Satoru Shimoji: Myahk

Satoru Shimoji has had a long career in music. A large part of this was spent as a rock musician in Tokyo with the band Rebecca. Some years ago he returned to his native island of Miyako and rediscovered his roots. He became more involved in Okinawan music and opened his own recording studio. His album Ryugu no Shima (The Peaceful Island) was a successful dip into island music with a strong dose of pop. Since then he has been involved with the Blue Asia album Sketches of Myahk and has recorded with fellow Miyako islander Isamu Shimoji. Now there’s a new solo album of mainly traditional Miyako songs, many with new words and arrangements.

Myahk is not an album that will be to everyone’s liking. Shimoji takes lots of liberties with the old songs and has a taste for sweeping productions – piano and strings are generally favoured to the sanshin – but for the most part it’s very successful and is definitely his most interesting and adventurous release to date. The recordings were made at his studio on Miyako as well as in Saitama and California. Production was by Goh Hotoda with Philippe Saisse responsible for the piano, bass, synthesizer, percussion and orchestrations.

Myahk

The album opens very simply with the traditional ‘Neeri~Pray’ – just a vocal and the sound of waves on the shore. The lovely ‘Uyakennaure’ then adds piano and violin to Shimoji’s voice which is joined by women singers in call and response mode. ‘Kanasha’ is sung in the Miyako language and in the sleeve notes (which are in English as well as Japanese) Shimoji writes that he wanted to protect this endangered language through music and that “coming back after 15 years of Tokyo life” he decided to write the song for his parents who gave birth to him on this precious island.

Other songs have themes of prayer and thanks and tell stories from Miyako history. Two in particular are outstanding: ‘Wooninu-shoo’ is a sad evocative duet featuring singer-songwriter Nokko (also a former member of the band Rebecca), while the seven minute version of the famous traditional song ‘Tougani Ayagu’ works better than anyone could have expected with its sanshin and lush orchestral backing. There are sparse arrangements as well as orchestral ones but primarily it’s Shimoji’s strong singing and the beautifully melodic songs which capture the feeling of Miyako and make this album so enjoyable.

Myahk is released on Lagoon Music Entertainment.

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