Begin no Shimauta: Omoto Takeo 3

Okinawan band Begin celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. They have also just released the third in a series of short albums of island music. This one is entitled Begin no Shimauta: Omoto Takeo 3 and it comes eight years after the second in the series, and ten years after the original Omoto Takeo CD. All three releases are on the Teichiku label.

Led by their affable singer and sanshin player Eisho Higa, the trio are enormously popular all around the Ryukyu Islands and in mainland Japan. Higa, a native of the island of Ishigaki, grew up alongside musicians such as Yasukatsu Oshima and Yukito Ara who both went on to become well-known in the world of Okinawan minyo. Higa’s Begin followed a different path more influenced by mainstream Western pop and rock, but their first visit back to their roots on the Omoto Takeo album in 2000 was a great success. The CD also included the song ‘Nada Sousou’ which went on to become one of the best-loved songs in Okinawa following Rimi Natsukawa’s cover version.

Omoto Takeo was always going to be a hard act to follow and the second in the series was less interesting. It would be nice to think that the eight year gap between that and this new release enabled Begin to work out some startling new arrangements or maybe come up with some cracking new songs. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and Omoto Takeo 3, while pleasant enough, doesn’t break any new ground and sounds more like a collection of songs that didn’t quite make it onto the earlier releases. Its highlights are two versions of the song ‘Pamaya yunta’ and the lively ‘Haryu sen’. For the most part though, Begin stay in the safety zone with predictable, crowd-pleasing versions of Okinawan music, such as ‘Anmaa gaman no Orion beer’ in which they celebrate the popular Okinawan brew.

Omoto Takeo 3 will inevitably sell well in the Ryukyus and should satisfy Begin’s many fans. But, if you haven’t heard them before, the original Omoto Takeo from a decade ago is a much better buy.

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