On the new Power of Okinawa

Steve Burge is an old friend from the UK.  He’s been involved in a variety of musical genres and is currently experimenting with some music projects on his computer. He is also an accomplished poet and all-round good chap.  He got in touch with some thoughts after reading the new editon of ‘The Power of Okinawa’.

Steve writes:

I first met John Potter in London in 1982 and, although he moved to Japan in 1984, we have kept in touch and met up whenever John and Midori were in England. I was particularly pleased to receive the new edition of ‘The Power of Okinawa’, as I know how long John has laboured on this project. The result is a testament to his deep knowledge and an uncompromising attitude to production values.

I was particularly interested in the new section on Ryukyu Underground, as their sound has given me a more direct path into Okinawan music. I had in the past struggled to contextualise some of the islands’ music John had sent me.

This got me into thinking about the role of indigenous music on the world scene. World Music has emerged as a major force since John first went to Japan, giving rise to hybrids and fusions of practically any style you can think of. But I tend to come back to the simpler idea of a lone musician, singing and playing an instrument as accompaniment. In Ryukyu, voice and sanshin; in the West, guitar or piano. When I saw Kina Shoukichi and Champloose in London I was most moved by a sequence of Kina alone with his sanshin.

Central to the idea of a native music is the concept of dwelling, a sense of place and its importance as a home. The philosopher Heidegger coined a word Dasein, or being (t)here, to convey this essentially human feeling. In his words, “Poetically man dwells”. I get this sense strongly from John’s approach to Okinawa and its music. Whether or not the music needs a big star or more exposure to survive, I am glad to see that a younger generation, and new acts like Ryukyu Underground, are helping to keep the dream alive. May the people of Okinawa long enjoy their musical heritage.

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