Soul Flower Union: new single

Japanese band Soul Flower Union release a new single Shinumade Ikiro! (Live Until You Die!) on 30th June on their own label. The Osaka-based SFU have been one of the outstanding roots-rock bands in Japan for many years and have released a large number of studio and live albums as well as singles. At the last count there were around 30 Soul Flower CDs on my shelf – and I don’t have all of them! Led by singer, songwriter, guitarist, and occasional sanshin player Takashi Nakagawa, they are also featured in ‘The Power of Okinawa’ book. This is because of the incorporation of Okinawan influences into some of their music, along with rock, Irish, reggae, chindon, and other styles. They have also recorded with veteran Okinawan singer Seijin Noborikawa. Their offshoot, the acoustic Soul Flower Mononoke Summit are also still active. While Nakagawa is the driving force behind SFU, it’s Hideko Itami who is the inspiration for Mononoke Summit. She moved to Okinawa a few years ago and is also chief organiser of the annual Henoko Peace Music Festa.

Soul Flower Union have a habit of releasing what they call ‘singles’. However, these are often longer than many albums. The present offering is no different and clocks in at 46 minutes. As well as the new Nakagawa original title song there are six live recordings, including a reggae flavoured version of their excellent ‘Natsu Tourai’ (Here Comes Summer). There is also a studio cover version of ‘Kamome’ (The Seagulls) and finally an instrumental reprise of the title track. The song ‘Shinumade Ikiro!’ has a Caribbean feel to it and its message urges us to live life to the full because “mortality is 100%”.

Cover of the new Soul Flower Union single

All of their CDs, including this one, have English translations of all the songs in the booklet. I know this fact very well because I’ve been involved in helping with the translations for several years. I personally discovered their music at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 when I was living in Kobe and they unplugged to play for survivors of the quake, thus beginning their alternative acoustic incarnation as Mononoke Summit. On the first anniversary of the quake I interviewed Takashi Nakagawa for a magazine article and my connection with the band(s) has continued to this day. On my arrival in Okinawa last year, Hideko Itami (or Hidebo, as she’s known) provided a great amount of help and assistance in the early months of my settling in here and continues to keep in touch.

Hidebo isn’t on this new single as her role now is to support Mononoke Summit activities and her appearances with the main band SFU are few and far between. For SFU fans it may be a bit frustrating (not to mention expensive) when the band keeps coming up with so many of these ‘singles’ filled out with live recordings, and especially so if the single eventually comes out again on a subsequent album, but they certainly can’t complain about a lack of access to new recordings.

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15 Comments on “Soul Flower Union: new single”

  1. toranosuke Says:

    Wow. I had no idea they were so prolific, or that they had any particular connection to Okinawa.

    I discovered Soul Flower Union back in 2003, on my first trip to Japan, before I came to have an interest in Okinawa. My Japanese wasn’t very good back then, and in a sea of unfamiliar kanji, I noticed a CD cover labeled (titled?) in Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew? Here? What?

    I’m blanking on the name of the album, but “Uta ha Jiyuu wo Mezasu” quickly became one of my favorite songs that summer… and remains the only album (or maxi-single) of theirs that I have.

    Thanks for the recommendation; I shall keep an eye out for their stuff the next time I’m at BookOff.

  2. tn Says:

    I actually discovered Okinawan music and sanshin thanks to Soul Flower Mononoke Summit. I love this band! I think I mentioned them once before on your blog asking if you’ve heard of them. Clearly, you have! Cheers!

  3. Keith Says:

    John … You’re really going to have to set up in business shipping these CDs out of Japan! I’ve just looked to buy Shinumade Ikiro! and it is going to cost me nearly £40 (5400 Yen) in the UK – and that’s buying either from Amazon UK or from Amazon JP. On Amazon JP the CD costs about 1800Yen, the rest is shipping, which is a rip-off! And NO! I do not expect you to send me a free copy! — if you’ll send me one I’ll happily pay for it, but not Amazon’s shipping charges! Keith

  4. Pred Says:

    Hi John
    I’m a big fan of SFU and enjoyed their concerts and music for 8 years in Japan until I left in 2006. I am now living in Thailand and keen to know which album(s) you can recommend that they have released since I left in July 2006? The Shinumade Ikiro ‘single’ sounds good but I would prefer to spend my money on an allbum of entirely new material.
    Appreciate any tips,
    Pred


    • I think the best album for you would be ‘Cante Diaspora’ which was released in 2008. It’s a full length studio album of 15 songs and contains some of their very best work, in my opinion. There’s also ‘Exile on Main Beach’ from 2009 which is a good live album, but if it’s new material you’re after ‘Cante Diaspora’ is the best one.

      • Pred Says:

        OK thanks John. I guess Far Side Music would be most economical way to do this? Or get Japanese friends who are heading over in late November to buy at HMV and bring it with them?

        Have SFU ever toured in Thailand? I would be glad to help out with our contacts here if they are keen to do so at some point.


      • Far Side Music would be best, or get someone to bring it with them as you suggest. SFU have travelled quite a bit in East Asia but I don’t think they’ve toured in Thailand. I’m sure they’ll be glad to know of your offer of help.

  5. Pred Says:

    Hi John
    British Council Arts Manager for Thailand sits next to me at the office so I may be able to help put SFU agents in touch with the right people if they are interested.
    By the way, I am interested in taking up the learning of the sanshin and wondered if you had a recommendation of where is best to buy one? There’s a group in Bangkok which gets together regularly to play and learn and I might join,
    Cheers
    Pred


    • Thanks. I will tell SFU’s management about this offer of help in Thailand. As for the sanshin, there are many good music shops around Okinawa where you can buy one. One of the oldest is Teruya Music in Park Avenue, Koza (Okinawa City), which seems to be popular with musicians as they also deal with repairs. (Tel.098-937-3162).

  6. Pred Says:

    Thanks for the tips John. If you were to recommend modern sanshin music which groups or singers who are currently playing would you recommend?

    By the way, will your book be on sale in Thailand’s Kinokuniya?


    • Toru Yonaha is one of the most interesting of the modern generation of singers and sanshin players, and is also a teacher, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. As a sanshin player, Yukito Ara from the band Parsha Club is also outstanding.
      Unfortunately, the book won’t be on sale in shops in Thailand, but is of course available through this website.


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