Shoukichi Kina: Nirai Pana

Shoukichi Kina’s new album Nirai Pana is his first release since a very disappointing mini-album eight years ago. Ominously, the track list for the new CD begins with another version of ‘Hana’. It’s the umpteenth time that Kina has recorded this admittedly classic song and the heart sinks at the prospect of yet another version of it. ‘Hana’ was included on his previous album and on numerous other albums before that so do we really need any more? Moving down the list of tracks, seven of the eleven songs here have already appeared on previous Kina albums, some of them more than once. Of the three ‘new’ songs by Kina, at least one of them has been around for more than 20 years.

So it’s clear from the outset that Nirai Pana is not the beginning of a new flurry of songwriting activity from Shoukichi Kina. Once that’s understood then it’s possible to listen to the album on its own terms. Nirai Pana is, in fact, being marketed as an ‘Okinawa Reversion 40th Anniversary Album’ and is released tomorrow to coincide with the date when Okinawa was returned to Japan after 27 years of American rule. The original idea was for Kina to record a completely solo work but this has been modified and members of his band Champloose appear on some tracks mainly to provide additional colour with bass and keyboards. Misleadingly, the cover of the album shows Kina with an acoustic guitar. There is no guitar at all on the album and Kina accompanies himself with sanshin on almost every track.

Listening to the album comes as a great relief after these reservations for it’s soon apparent that this is an enormous improvement on its predecessor and is actually a rather fine piece of work. The difficult task with some of Kina’s other albums has been to capture the intensity and excitement of a Champloose performance. This can be missed in the studio or else come over as frantic chaos. There are no such problems here as this is very much a solo album in which Kina’s voice and sanshin are to the fore. And as he gets older – he turns 64 next month – his voice loses none of its expressive power and seems to be better than ever.

The songs have been chosen to elaborate a theme which touches on Okinawa’s beauty but also on its tragic past and uncertain future. It may be an album to commemorate the reversion but there is no celebration of Okinawa becoming part of Japan again. Rather, the songs invite us to think about the continuing problems of these islands torn between American and Japanese power. (Kina himself has even advocated Okinawan independence – at least before his career as a politician). In line with this theme is ‘Shimagwa 2012’ a new recording of a song from Kina’s 1977 debut album. It begins with the sampled sounds of political meetings and songs from the time just before reversion. These sounds are heard over a background of waves on the shore before Kina commences the unaccompanied vocal. The ending of the song evokes today’s situation with the sound of low-flying military aircraft almost drowning out Kina’s voice.

Of the other songs, there are new versions of some of his best compositions ‘Agarizachi’, ‘Jahana Noboru’ and ‘Umushirumun’. On the last of these, and on another song ‘Haisai Kuduchi’, background vocals are sung by two of the younger members of the Kina family, Masayo and Mariko-Stephanie. The one non-Kina song is a successful take on Teihan China’s ‘Nageki no ume’ which is reminiscent of some of the recordings on Kina’s excellent ‘traditional’ album Akainko. The pick of the three previously unreleased originals is the achingly beautiful ‘Omoibana’ which was recorded in 1991 by Tomoko Kina on her album Tanoshiki Asa. It’s one of the very best of Shoukichi Kina’s compositions and his own recording of it has been long overdue. ‘Omoibana’ is the highlight of this album.

So, this is not a groundbreaking album in any sense and it may well be that Kina will never surprise us again with a collection of brand new songs. It is, however, much better than we could have hoped for given the singer’s long immersion in the political world and his reluctance to record over the past few years. It’s good to have Shoukichi Kina back.

Nirai Pana is released 15th May on the Highwave label (www.highwave.co.jp) and is also available worldwide through iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/51/album/nirai-pana/id533656508

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One Comment on “Shoukichi Kina: Nirai Pana”

  1. KAWAGUCHI Says:

    Dear Mr. John Potter,

    Some of the sanshin perormance might be that of Sachiko-san’s or Pushan’s for the album note says they also plays it. And also some of the Sanshin does not sound like Shokichi-san. I have been an audience many many times at his concert. Sachiko-san’s performance is more accurate and precise, while that of Shokichi-san’s is more powerful. It might be that his sanshin sound is sometimes too powerful for the recording. Just compare the recent live performance of Jahana Noboru and that of the recording. There are somewhat different, I guess. But I am just assuming. Only Shokichi-san knows. Thank you for your intriguing review.


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