Choho Miyara Music Award
The 8th annual Choho Miyara Ongaku Sho (Music Award) ceremony was held yesterday at Ryukyu Shimpo Hall in Naha. I was very pleased and honoured to receive an invitation to attend from Yasukatsu Oshima’s management office. The award is named after the late Choho Miyara who was a songwriter and an educationalist. The Ongaku Sho or main award is usually given for a lifetime’s work, while the Tokubetsu Sho (Special Award) is for more recent achievements in Okinawan music. The first recipients of the awards in 2003 were Tsuneo Fukuhara and the Yaeyama trio Begin. Last year the special award went to Misako Koja and her partner Kazuya Sahara. This year the two awards went to jazz vocalist Sumiko Yoseyama (Ongaku Sho) and to another Yaeyama singer and sanshin player, Yasukatsu Oshima (Tokubetsu Sho).
Sumiko Yoseyama is a very deserving winner of the award. Once again she is a native of the Yaeyama Islands where she was born on Kohama. Now 70, she has been a leading vocalist on the jazz scene for many years – she also sings in impeccable English. She made her debut as a singer at the age of 16, has recorded several albums, and still runs her own ‘jazz spot’ Interlude in Naha.
Yasukatsu Oshima will already be well-known to readers of The Power of Okinawa book and blog and he also fully deserves recognition as a singer who really is special. His work in the field of Okinawan minyo has been exceptional and he has also collaborated on an experimental album of Okinawan traditional songs with American jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer. In his acceptance speech it was heartening to hear him cite the inspiration of musicians such as Sadao China, Shoukichi Kina, and Rinken Teruya as well as many others who came before.
Following the formal ceremony (which nevertheless began several minutes late, in true Okinawan fashion) there was a buffet party during which Yasukatsu Oshima returned to the stage to perform some songs for us. He ended fittingly with ‘Irayoi Tsukiyahama’ which he co-wrote with Begin’s Eisho Higa. This was followed by Sumiko Yoseyama who sang some well-known jazz standards accompanied by a pianist. It came as a bit of a surprise when the small figure of Yoseyama, who had seemed quite subdued until then, suddenly came to life on stage with a performance full of vitality which had the audience calling for more.
As a prelude to this event, Yasukatsu Oshima and some of his musical family members took to the stage at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre last Saturday for another very enjoyable concert. At various times throughout the evening Oshima was joined on stage by his father Isamu Oshima, his mother, and three of his aunts. Meanwhile, sitting on the front row of the audience was Oshima’s grandmother who is 100 years old. Her advanced age did not stop her from standing up on more than one occasion to spontaneously dance the katcharsee – an emotional sight which brought the tears to Oshima’s eyes and, I suspect, many of the audience who witnessed it.