Seijin Noborikawa & Misako Oshiro: Duet

This new album is by a pair of Okinawan legends with a combined age of 156 years. Joint collaborations or ‘duet’ albums are always popular in Okinawa and Misako Oshiro has already made several in recent times. First there was an album with Toru Yonaha, then a joint effort last year with pupil Kanako Horiuchi, and earlier this year there was her Kita to Minami meeting with Ainu musician Oki. Despite turning 80 this year Noborikawa is no slouch either and his Fountain of Songs studio album two years ago was followed by a live double album last year.

The new Duet album is a very simple idea. Just put together these two singers and sanshin players and let them record an hour of music in the studio. The recordings were made over three days in June at the 3rd Garage Studio in Okinawa City. For the songs, Noborikawa and Oshiro are occasionally joined by Toru Yonaha on shimadaiko (island drums) and yubibue (whistling) but for the most part they are on their own.

Duet contains 15 tracks. All the selections are traditional songs from Okinawa and a few have some new lyrics and improvisations by Noborikawa. The album starts with the iconic Okinawan song ‘Nakuni’ and it also includes standard favourites such ‘Umi nu Chinbora~Akayama’, ‘Tanchame’, ‘Shirahama Bushi’, ‘Erabu Yuri no Hana’ and ‘Ikei Hanari Bushi’. It all ends with the lively katcharsee dance tune ‘Harikuyamaku’.

There are no surprises here and none needed as the purpose is simply to show off some well-known traditional songs as played by the two most important living male and female singers of the genre. Noborikawa and Oshiro are understandably in the twilight of their careers: their voices are not as strong as they once were and Noborikawa’s sanshin playing is not as fast. If it’s innovation you’re after, or a collaboration which does something a bit different, then Oshiro’s recording with Oki is the one to go for. But Duet is still a very enjoyable listen and a welcome addition to the long list of recordings by both artists.

Duet is released by Respect Records on 3rd October.

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