Various Artists: Fukuhara Melody
Fukuhara Melody is a Various Artists album released on the Unizon label to celebrate the songwriting of Okinawa’s Tsuneo Fukuhara at 80 years of age. Fukuhara has long been an important personality on the Okinawan music scene and is also the son of Choki Fukuhara the founder of Okinawa’s influential Marufuku record company. As a singer and sanshin player his albums include The Last Session which he made with the legendary Rinsho Kadekaru.
However, it’s as a songwriter rather than a performer that his talents are best known. He has written more than 400 songs and among them are ‘Bashofu’ – a composition I’ve personally never cared for but which was once voted Okinawa’s most popular song – as well as the beautiful ‘Shimajimakaisha’, and the standard dance favourite ‘Honen Ondo’. All three are included here.
The album contains 16 of Fukuhara’s songs recorded by a variety of contemporary Okinawan artists from the hugely popular Mongol 800 to the relatively unknown Maltese Rock. In 2006 Respect Records also released an album, Bashofu, which contained songs by Fukuhara. These were mostly recorded by traditional singers and the album collected some older recordings already available elsewhere. Fukuhara Melody, however, has a larger number of new recordings specially made for this project.
Appreciation of the album will depend largely on personal preferences and favourites but most of the artists here do their best to put an original spin on these well-known songs. Worthy of special mention are Cocco’s short but atmospheric ‘Chochoi Komoriuta’ and the trio Amana whose simple recording of Fukuhara’s 1964 song ‘Sangwachimicha’ captures its charm perfectly. Other successes are jimama’s unexpected reggae version of ‘Kusamakura’ and the big band reworking of ‘Nagoku Sodachi’ (a song associated with Four Sisters) by the ‘tropical soundscape unit’ Tropicalism featuring a vocal by Ginowan jazz and soul singer Emi Tawata. Mongol 800 bring things to a close with a lively rock version of ‘Honen Ondo’. Diamantes, HY, and Begin’s Eisho Higa are some of the better known musicians also represented along the way.