Sounds of the Ryukyus 4: Yaeyama

Here’s the last of my Momoto columns which was published in January 2013.  A Japanese translation is below.

Sounds of the Ryukyus, vol.4

Music in the Yaeyama Islands

The term ‘Okinawan music’ doesn’t just refer to music from the main island of Okinawa. It also includes the wide variety of songs and music from many outer islands spread throughout the Ryukyu chain. A very large number of these musical activities originate from the Yaeyama Islands and it’s here where the traditional music is still most vital and alive.

Since my first visit to Ishigaki I have been to most of the Yaeyama islands and earlier this year I met the ethnomusicologist Matt Gillan. He has just published an academic book on his research in Yaeyama which he chose to study because of the unusually rich musical culture on the islands. During his time there he discovered music thriving in many rituals and in lineage and preservation groups, as well as in the annual ‘Tubarama’ song contest, and, of course, through the many well-known professional singers.

Musicians from Yaeyama continue to hold a special place in their islands’ culture and a disproportionate number were active in the Okinawan music boom in mainland Japan which began in the 1990s. At that time I met one of the most important performers, Oshima Yasukatsu. We subsequently got to know each other and he asked me to take on the task of co-translating into English some of the songs and sleeve notes for his albums.

Through my contact with Oshima I went on to meet many other musicians from Yaeyama. One of these was Hatoma Kanako who I first interviewed when she was just 18 after the release of her debut album in 2001. Since then, I’ve visited the live music venue run by her parents on every trip I’ve made to Ishigaki and look forward to the warm welcome I always receive there. This year Kanako has performed in concert with Oshima Yasukatsu and she also sings on his latest album. These are just two of the many fine musicians I’ve met, both amateur and professional, who continue to emerge from these islands of song.

Hatoma Kanako

Hatoma Kanako

八重山諸島の音楽

「沖縄音楽」という用語は、沖縄本島の音楽だけという意味ではありません。琉球弧に広がる島々に多様な音楽が存在しています。これらの歌や曲の多くは八重山諸島が起源で、現在でも八重山では伝統音楽が力強く息づいています。

石垣島を訪れて以来、八重山のほとんどの島を旅しましたが、今年のはじめに民族音楽学者のマット・ギランに会いました。彼は豊かな音楽文化がある八重山を研究の対象に選び、その学術本を出版したばかりでした。彼は石垣在住中に「トゥバラーマ大会」のような毎年開催されるイベント以外に、代々続く音楽一家や地元の保存会を通じて多くの曲を発見しました。もちろん、有名なミュージシャンたちからも多くを学びました。

1990年代に本土で始まった沖縄音楽ブームの中で、人口比で言うと不釣り合いなほど多くの八重山出身のミュージシャンが活躍しました。当時、私は重要な唄者のひとり大島保克に出会いました。その後お互いを知るようになり彼のCDの歌や解説の英訳をするようになりました。

大島と知り合ったことがきっかけで、たくさんの八重山のミュージシャンに出会いました。その中のひとりが鳩間可奈子で、2001年に若干18才でファーストアルバムを発売した時に初めて彼女を取材しました。それ以来、石垣に行くときは必ず彼女の両親が経営する民謡酒場に伺うことにしています。それは、いつも温かく迎えてくれるこの場所を訪れるのが楽しみだからです。今年のはじめに彼女は大島保克のコンサートに出演し、また大島の最新のアルバムにも参加しています。この二人は今まで会ったプロ、アマを問わない多くの素晴らしいミュージシャンの中のたった二人です。これからも「歌の島」と言われる八重山から、すぐれた唄者が出現することでしょう。

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