Sounds of the Ryukyus 3: Songs and food

Here is the text of my third column for Momoto magazine, published in October 2012.  A Japanese translation is below.

Sounds of the Ryukyus, vol.3

Songs and food in Okinawa

In Japan all conversations turn sooner or later to food and Okinawa is no exception. This is quite different from my own country where only a gourmet is likely to dwell on the subject of eating for very long – understandably, some might say, given the lowly reputation of British cuisine in the past. But I soon discovered musicians in Okinawa who are happy to sing of the delights of eating on these islands.

One of many shimauta to catch my attention was the song ‘Goya Bushi’ which was recorded by Yokota Yoko. The song is about the virtues of this iconic island vegetable. Yokota’s version is hardly subtle but it’s the typical shimauta arrangement heard in music bars all over these islands. The words tell of the many reasons why goya is good for you and there is even a verse mentioning the importance of Vitamin C in hot weather. The song is included on the second of two compilation albums released in 2005 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Okinawa’s Campus Records. Both CDs have covers parodying The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album and pictures of the ubiquitous goya are also prominently displayed.

‘Goya Bushi’ is also included on another compilation released the following year by Respect Records to commemorate another great institution – Okinawa soba. This album celebrates the popularity of the island speciality in all its many forms. And it’s not just soba and goya – providing some variety on the album’s menu are the songs ‘Mango nu Uta’, and ‘Awamori Monogatari’.

The relative wealth of the Ryukyus today was not always the case and the hardships of the past cannot be forgotten. In the Amami islands the song ‘Honen Bushi’ arose as a result of the Satsuma invasion. The people of Amami suffered extreme poverty and sometimes starvation after sugar cane production was introduced and all the profits were taken from them. The song expresses despair about this situation and asks for a good harvest. Not all songs about food are happy.

Ura! Campus Best - with goya and other vegetables on show.

Ura! Campus Best – with goya and other vegetables on show






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