Sounds of the Ryukyus

Momoto is a quarterly magazine published in Japanese in Okinawa and it focuses on life and culture on these islands. Last year I was asked to write a column Sounds of the Ryukyus for Vols.10~13. The column I wrote offers some very simple, brief introductions to Okinawan music topics from a personal perspective. The main text of the first column is reproduced below in English followed by a Japanese translation, and subsequent articles will be added to this blog. The magazines containing the complete columns with illustrations and photos are still available in most bookstores in Okinawa.

Sounds of the Ryukyus, vol.1

The Okinawan Minyo Master

I’m very happy to be writing this first column and hope to introduce some of my favourite music from these islands.

My discovery of Ryukyu Island music began many years ago in the late 1980s. After listening to all kinds of Okinawan music, and travelling around the islands many times, I finally decided to move here. I soon realised that minyo is at the heart of the people’s music and that Kadekaru Rinsho is its finest representative.

It’s well-known that Kadekaru recorded hundreds of songs and continued to sing and record until shortly before his death in 1999. But he is about as far removed from the usual image of the stage performer as it’s possible to be. He was a rather shy and reticent figure despite his many achievements and his voice sounds thin and wavering, but the more I listened to him the more addictive it became. He also had an enormous repertoire not just from Okinawa but from Miyako and Yaeyama and listening to him became an excellent way for me to find out about these wonderful songs.

I was lucky enough to see him perform twice at the 1997 and 1998 Ryukyu Festivals in Osaka. Since his death the following year there have been many albums released on CD but I always return to his ‘Jiru’ compilation of rare recordings and to his joint album ‘Uta Awase’ made with Yamazato Yukichi.

It’s very difficult to pick favourite songs but his versions of ‘Nakuni’ and the lively ‘Umi Nu Chinbora’ are great tonics. Most of all, I enjoy listening to his song ‘Jidai No Nagare’. This moving song describes the fate of Okinawa as it has been taken over and changed by various outside forces – from control by China to invasions by Japan and America. It seems to me the quintessential song of Okinawa.

Hukyokajin is a collection of 18 of Kadekaru's best tracks and includes Jidai no Nagare

Hukyokajin is a collection of 18 of Kadekaru’s best tracks and includes Jidai no Nagare

沖縄民謡の名人

連載コラムの第1回目を書くことができとても嬉しいです。琉球の島々から私の好きな音楽を紹介していきます。

琉球音楽を初めて聴いたのはずいぶん前で1980年後半でした。いろんな沖縄音楽を聴いて、何度も琉球諸島を訪れたあと、沖縄に移住することを決めました。ここに住んですぐに実感したのが、人々の音楽の中心に民謡があること。そして嘉手苅林昌がその優れた代表者ということでした。

嘉手苅林昌が何百という曲を録音し1999年に亡くなる直前まで唄い録音し続けていたのはよく知られていますが、彼ほど舞台で演奏しているイメージが実像からかけ離れた人はいないのではないかと思います。華々しい多くの業績とは対称的に控えめで無口な人でした。震えるような細い声が、聴けば聴くほどクセになりまた聴きたくなるのです。それにレパートリーは広くて沖縄だけでなく宮古や八重山の曲も多く、彼の唄を聴くことで素晴らしい曲に出会うことができました。

私は幸運にも1997年と1998年の2回、大阪で開催された琉球フェスティバルで彼の演奏と唄を聴くことができました。彼が亡くなった翌年に多くのCDが発売されましたが、よく聴くのはレアな音源で編集された「ジルー」と山里勇吉と共演した「うたあわせ」です。

好きな曲を選ぶのはとても難しいですが、彼のバージョンの「ナークニ」と明るい「海のちんぼら」は私を元気にしてくれます。そして何よりも聴いてすごいなと思うのが「時代の流れ」です。心揺さぶられるこの曲は、中国の支配と日本とアメリカの侵略という様々な外圧によって変わってきた沖縄の運命を表現していますが、私にとっては本質を語った典型的な沖縄の曲なのです。

http://www.momoto.net

 

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