Olivia Chaney: Shelter

Posted July 12, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Sadness, poignancy, clarity, and elegance are just some of the words that spring to mind on listening to the new album Shelter from England’s Olivia Chaney. This is her second solo album and it follows 2015’s The Longest River. Chaney has been busy touring and recording ever since signing with American label Nonesuch and her releases have included a foray into folk-rock last year with The Decemberists under the banner Offa Rex. That and her previous solo album were both reviewed here.

Shelter shines with the clarity of Chaney’s lovely voice but she is also a multi-instrumentalist and the ten songs that make up the album are notable also for her accompaniments on guitar, piano, harmonium, electric dobro and pump organ. There is nothing cluttered or unnecessary and the only other significant musical contribution is from Jordan Hunt on violin. The album was produced by Thomas Bartlett and recorded in New York.

The sound is nothing like her folk-rock collaboration and there are no folk songs this time. Instead eight of the compositions are Chaney’s own. The others are Henry Purcell’s ‘O Solitude’ and the Tex Ritter country song ‘Long Time Gone’ also popularised by the Everly Brothers. The former shows off Chaney’s classical training and the latter her eclectic taste. However, they are sideshows compared to the more important bulk of the album which is built around her excellent original songs.

The album opens very strongly with the songs ‘Shelter’ and ‘Dragonfly’ – Chaney playing guitar on the first and piano on the second. ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ cleverly weaves the refrain from the traditional Irish song ‘Molly Malone’ into its coda. Perhaps best of all is ‘Roman Holiday’ with its insistently catchy piano and its lyrical beginning: “Love is on this balcony / Naked, where I rest my feet / We roam Roman ruins / Swifts, swallows, swoop and screech.”

Her poetic lyrics are carefully constructed and could stand alone but are at the same time always economical and precise. We aren’t going to rock the house and annoy the neighbours with this thoughtful album but that is clearly not the intention. The overriding feeling conveyed – to return to the beginning – is one of poignancy but there are other subtle underlying moods too. With Shelter she has created her most satisfying work to date.

Shelter is released by Nonesuch Records.

www.oliviachaney.com

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A Weekend in Itoman

Posted June 24, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It has been a busy weekend in Itoman. Yesterday (23rd) was Irei no hi – a public holiday in Okinawa to mark the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. As usual it was commemorated at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman with a ceremony attended by several thousand people.

Among those in attendance was Prime Minister Abe who made the usual insincere speech full of platitudes about how much Japan cares about Okinawa. It received a certain amount of heckling from some members of the audience who suggested that Abe should go home. Sadly, nothing changes and after all these years Okinawa is still overburdened with American military bases fully supported by Abe’s government against the wishes of the Okinawan people.

On a brighter note, today was the annual Itoman Hare (or dragon boat races) when thousands flock to Itoman’s fishing port for the all day event. The races were introduced from China at the end of the 14th century and the festivities continue to this day. It was another hot day with the sun blazing down and a temperature of 31 degrees. Below are some photos taken during the races this afternoon.

 

London Okinawa Day 2018

Posted June 5, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

The 10th anniversary of London Okinawa Day will be celebrated later this month. This annual event has grown each year and its purpose is to introduce and spread the culture of Okinawa in the UK. The performing arts have always been central to the culture of the Ryukyu Islands and the audience will be entertained by modern and classical music and dances from around the islands.

For this important 10th year anniversary some special guest artists have been invited to perform. Well-known singer and sanshin player Horiuchi Kanako will be coming from Okinawa and there will also be songs from Miyako Island singer Yogi Masaki and Amami Island singer Tamukai Miharu.

Other events will include Eisa drumming and dancing and performances of karate by several groups from the UK. A variety of stalls around the stage will provide more information as well as Okinawan food and awamori. You can even buy a sanshin!

Okinawa Day is an all day extravaganza that takes place at Spitalfields, Brushfield Street, London E1 from 10:00 to 18:00 on Saturday 23rd June.

https://www.sites.google.com/site/londonsanshin/okinawa-day

Maltese Rock: Otobune

Posted June 1, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Otobune means ‘Ship of Sounds’ and is an accurate reference to the musical voyage that Okinawa based Maltese Rock have been on since their formation in 1997. The band – led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Morito – describe what they play as punk, blues, Okinawan folk song and gypsy music (and a few other styles too) and they have created a bit of a cult following not least in the Sakaemachi market of Naha where Morito runs his own bar.

Their previous album three years ago led to an appearance in 2016 at a Womex showcase in Galicia, Spain and also to live shows in Poland and Taiwan. The new album is shorter (at 37 minutes) and is more straightforward and more tightly arranged than its predecessor. This generally works to its advantage as in the past the dominating presence of Morito has revelled a bit too much in showing off all the wildness.

This is not to say that Morito takes a back seat. The distinctive sound of the album is still that of his gravelly voice and six of the eight songs are his compositions. The exceptions are the first and last tracks.

Rinsho Kadekaru’s poignant ‘Jidai no Nagare’is transformed into the band’s own style for a fine opener. Closing the album is a new take on the familiar ‘What a Wonderful World’. It has been noted here before that Okinawans (and Japanese) have a disturbing habit of choosing the most hackneyed and obvious Western songs. (‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘’Danny Boy’ anyone?).  But Morito’s new Japanese lyrics and his inimitable vocal just about get away with this one.

Of the original songs two of the more conventional (if one can ever say that about Maltese Rock) are the most successful, and ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Melancholic Reimy’ are both very good additions to their canon. The five band members are joined by Yoko Tada who makes an important contribution on several tracks with saxophone, clarinet and flute. Yukito Ara also joins them to play sanshin on three songs.

Overall this is a very good release and while it doesn’t move in any significant new direction it will please fans of the band and will serve to further enhance their already high reputation.

Otobune is released today (1st June) on the Music from Okinawa label. Maltese Rock will play a joint concert with the band Hanggai from Mongolia at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A) Naha on 5th June at 19:00.

www.musicfromokinawa.com

Ajiru Music Festival

Posted May 27, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The Ajiru Music Festival is organised by the band Kachimba and was held iyesterday in hot and humid conditions at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan. This was also the last live appearance in Okinawa by Mikel Urdangarin who returns to the Basque Country next week after a successful five week visit to these islands. At yesterday’s festival he played a solo set on the small shrine stage.

Here are just a few photos of some of the many other musicians who played at the festival.

Miyako Island singer Hirara

ghen – multicultural Okinawa-based trio

Unaigumi featuring the great Okinawan singer Misako Koja

 

Basque Night in Naha

Posted May 25, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music, Live in Okinawa

Mikel Urdangarin’s concert on Wednesday (23rd) in Naha played to a full house at Sakurazaka Theatre and was the best so far of all his live shows in Okinawa as the first Basque Ryukyu Project nears its conclusion.

Last week’s successful Basque Night in Ginoza featured a live performance plus a talk on culture and identity with a backdrop of Basque-style food and wine. By contrast the Naha concert focused strongly on the songs and music with Mikel Urdangarin playing a solo set of his own compositions first accompanied by guitar.

He then handed over the stage to his guest Mutsumi Aragaki whose remarkable voice and sanshin blended in an experimental piece embracing loops and effects. She began her contribution by singing the words of thanks in both Basque and Uchinaguchi – “Eskerrik asko” and “Nifee debiru” – surely the first time the two languages have been fused in this way.

Mikel returned to combine with Mutsumi and with Makoto Miyata on percussion to form a trio for the final third of the concert. In this part things were taken up to an even higher level with some superb singing, playing and arrangements of Mikel’s original songs and some songs from the Ryukyu Islands.

The audience were clearly won over not just by Mikel Urdangarin’s heartfelt and passionate but controlled singing but crucially by his willingness to engage with Okinawan music, people and culture and to share his own thoughts, feelings and stories from the Basque Country. Not surprisingly he was called back for an encore which turned out to be his first ever live performance of the familiar Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’.

Mikel during rehearsal time before the concert

Mikel and Mutsumi after the concert

Before returning to the Spanish Basque Country next week Mikel Urdangarin will join the Ajiru Music Festival on Saturday (26th) at Futenma Shrine, Ginowan. The festival opens at 14:00 and Mikel is due to appear at 17:20. Among many other guests are Unaigumi (with three original members of Nenes), Miyako Island singer Hirara, Suming from Taiwan, and festival organisers Kachimba who will perform first as Kachimba4 and then with an expanded line-up as Kachimba Mundo.

Basque Night in Ginoza

Posted May 21, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music, Live in Okinawa

Mikel Urdangarin’s visit to Okinawa as part of the Basque Ryukyu Project continued last Saturday evening with a Basque Night at Ginoza Farm Lab, a newly opened cafe and live music venue. The event was sold out and was a great success with Mikel giving a concert after a half hour talk session on culture and identity together with Daniel Lopez.

The evening also included much food and drink with Basque-style pintxos and wine available. In the concert that followed the talk Mikel performed solo at first and was then joined by Mutsumi Aragaki (sanshin, vocals) and Makoto Miyata (percussion). The trio concluded a very enjoyable and enlightening evening with a performance of the Yaeyama song ‘Tsuki nu kaisha’ with a newly written verse in the Basque language.

Yesterday Mikel gave another live show at Coconut Moon in Onna where he was joined by Mutsumi Aragaki. This Wednesday (23rd) is the final Basque Night concert at Sakurazaka Theatre where Mikel Urdangarin will play solo and again as a trio with Aragaki and Miyata.

These photos from Saturday at Ginoza Farm Lab were taken by Garaman Hall photographer Yuta Nakama.