Shisas: New CD and DVDs

A new 6 track mini-album Biriken San has just been released on the Mangetsu label by the Tokyo based duo Shisas. An 84 minute DVD collecting some of Shisas’ live performances from 1997 to 2003 has also been issued simultaneously. Shisas (also written as ‘Shisars’) are featured in Chapter 3 of The Power of Okinawa and readers will know that one of the pair, Yoshie Uno, sadly died in 2009 at the age of 47 after a long illness. The original duo of Akemi Mochida and Yoshie Uno took old Okinawan songs – and sometimes Japanese songs too – and re-worked them in their own very individual way. Their arrangements focused on vocal harmonies and sanshin but with all kinds of unusual diversions thrown into the mix. They were very active as a live duo for many years but they produced just two albums so this new release by a revamped Shisas is a very welcome addition to their catalogue.

New member Chiaki Hirasawa takes over the almost impossible task of replacing Yoshie Uno but does a good job and Biriken San is entirely in the same spirit as the old Shisas. Mochida and Hirasawa are joined by guests Wataru Okuma on clarinet, piano and percussion, and by former Soul Flower Union member Hiroshi Kawamura who plays guitar and shimadaiko. Also present are the Matahari Boys who offer hayashi, cow bells and rapping. The results are not quite as wild and unusual as some of the songs on their two previous albums but are very good nonetheless. As before, the main influence is from the Ryukyus and four of the songs are from the islands of Miyako, Ishigaki, Iriomote and Okinawa. The two remaining tracks are traditional songs from Japan.

The DVD is entitled Uta no Genba and is a wonderful record of many of the live shows performed by the original duo. It was produced by Shisas member Akemi Mochida, who also wrote the sleeve notes, and was directed by the political documentary film maker Atsushi Kobayashi. Most of these recordings are from mainland Japan but there are also some from shows they put on for local people on the Amami island of Okinoerabu where they were frequent visitors. Perhaps most interesting of all is the final set of eight songs captured live in August 2000 at a free concert in front of an incredibly lively crowd at Yokohama’s Kotobuki-cho – one of Japan’s poorest areas and a gathering place for day labourers and the homeless. In these remarkable recordings we see Shisas joined on stage by a number of friends and musicians including Soul Flower’s Hideko Itami.

Also newly released on Mangetsu is a 33 minute DVD Tabishita Uta which is a live record of An-chang Project’s performances in Taipei in June 2002 when they played at three different venues as part of a festival for indigenous people in Taiwan. An-chang Project were an offshoot of Shisas and Yoshie Uno was also a member along with singer and sanshin player Jun Yasuba and guitarist Natsuki Hattori. These are intimate recordings at small venues and are well worth seeing.

Yoshie Uno

I first met Yoshie Uno back in the late 1990s when Shisas were in their early days and although we subsequently met only a handful of times she always greeted me with the same friendliness and enthusiasm that she always showed on stage. The production of these DVDs was inspired by her untimely death and they are a great reminder of those times and a fitting memorial to her.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

2 Comments on “Shisas: New CD and DVDs”

  1. Dave in Nagoya Says:

    Please keep up the good work, your website is a goldmine of information.

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