japan as the exciting new face of young Okinawa. The new Nenez includes Nagisa Uehara who has been with them for around a decade and is, in fact, the niece of original member Yasuko Yoshida, but there are two new members and the group now has an average age of just 23.

This is all a far cry from the early days of Nenes when I squeezed into a packed Banana Hall in Osaka to see an amazing performance by Sadao China’s protégées who had just made their debut album Ikawu. It’s history now that the four women went on to record six very high quality albums and gained further attention touring overseas to create a special niche for themselves in the story of modern Okinawan music. The loss of Misako Koja didn’t dim their spirits and they finally went out on a high in 2000 with the live album Okinawa.


Since then different combinations of a new Nenes have been put together by their mentor Sadao China who sees them carrying on the torch as a kind of China franchise and Reborn is the fifth album to be released in this ‘post-Nenes’ period. All that seems to have happened up to now is that the new line-ups have chipped away at the legacy of the original quartet by seemingly attempting to make each album a little worse than the one before. This culminated in the release of the frankly dreadful Okurimono five years ago.

So what’s happening now? King Records are trying to reinvent them for the Japanese market and on Reborn the new line-up sings twelve of the best-known songs from various periods of the band’s back catalogue. This makes it a kind of ‘best of’ or tribute album to the great Nenes of the past. Included here are such old favourites as ‘Akemodoro’, ‘America-dori’, ‘Bye Bye Okinawa’, ‘Tege’ and ‘Kogane no Hana’ as well as China’s Uchinaguchi version of ‘No Woman, No Cry’. The one traditional song is ‘Kunjan Sabakui’ and there’s another version of Sakishima Meeting’s ‘Sakishima no Tema’ which was also on their previous album.

These new recordings have identical arrangements to their predecessors and only now and then is there a very slight variation with the sanshin playing or a tiny bit more electric guitar. It may well be asked what is the point in recording these songs again when the original Nenes already laid down the defining versions? Or why is there such an obsession in Okinawa (and Japan) with signing to major record companies, with all the loss of creative freedom that this may entail? On second thoughts, no-one in Okinawa is likely to ask these questions at all as there is usually uncritical acceptance and most will happily go along with anything presented to them as long as it’s from Okinawa.

Nenez ( r.): Misuzu, Nagisa, Aoi, Rie

Nenez ( r.): Misuzu, Nagisa, Aoi, Rie.

To look at it in a more positive light, there may well be listeners who weren’t even born when Nenes first shook the Okinawan music world in 1990 and the undeniable youth and verve of these young women may act as a way into the music for some of them. Certainly, there is some fine singing from all four women and, if nothing else, listening to this album must be a great experience for anyone who has never heard any of these songs before as it wipes the floor with the four previous albums. These are generally top songs and performances and we are spared any of Sadao China’s more recent misguided attempts to write new songs to appeal to young people.

Nenez are now represented by Misuzu (vocal, sanshin), Nagisa (vocal, sanshin), Aoi (vocal, sanba) and Rie (vocal, taiko). The new line-up contains members from both Ishigaki and Minami Daito islands as well as Okinawa. For the recordings they are joined by Sadao China’s sanshin (China also produced) and by various combinations of sanshin, keyboards, bass and drums. Yukito Ara and Isamu Shimoji guest with sanshin and guitar on their composition ‘Sakishima no Tema’. A new Nenez album of original songs is promised for early next year. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Reborn is released by King Records.



Satoru Shimoji: Myahk-U

Posted October 1, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

The new album from Miyako singer Satoru Shimoji is his first since Myahk almost three years ago. It’s well-known that Shimoji spent 15 years in Tokyo as a rock musician before returning to Miyako where he rediscovered his roots and opened the first recording studio on the island. As well as promoting island music through his own recordings he has supported and recorded a large number of singers and musicians from his islands.

Shimoji’s previous album was a huge success artistically as it managed to blend his taste for sweeping piano and string arrangements with a very traditional atmosphere which remains intimately connected with the islands of Miyako. It was his most adventurous and satisfying release. Now we have Myahk-U (subtitled ~Utadama~) which follows a very similar path with its mix of old and new and with help enlisted from many of the same musicians.


The album’s twelve tracks are divided equally between original songs by Shimoji and traditional songs from Miyako. Two songs appear twice in different versions. Once again there are some big arrangements with guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesizer, piano, violin and trumpet all aboard, but there are also moments with just Shimoji’s voice and sanshin, and just unaccompanied voices too as on the opening ‘Uyaki-agu’. Throughout there’s an effective use of light and shade which never allows the sound to become too busy or overbearing.

While none of the originals are as immediately affecting as one or two on the previous album, new songs ‘Basukinayo’ and ‘Inochi no Hana’ are fine examples of Shimoji’s songwriting (the latter with hints of Kazufumi Miyazawa’s ‘Shimauta’). The best is reserved for two traditional songs ‘Sakida-gah’ and ‘Irabu Togani’ which are superbly arranged and sung. The album was recorded at Shimoji’s Lagoon studio in Miyako and also in Shizuoka, Tokyo, Osaka, and California. As before, the production, mixing and mastering is by Goh Hotoda.

While the Ryukyu Islands regularly produce fine young singers and musicians it’s the comparatively veteran Satoru Shimoji who has again come up with a really good set of recordings. The songs on Myahk-U are not played in such an experimental way as, for example, Makoto Kubota’s Blue Asia project (on which Shimoji also took part) but there is something here which is much more substantial. We’ve had a bewildering array of Okinawan hip-hop, jazz, reggae, salsa and more in recent times but what Shimoji is doing now is pushing the boundaries just enough, rather in the way that Shoukichi Kina did in the 1990s, to create exciting new music full of the heart of his islands.

Myahk-U ~Utadama~ is released by Lagoon Music Entertainment.




Battlefield Band & Guests: Beg & Borrow

Posted September 28, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

In England there’s Fairport Convention and in Ireland it’s The Chieftains. Meanwhile in Scotland it’s Battlefield Band whose longevity has made them an institution. In turn they have played an enormous part in keeping Scottish music and traditions alive while always moving forward and meeting new challenges. Now a trio comprising piper Mike Katz, fiddler Alasdair White, and guitarist and singer Sean O’Donnell, this latest release is a special project for which they have enlisted the help of twelve guests.


The idea behind the album is set out by producer Robin Morton in the sleeve notes: “Scotland and Ireland are separated by only twelve miles of water at their nearest point, so it’s not surprising that their cultures have begged and borrowed (and maybe even stolen) much from each other over the centuries. For this their thirtieth album Battlefield Band have invited twelve special guests (one for each of the twelve miles) to explore and play the music and songs shared by those two vibrant living traditions.”

The 18 tracks add up to 71 minutes of music evenly divided between Scotland and Ireland. We find songs sung in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic as well as in English and there are slow airs, jigs, reels, strathspeys and hornpipes. Needless to say, everything is sung and played impeccably and with great feeling as the musicians do justice to their stated aim. It’s impossible to pick the best tracks but to these ears one song featuring singer Christine Primrose is especially worthy of mention. This is ‘An Gille Mear’ (The Gallant Lad) an Irish song she has translated into Scots Gaelic.

There is a website for the project which contains audio clips of all the tracks as well as some artist interviews and detailed background information on the music and musicians:

Beg & Borrow is released by Temple Records. The CD is due for release in October but the album can be downloaded now through their website and the company is currently working on making their whole back catalogue downloadable direct from the site:




Kate Havnevik & Guy Sigsworth – Live in Okinawa

Posted September 26, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

There has been a change of date for the recently previewed visit to Okinawa of Norwegian-born singer Kate Havnevik and UK composer-producer-musician Guy Sigsworth. The date at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre scheduled for the 5th October will now be two days later on Wednesday 7th. The venue (Hall B) and other details are unchanged.

Kate Havnevik

Kate Havnevik

Tickets already purchased are still valid and those who want a refund can obtain one from the theatre up to 10th October. Sakurazaka Theatre apologises for the inconvenience. Doors open on the 7th at 18:30 and the concert starts at 19:00. Tickets are 2,500 yen in advance and 3,000 yen on the day.

Kaia Kater: Sorrow Bound

Posted September 22, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Sorrow Bound is the debut album from 21 year old Kaia Kater who sings and plays banjo. It’s an album of traditional Appalachian songs and tunes but there are also four original songs and one traditional Canadian song sung in French. Kater was born in Quebec of mixed Afro-Caribbean ancestry and is now based in Toronto where the album was recorded. She also spends a lot of time in West Virginia where she studies balladry and traditional dance.

One of the outstanding tracks is ‘Moonshiner’ sung unaccompanied with Kater’s voice joined by Melanie Brulee and Jadea Kelly. Kater’s original songs blend seamlessly into the album and two of them ‘When Sorrows Encompass Me Round’ and ‘Southern Girl’ set a very high standard as openers. The first of these was based on a line taken from an old-time song which inspired her to write entirely new lyrics around themes of slavery and longing.


It’s an encouraging sign for roots music in general that there are so many younger musicians who have been inspired to carry on the old traditions and culture while developing them in inventive new ways. Kater’s version of ‘Sun to Sun’ brings to mind the title track of Anna & Elizabeth’s debut album and her banjo playing follows a line which includes the late great Hedy West and more recently Abigail Washburn.

The album was produced by Chris Bartos who adds some baritone electric guitar, fiddle, bass, piano and moog to the vocals and banjo. Kater has been described as an ‘eclectic traditionalist’ and as one of the most promising young performers in the North American folk world. Natural sensitive vocals, poignant songs and superb banjo playing all add up to much more than just a promising debut.

Sorrow Bound is released by Kingswood Records.

Here is a link to Kaia Kater’s music video of ‘Southern Girl’.




Kate Havnevik & Guy Sigsworth in Okinawa

Posted September 14, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

Norwegian-born singer Kate Havnevik will be performing in Okinawa soon along with British producer, composer and musician Guy Sigsworth. The pair will tour China later this month and then play a concert in Taipei, Taiwan. The Okinawa date has been added at the end of the tour and will take place on Monday 5th October at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre Hall B under the title ‘Music from the World, Vol.3’. The show starts at 19:00 and is their only date in Japan.

kate havnevik

Kate Havnevik’s critically acclaimed debut album Melankton was released in 2006 and earlier this year she made the album &i. Her music has been featured in TV shows such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and she has recently been included in a list of the ‘Top 50 Women of Indie Music’. Accompanying her on the tour is Guy Sigsworth whose long list of credits includes work with Bjork, Madonna and Talvin Singh. He was also a member of the band Frou Frou together with Imogen Heap.

Opening guests will be the trio MKR Project whose singer and sanshin player Mutsumi Aragaki is equally at home with traditional Okinawan songs and with her own compositions which show influences from jazz and African music. It promises to be a varied and exciting evening.

Here’s a link to the official music video for Kate Havnevik’s song ‘Falling’:








Various Artists: Shuku! Respect 20-nen

Posted September 2, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

This compilation celebrates 20 years of music from the independent Tokyo record company Respect. In August 1995 Kenichi Takahashi left the safety of his job at Sony Music Entertainment in order to start his own label. He began business just two months later as Respect Records and his first release appeared a month after that. From then until now Takahashi has stuck firmly to his ideals and has promoted and produced artists he likes and believes are worthy of attention, sometimes regardless of the financial risks involved.

The new release picks 20 tracks from the Respect catalogue. As well as music from Japan and Okinawa the 79 minute album includes tracks from France, Italy, Hawaii and Sierra Leone. It’s a very mixed bag representing both established and lesser known artists as well as a few obscure and eccentric choices. There are such wide swings in mood and style that not everything will be equally appreciated. That isn’t really the point as the main purpose is to showcase some of the wide variety of music Respect has released.

Kenichi Takahashi on the cover of the new album

Kenichi Takahashi on the cover of the new album

The track listing very loosely groups the selections by musical genre and by geography so it begins in Okinawa before moving on to Japan, Europe, Hawaii and elsewhere and ending up back in Okinawa for the final selection. The sole African track is from the late exponent of palm wine music S.E. Rogie. There’s a live track from French singer Zaz, and nearer to home ‘Survivors’ Banquet’ by Osaka’s Soul Flower Union who moved along with Takahashi from Sony to Respect.

Always a supporter of Okinawa and its music, Takahashi has produced some important albums from these islands and the collection opens with ‘Sukikanna’ by Seijin Noborikawa & Sadao China, followed by ‘Jin Jin’ from the 1999 groundbreaking recording made on Taketomi Island by Takashi Hirayasu & Bob Brozman, and then ‘Soi Soi’ from Ryukyu Underground’s debut.

I first met Kenichi Takahashi in Osaka when he was still working for Sony. He arranged for me to interview members of the original Nenes who were touring mainland Japan at the time to promote their second album. It was just the beginning of a long relationship and since his brave venture with Respect he has continued to keep me up to date with his goings on and has regularly sent new releases on to Okinawa. In a world increasingly run by faceless corporations it’s people like him with the courage to go it alone who deserve our congratulations and our ‘respect’ too as his company enters its third decade.

Shuku! Respect 20 nen ~ Mina-sama no okage de ~ will be released by Respect Records on 7th October.



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