Ninufabushi is the debut album from Peruvian born singer and sanshin player Lucy who was featured recently on this blog. Lucy was born and raised in Lima as a third generation Okinawan-Peruvian – her original name is Lucy Nagamine – and she began studying the sanshin at the age of ten. For the past 16 years she has been living in Okinawa where she has continued to study Okinawan music and has won several music awards.
On the album, released on the Luces label, she sings and plays sanshin on new arrangements of some mostly familiar Okinawan songs and classics. She is accompanied on guitar and ukulele by Kenji Yano who has worked on several Okinawan music projects – most notably with Surf Champlers, Sanshin Café Orchestra and Moriken. Nao provides background vocals, fue, and Native American flute.
Among the more modern songs are ‘Shimauta’, which has a bossa nova arrangement and is sung partly in Spanish, Shoukichi Kina’s ‘Hana’, and ‘Irayoi Tsukiyahama’ which was written by Yasukatsu Oshima and Begin’s Eisho Higa. The album opens with a lovely version of Sadao China’s ‘Umukaji’ – a song commonly associated with Nenes. For the most part these are laid-back versions of the songs but they never descend into the blandness which afflicts some island music ventures. Lucy has a distinctive voice and sings superbly throughout. She also shines on the sparser minyo such as the Yaeyama songs ‘Kohama Bushi’ and ‘Tubarama’. The album closes with another traditional song, ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, which this time is given piano accompaniment and is also sung partly in Spanish. It’s a song that Lucy learned from her mother and grandmother in Peru.
Ninufabushi is a surprisingly confident album from a singer and musician who has a strong feeling for Okinawan songs. It is to Lucy’s credit that her album stands up so well in a field already overcrowded with excellent female vocalists. It will be interesting to see how she develops from here. It would be nice to hear more of her sanshin playing and perhaps with a choice of lesser-known songs next time.