Oki meets Misako Oshiro: Kita to Minami

When I interviewed Misako Oshiro last year for a feature on her album with Kanako Horiuchi she mentioned in passing that Ainu singer and musician Oki had been in touch about doing some recording together. The new album just released Oki meets Misako Oshiro: Kita to Minami (North and South) is the result.

Veteran singer Oshiro is no stranger to collaborations. Years ago she sang and recorded with the late Rinsho Kadekaru and made a duet album with Naeko Seragaki. Just three years ago she made a joint album with Toru Yonaha and then another last year with her pupil Kanako Horiuchi. The title of this collaboration with Oki is very appropriate as these two great representative singers of their own unique cultures are from Hokkaido and Okinawa – the extreme north and south of Japan. The ten tracks they’ve recorded are mostly Okinawan traditional songs but there are two new compositions by Oki and there’s also a joyful and exuberant version of ‘Red Ojisan’ – the old Shoukichi Kina song from his 1977 debut album.

On several tracks Oki and Oshiro are joined by Kanako Horiuchi (another Hokkaido native, though not Ainu) and by some members of the Oki Dub Ainu Band. Oki himself produced the album and plays not just tonkori – the stringed instrument of the Ainu people that he has almost reinvented – but also guitar, bass, synthesizer and percussion. Oki’s tonkori accompanies Oshiro’s sanshin and vocal extremely well and the blend is particularly effective on two of the album’s later tracks ‘Ranku Bushi’ and ‘Hinsu Jurigwa’ which drives along almost like a Malian desert blues. Oki’s composition ‘Kita to Minami’ is another highlight.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with previous groundbreaking collaborations such as Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman’s first album and the New York get together of Yasukatsu Oshima and Geoffrey Keezer. Kita to Minami is somewhat different in that Oshiro and Oki often go their own ways – Oshiro doesn’t appear on the title track or ‘Red Ojisan’ while Oki leaves Oshiro alone with just Horiuchi on taiko to perform ‘Nanyo Hamachidori’. Their collaboration though is a superb idea and shows off both Oshiro and Oki at their best. It’s already an early contender for my album of the year.

Kita to Minami is released on Tokyo’s Tuff Beats label.

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