Yasukatsu Oshima: Shimawataru ~ Across the Islands

Any new album by the highly rated Yaeyama singer Yasukatsu Oshima is a major event in Okinawan music. His new release Shimawataru ~ Across the Islands is even more keenly anticipated than most given the time that has elapsed since his previous recordings. It’s already five years since his collaborative album with jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and a whopping seven years since Oshima’s last solo album Shima Meguri ~ Island Journey.

Across the Islands doesn’t disappoint. Like all of Oshima’s work it seems to have been planned and executed with meticulous precision and his voice and sanshin are complemented once more by the use of a select band of hand-picked musicians. The main difference from his other albums is that all the songs this time are originals either written or co-written by Oshima. It might be easy to forget this as he draws so heavily on the tradition in writing them – both lyrically and musically – and most tracks could be mistaken for some of the old songs of his native islands.

He views the release of this album as a turning point in his career and says that it’s intended to be both a reflection on the past decade and a look forward to the future in which he plans to write more island influenced songs. Therefore, in addition to several brand new songs there is the inclusion of three older ones. ‘Kawa’ which opens the album was written several years ago but previously recorded only by Mika Uchizato. The two other songs revisited here are ‘Ryusei’ his tribute to the late Rinsho Kadekaru, and a song from his debut album, ‘Irayoi Tsukiyahama’, which was co-written with Begin member Eisho Higa. He also recorded a version on Island Journey with the Irish band Altan.

Of the new songs, the standout track is ‘Kunatsuyu’ written with another Begin member Masaru Shimabukuro. On this lovely song, surely destined to become an island classic, Oshima shares the vocal with Kanako Hatoma. The song depicts the interval where summer heads into its peak and people pray for a good harvest. This is preceded by another fine new song, ‘Matsuri no Ato’. The co-writer this time is the guitarist Kenji Kondo. ‘Matsuri no Ato’ was inspired by the tranquillity and night rain following an island festival. It’s the kind of moment that Oshima likes and he captures the atmosphere perfectly. Also worthy of note is ‘Hateruma’ another atmospheric piece about the southernmost island where Oshima’s ancestors came from. Unusually, the title track is the only song with no sanshin – just the acoustic guitar accompaniment of Kenji Kondo. As before, island drums on most tracks are played by Satoshi “Sunday” Nakasone, while Kanako Hatoma pops up several times with backing vocals, sanshin and sanba.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi (bouzouki, electric guitar) and Sakana Hosomi (organ, piano, electronics) – both from the Japanese band Heatwave – add some touches here and there but manage to remain restrained throughout. For this is not a flamboyant album and there are no great surprises. Instead Oshima offers another very accomplished performance of songs (plus one instrumental) and it’s to be hoped that we don’t have to wait as long as this for the next album. It will be interesting to see where this modern Okinawan music master goes from here.

Shimawataru ~ Across the Islands is released on Victor. The CD booklet contains English explanations and notes on all the songs.

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3 Comments on “Yasukatsu Oshima: Shimawataru ~ Across the Islands”

  1. Lyndie Says:

    just bought this CD and loving it!!!!!! I play sanshin & want to learn “Tabiji” I wish there was kunkunshi for it….


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