BKO Quintet: Bamako Today

Posted August 20, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

BKO Quintet’s debut album Bamako Today was recorded in France some time ago and was finally released at the end of last year. It’s a remarkable album which is heavily rooted in traditional music but also contains a very strong contemporary urban feel. The band comprises four musicians from Mali plus one from France.

The French musician Aymeric Krol, who plays an unusual hybrid drum set, helped to put the band together when he went to the West African country to learn about percussion and met up with master djembe player Ibrahima Sarr. The band they created has two lead vocalists, Fassara Sacko and Nfaly Diakite, and their different singing styles complement each other very well. Diakite also plays the cumbersome-looking donsongoni which looks something like a kora but is a traditional instrument used in animist ceremonies.


The band’s other member Abdoulaye Kone plays djelingoni the small ‘guitar of the griots’ which is never usually played together with the donsongoni. It’s an incredibly versatile instrument, especially in Kone’s hands. The music that BKO Quintet makes on the album is pulsating for the most part but also has moments where it’s more subdued. What makes it even better is the inclusion of a DVD along with the CD which contains a 52 minute documentary film directed by Cris Ubermann.

BKO Quintet performed live last night at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre as part of the Sukiyaki Okinawa 2015 festival of world music. Their live show reinforced what a superb band they are and their energy and enjoyment was infectious as they urged members of the audience to get up and dance. Probably no-one in the audience understood a word of any of their songs but music transcends all borders. The band was later joined on stage by the duo Sakishima Meeting and another first was surely the improvised jam session in which Yukito Ara’s sanshin and Abdoulaye Kone’s djelingoni joined forces to duet.

Bamako Today is released by Buda Musique.






Sukiyaki Okinawa 2015

Posted August 7, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

The World Music Festival known as Sukiyaki Okinawa begins tomorrow (8th) in Naha with some screenings of roots music documentary films at the Sakurazaka Theatre. The festival continues until the 20th with some live music events at the same venue. There are concerts by Okinawan musicians as well as guests from Mexico, Korea and Mali.


Sukiyaki Okinawa is a small festival but plays a key role in introducing and sharing roots music from Okinawa and the world. The most interesting of all the events on offer is the concert ~Neo Roots Music~ which takes place at Sakurazaka Theatre Hall A on Wednesday 19th August. This features the highly rated BKO Quintet from Mali who recently released their debut album Bamako Today.

Also at the ~Neo Roots Music~ concert will be Yaeyama and Miyako islands duo Sakishima Meeting (Yukito Ara & Isamu Shimoji) who performed at last year’s WOMEX in Spain, and Okinawa’s Maltese Rock an unusual band who were leaders in revitalising the Sakaimachi market area of Naha.

Here is a video of BKO Quintet:



Yasukatsu Oshima: Kuitsui

Posted July 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

This is Yasukatsu Oshima’s first album for three years. Any new recording by him is usually a cause for celebration and this is no exception. The previous album Shimawataru~Across the Islands contained all original songs but on Kuitsui he has returned to the old songs – and specifically to the Yaeyama Islands – with a set of eleven traditional pieces plus one new song ‘Yunamuri’. He is helped out by just two guests, the popular Kanako Hatoma who adds vocals to four songs and plays sanshin on some others, and the percussionist Satoshi “Sunday” Nakasone who plays island drums on half of the tracks.

Oshima writes in his notes: “While Yaeyama Islands are only tiny islands scattered over the sea, their natural environment and regional characteristics are so diverse and rich, giving birth to a wide variety of beautiful songs. These songs were created, sophisticated, perfected and passed down over generations by ordinary people who suffered through a history of hardship.” He believes that folk songs keep changing and they never fit into a rigid frame. He also recalls how men of his grandfather’s generation “used to enjoy songs so playfully and freely without being bound by formalities.”


His version of what is probably the most familiar of these songs, ‘Tubarama’, is sung in the Shiraho style of his own village on Ishigaki island. Most of the songs are slower paced. All of them are sung and played immaculately but always in Oshima’s own way as he carries on the tradition without too much respect for rigidity or formality. The album of his that it most resembles is the 2000 release Bagashima nu Uta~Songs of My Islands which was another collection of Yaeyama traditional songs. In fact, three titles (‘Tubarama’, ‘Sakiyama Bushi’ and ‘Tsuki nu Mapiroma’) appear on both albums.

Despite the sparse presentation with just sanshin and island drums, the new recordings resonate in a deeper and more satisfying way than before. The new album may not be as immediately accessible as some of his others but it has a great strength of its own as Oshima invites us to listen to these stories and vignettes of life as it was lived on his islands. The fact that he has for some years lived in mainland Japan is perhaps even an advantage as he is now able to look more objectively at his own musical heritage.

Kuitsui is out now on Victor. As usual, the CD booklet contains both Japanese and English explanations of all the songs and their lyrics.




Ryuchim Band: Gekkabijinsa!

Posted July 22, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

This is the 5th album from Okinawa’s Ryuchim Band (also known as Ryukyu Chimdon Gakudan). For this recording the five members are joined by ten supporting musicians. It’s a big sound with the core sanshin, saxophone, guitar, bass and drums supplemented by brass and other instruments. They call themselves a ‘super entertainment group’ as they also perform comedy on stage and dress in colourful outfits emphasising their champloo mix of musical styles. These draw liberally on pop and traditional music from Asia and the album’s final track is sung in Chinese.

Gekkabijinsa! contains just seven tracks, all but one composed by guitarist Bobzy. The one female member, Belsachi, takes on most vocal duties and also plays sanshin. She was originally one half of the duo Tink Tink who were protégées of Rinken Teruya. In fact, there are some similarities here with Rinken Band’s approach though the most obvious likenesses are with Japan’s Shang Shang Typhoon and Shisars and the music they made in the 1990s.


Ryuchim Band will sound excitingly exotic to Western audiences and a track from their previous album was included on the Music from Okinawa CD presented at last year’s WOMEX in Spain. However, they are following a fairly well trodden path laid down by those earlier bands though in fairness they do make a very acceptable job of it as they carry forward the tradition. Everything on this short album is also played with great verve and enthusiasm. Probably they are even better live as their colourful show is best equipped to be seen as well as heard.

The one blot on an otherwise engaging album is ‘Ryukyu We Shall Overcome’ in which the traditional ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ segues into the protest anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’. Most commonly associated with the Civil Rights Movement and singers such as Pete Seeger, the song is said to be derived from gospel and this is the only justification for Ryuchim Band singing it in such a happy, breezy and theatrical way. Whatever the reason, the attempt to blend it with ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ is puzzling and the overall results are ghastly.

Gekkabinjinsa! is out now on AJS Records. An animated promotional video of the title track is on the band’s website.





Kanako Horiuchi: Hana Umui

Posted July 20, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Kanako Horiuchi is a well-travelled woman. The singer and sanshin player is originally from Hakodate, Hokkaido but moved to Okinawa several years ago to become a student of Misako Oshiro. (The story of their meeting and the album they made together is on the Features page of the Power of Okinawa website). In 2007 Horiuchi herself received a Ryukyu Music Academy Teacher Licence. She has subsequently travelled the world with her sanshin to sing traditional Okinawan songs in South America, Africa and Europe.

Hana Umui is the result of her travels in Africa and specifically to Senegal where she first listened to the sounds of the harp-like traditional kora instrument in 2009. Eventually, in February this year, she decided to return to the West African country to make more music with Senegalese kora player Falaye Sakho. Their meeting was also recorded live and has now been released as an album by Horiuchi.


This album has the feel of an old-style field recording with all the accompanying background sounds and noises left in. We hear the sea, the birds chirping and local people talking as atmospheric accompaniment to the songs. It’s a long way from a sophisticated studio recording and at first listen it might sound a bit too rough but what it sacrifices in sound quality is made up for by the immediacy and feeling of being in the moment.

The selections are mainly Okinawan and they include familiar compositions such as ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, ‘Umi nu Chinbora’ and ‘Kaisare’ but there are also songs from Senegal sung by Falaye Sakho. Horiuchi has noticed the similarity between some of the melodies produced by the two cultures and so her title track ‘Hana Umui’ is blended with the traditional Senegalese ‘Yaboyae’ and the two singers alternate vocals.

The track ‘Galgankilaki/Tanchame’ does a similar job of combining Senegal and Okinawa in song. And the recording simply entitled ‘Senegal (Live Mix)’ is a kind of jam in front of an enthusiastic audience who are eager to join in with the hayashi vocal taught to them by Horiuchi. Throughout the album her sanshin and sanba are joined by kora and also by balafon and djembe. It’s a fascinating journey of musical discovery for all involved and the album is a souvenir of that experience.

Hana Umui is released on 23rd July by Big Mouth Records.







Posted July 17, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

Elustondo is both the name of this trikitixa duo and the title of their new album. Trikitixa (diatonic accordion) and panderoa (tambourine) duos have a proud history in Basque roots music and the genre continues to be widespread. In fact, it is fair to say that it’s the most deeply rooted popular music in the Basque Country. This album carries on the tradition through Elustondo one of a large number of younger talents who emerged to perpetuate the style and offer encouragement for others to follow.

Agurtzane Elustondo began playing trikitixa when she was eight years old and studied with the great living master Laja. She presents a unique way of playing the instrument with precise rhythms but also a personal expressive touch. She is accompanied by her brother Ion on panderoa. Despite the duo’s strength and sureness this is their debut album. Many of the choices of composition are inspired by various pieces by the well-known trikitixa player Martin Aginalde while some of the music is traditional.


Both songs and tunes are represented and Ion Elustondo adds vocals as well as irrintziak: the loud joyous yelling which plays a similar role to hayashi in Okinawan songs. They are also joined by several friends and collaborators with bass, drums, guitar, mandolin and vocals here and there. Not least among the list of collaborators is the famed trikitixa player Kepa Junkera who has himself done more than most to popularise the music with recordings and appearances at world music festivals.

The small accordion is not to everyone’s taste and listening to 45 minutes of it in one go might seem a bit daunting. Elustondo do their very best to make sure the ride is a joyous one and their enthusiasm, not to mention their sheer musicianship, is so infectious that it’s more likely to make the listener want to dance.

Elustondo is released by Elkar.


Here is a link to a video of Elustondo performing ‘Non gara?’ the opening track from the album:


Seminar on Okinawa and Scotland

Posted July 14, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

A Public Seminar will be held next week in London which may interest those in the UK with connections to Okinawa. The seminar is on ‘Central and Local Governance in Japan and the UK: Lessons from Okinawa and Scotland.’

“The coral reefs, white sand beaches and sub-tropical rainforests of Okinawa, a chain of islands stretching over 600 miles of ocean between Southwest Japan and Taiwan, seem a distant world from the misty mountains and lochs of Scotland, but recent political developments in Scotland have brought to light some surprising parallels.”

okinawa and scotland

“Like Scotland, Okinawa is a smaller, once independent, area incorporated within a far larger entity, which possesses its own distinct history, culture and  political outlook. Debate on the balance between central and local governance has recently taken prominence in political discussion in Okinawa, and last September, intrigued by recent events in Scotland, several Okinawan journalists and researchers, including the founding member of a small but growing Okinawa independence movement, flew to Edinburgh to observe the independence referendum.”

In this seminar Professor Takayoshi Egami of Waseda University will discuss the historical and political background of Okinawa. The talk will be followed by discussion and a drinks reception.

When: Wed 22nd July 2015, 6.30 pm
Where: The Swedenborg Society, London, WC1A 2TH
For more information: http://www.jpf.org.uk/whatson.php#776


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