Sadao China’s Shimauta Hyakkei

At the end of last year Sadao China was awarded the prestigious Nihon Record Taisho Kikaku Sho for his 6 CD box set Shimauta Hyakkei which was released on King Records in October. This national award is a fitting tribute to China’s long career in Okinawan music: he first recorded at the age of 12 and is now 65.

Since the demise of several magazines, such as Kansai Time Out,  which I used to write for, the number of album review copies I receive has dwindled considerably so it hardly came as a surprise when no complimentary copy of China’s massive work was forthcoming. Record companies are feeling the pinch too. Instead I had to make do with the single CD version Utadamashii which was released around the same time and contains selections from the larger work. However, next month I am due to meet up with China to interview him for a UK magazine, so this provided the perfect excuse to dig deep in my pocket and finally buy the 6 CD set in preparation for our meeting.

The good news is that Shimauta Hyakkei is well worth the money. In fact it’s probably his best since the groundbreaking Akabana album back in the 1970s. China has generally been more prolific as a performer than as a recording artist and also as a producer and songwriter for others, most notably Nenes. In the past few years though, his own recording has included a duet album with Seijin Noborikawa, and a new solo album Utamai was released in 2005. The latest project is his attempt to record a comprehensively wide range of traditional songs from around the Ryukyu Islands for future generations to listen to and learn.

The contents of each CD are loosely grouped together under different themes. These cover celebrations, songs of play and didactic songs, immigration and travel, songs from plays and drama, songs about the islands, and finally, two CDs of love songs.  So just about everything is here among a total of 101 songs. These were recorded over a period of a few weeks, many of them in first takes. There should be some mistakes in there, but they are hard to find as China is so comfortable with these songs and sounds as if he knows each one intimately. Mostly we are in the company of just the man and his sanshin, but he is also helped on some tracks by top women singers Misako Oshiro, Yoriko Ganeko, Katsuko Yohen, Keiko Kinjo, Yasuko Yoshida and Kanako Hatoma. These recordings will go down as a landmark in the history of Okinawan traditional music.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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