Awamori event in Itoman

Posted April 11, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

An awamori event is being held today and tomorrow in Itoman to mark the change of name by Masahiro Shuzo Kabushiki Kaisha. The event at the company’s distillery includes shuttle buses to the site, guided tours of the awamori making process, and of course, free samples of awamori as well as free bottles for those attending early. The activities begin at 11 a.m. and go on until 6 p.m. Today’s entertainment concluded with a live show by singer and sanshin player Chiaki of the popular Okinawan duo Shakari.

Some photos from today:

The distillery's shop

The distillery’s shop

Bottles of Masahiro awamori

Bottles of Masahiro awamori

Shakari's Chiaki

Shakari’s Chiaki

Chiaki sings the song for the Masahiro commercial - with the workers

Chiaki (with Masahiro workers) singing the Masahiro commercial song

Anna & Elizabeth

Posted March 31, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Anna & Elizabeth is the second album from Baltimore’s Anna Roberts-Gevalt (voice, banjo, fiddle, guitar) and Virginia singer and banjo player Elizabeth LaPrelle. Their previous release Sun to Sun was reviewed here and is a fine example of roots music from the Appalachian mountains by these two young women. However, this new recording is such a huge leap forward that it almost makes the debut album seem rudimentary by comparison.

It’s not just the music which is so captivating. The packaging of the album is also subtle and evocative. The 36 page booklet contains not only some of the lyrics and notes about the songs but also many black and white photographs which add background and context to conjure up the times, personalities, places and memories connected with each of the stories behind the sixteen songs.

anna and elizabeth

Both women have developed into first class interpreters of the old mountain songs. Whether they are singing unaccompanied or with the fuller sound of fiddle, banjo and guitar behind them the two fit together perfectly. While it may be unfair to single out one or the other it also has to be noted that Elizabeth LaPrelle is surely now the greatest singer of these songs bar none and her vocals exhibit a harsh beauty which is utterly spellbinding.

All but three of the tracks are traditional and one of those with a known composer is ‘Voice From on High’ co-written by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. There are some classic ballads too which are given Anna and Elizabeth’s original arrangements. ‘Orfeo’ (found in the Child ballads) has been pieced together from different versions and Elizabeth’s vocal is complemented by the uilleann pipes of Joey Abarta. There is also a chillingly dark and brooding version of the murder ballad ‘Greenwood Sidey’ learned here from Kentucky singer Addie Graham.

It has been said before that one of the best things about Anna and Elizabeth is their sheer simplicity and lack of artifice. Their honest enjoyment of the unearthing and singing of these old songs comes over never more strongly than on two tracks ‘Goin’ Across the Mountain’, originally sung about the American Civil War but with universal resonance, and the timeless ‘Very Day I’m Gone (Rambling Woman)’ which was also learned from Addie Graham.

Elizabeth (left) and Anna with one of their crankies. These are handmade scrolling pictures which tell the stories of their songs

Elizabeth (left) and Anna with one of their crankies. These are handmade scrolling pictures which tell the stories of their songs.

The new album was recorded in Floyd, Virginia where the pair host a regular radio show. It offers a more varied listen than before with more changes of tempo than their first CD and this benefits it enormously. Alice Gerrard, one of the greats of old-time music, lends a hand as guest singer and also offers a pertinent quote to the booklet: “These young women follow in the footsteps of many of our idols and mentors who’ve gone before, and they do them proud.”

Sadly, Anna and Elizabeth have no plans to visit Okinawa in the near future but those in the UK are soon to be treated to a thirteen date tour in May. This begins in Guildford on the 7th and includes venues in London, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and elsewhere before ending in Maidstone on the 20th.

Anna & Elizabeth is released by Free Dirt Records.




Toru Yonaha – Live in Chatan

Posted March 29, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Live

Toru Yonaha began his tour to promote the new album Ninufa ~ Polaris in Okinawa last night at Mod’s Live House, Chatan. In front of a large audience Yonaha performed a predictably varied set which included some of the traditional Okinawan minyo for which he is famous as well as kachashi dance pieces, his lively ‘Shin Eisa Bushi’, some classical Ryukyu music, and some original songs. The versatility didn’t stop there as he also sang a version of the Spitz song ‘Yoake’ and his recent cover of Soul Flower Union’s ‘Mangetsu no Yube’.

For much of the evening Yonaha was accompanied by Yoshiaki Nagamine on acoustic guitar and the pair managed to successfully recreate the fuller sound of many tracks from the new album. The fact that Yonaha is already a master of just about every Okinawan style could have meant a lack of focus but no-one was complaining as his sheer artistry and musical power shone through with everything he tried.

Toru Yonaha

Toru Yonaha

As well as some breathtaking sanshin playing there was some remarkable singing and when he was alone with the sanshin he seemed to be at his very best. Not surprisingly, he returned for a two song encore, finishing the evening with ‘Arigakutou’ his own co-written song from the new album.

One of the best things about the performance was that Yonaha played his set all the way through without the usual distracting break in the middle when audience members are urged to buy food and drinks. He also largely dispensed with the lengthy introductions and between-song chat which is so common in Okinawa and Japan. Instead he established a good rapport with the audience early on, gave us just the right amount of information without going on about it, and concentrated on providing everyone with a superlative musical show.

Toru Yonaha continues his tour on mainland Japan in April with dates in Tokyo (16th), Nagoya (17th) and Osaka (19th).



Cave Cafe at Gangala Valley

Posted March 13, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

On a warm, sunny afternoon we paid our first visit to the Cave Cafe close to our home in the south of Okinawa and at the entrance to the Gangala valley. The cafe is unusual in being housed inside a large limestone cave. The Gangala valley attracts visitors for guided walking tours of the area, formed when a cave collapsed to create a forested valley rich in nature. We were happy just to sit in the cafe today, away from the sun, together with coffee and ice cream.

Some photos from this afternoon:








Kepa Junkera & Sorginak: Trikitixaren historia txiki bat

Posted March 10, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

There are many players of the trikitixa (diatonic accordion) in the Basque Country but Kepa Junkera has established himself as the best-known internationally with numerous appearances at festivals and concerts around the world. He has also recorded prolifically and has collaborated regularly with musicians from other countries and cultures. His 2006 album Hiri, inspired by memories of different cities, even included a composition for ‘Nagoya’.

Now to commemorate 35 years as a musician he returns to his roots and has recently released a 17 track CD of traditional Basque tunes alongside several original compositions of his own. But this isn’t just another Junkera release as this one comes in the form of a large-sized 150 page hardback book with the CD inserted inside the back cover.


Trikitixaren historia txiki bat (A little history of trikitixa) gives us the fascinating story of trikitixa written by Joxian Agirre and the book contains contributions from Kepa Junkera and others along with numerous interviews with important personalities in the world of trikitixa. There are also lots of photos, many of them from Junkera’s personal archive.

The text in the book is printed in two languages – Euskara (Basque) and Spanish. However, a visit to Kepa Junkera’s website will also turn up complete translations of the text in English, Galician and Catalan as well as Euskara and Spanish. The release in Japan has an insert with notes in Japanese.

Sorginak with Kepa Junkera

Sorginak with Kepa Junkera

Joining Junkera for the music is a group of seven young women from the trikitixa world known as Sorginak who were put together especially for this project. They provide the vocals to many of the tracks as well as panderoa (tambourine) which traditionally blends so well with trikitixa to make the unique sounds of this roots music. It hardly needs adding that the recordings are up to the usual high standard and Junkera and Sorginak are both in fine form.

A short video ‘Making Of’ gives a taste of the music on the CD:

Trikitixaren historia txiki bat is released by Fol Musica.








Toru Yonaha: Ninufa ~Polaris~

Posted February 28, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

Ninufa ~Polaris~ comes just a few months after the release of Toru Yonaha’s retrospective compilation Tunaka. ‘Ubiquitous’ is a word commonly associated with Yonaha who has appeared on numerous artists’ albums as well as producing and supporting many other musicians over the years. Most recently he added some vocals, sanshin, fue and taiko to the album by Okinawan women’s group Unaigumi. He has also recorded in many different styles from pop and rock to eisa and classical Ryukyu music.

The new album has eight tracks, mainly original songs, on which Yonaha sings and plays sanshin backed by guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. It was produced by Kazunari Uechi. There isn’t anything very new about any of this but Yonaha has a very good voice and everything he does is worth a listen. He has written the music for all but two of the songs and there are three tracks which are more stripped down with just sanshin and taiko.


‘Shin Eisa Bushi’ combines eisa and modern sounds reminiscent of Parsha Club on one of the album’s best tracks. Another outstanding moment is (perhaps surprisingly) the cover of the much-loved Soul Flower Union song ‘Mangetsu no Yube’. On this, the basic arrangement isn’t changed but there is some heavier electric guitar, and lyrics in Uchinaguchi written by Takashi Hirayasu. It works much better than might have been expected.

After several strong tracks the album tends to fizzle out a bit and ends at a shorter than expected 36 minutes. It isn’t the great Okinawan album we’ve always hoped for but is nevertheless a high quality release from Yonaha whose diverse musical interests are hinted at in the photos for the CD booklet which picture him dressed in both modern and traditional Ryukyu styles. For the best glimpse of the full range of his talents newcomers should start with last year’s Tunaka. For the rest of us this will do very nicely to be going on with.

Ninufa ~Polaris~ is released by J’s Records. Toru Yonaha will be promoting the new album on a live tour beginning at Mod’s Chatan, Okinawa on 28th March before moving on to mainland Japan where he plays in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.


Nigenshiki: Aoi Sora

Posted February 26, 2015 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa CDs

The duo Nigenshiki were formed in Okinawa in 2012 by Masashi (vocal, guitar) and Masaki (rap). Masaki is better known as the rapper Kakumakushaka and it was under this name that he made the excellent Image Nothing CD, and before that the album Oto Ashagi with Tatsumi Chibana under the name Duty Free Shopp.

On this four track mini-album the two singers benefit from each other’s contributions on a very productive blend of rap and pop. There is also a slice of traditional Okinawan music on the third track ‘Kimi no Koe’ which employs sanshin and a children’s chorus of hayashi very effectively. The song is also used as the official theme for Yomitan Radio on FM Yomitan.


The award-winning title track was written by the pair for a television commercial and contains lots of positive lyrics about peace, the environment and life in general. The mini-album is a varied, accessible and uplifting debut and it will be good to hear more from Nigenshiki in the future.

Aoi Sora (Blue Sky) is released on Siesta. Nigenshiki will perform with other musicians from Okinawa at Naha Output on Sunday 1st March. This is a release event for Aoi Sora and will start at 18:00.

Further details and videos can be found at:


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