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






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