Sakishima Meeting: The Best
Ishigaki singer/sanshin player Yukito Ara and Miyako singer/guitarist Isamu Shimoji have been performing together for quite a while as the duo Sakishima Meeting. The Best is their first full-length album and is mostly (but not entirely) a compilation of recordings which have been released as singles and maxi-singles over the past few years. Both Ara and Shimoji are, of course, already well known and highly regarded on the Okinawan music scene as outstanding solo performers and in Ara’s case also as the leader of the band Parsha Club.
At first sight the two are an unlikely pair. Ara (at least on stage) is a playful character with a fast sanshin technique which he enjoys showing off and he has a wide repertoire and knowledge of traditional songs. Shimoji, on the other hand, sticks mainly to his own compositions which he sings in the completely different Miyako language while playing acoustic guitar. But together the pair are the perfect foil for each other. Shimoji good-naturedly allows Ara to indulge his boisterous sanshin virtuosity while remaining the calm, steadying presence behind everything they do.
When their partnership is at its best the results can be sublime. This is best demonstrated on this album by their stunningly simple but beautiful song ‘Sakishima no Tema’ with its haunting melody and exquisite blend of sanshin, guitar and alternating vocals from Ara and Shimoji. The version here has been newly recorded for this album. The quietly understated ‘Tome Dome’ is another fine piece of work which was especially written as the theme song for the movie Karakara.
Almost all of the songs on the album are co-written originals with words by Ara and music by Shimoji. On three songs they are joined by a bass and drums rhythm section but these are generally less successful. There may be a place for this in the future but on the evidence here it all sounds too rudimentary although it works better on the song ‘Tinpav’. It’s when they are alone together that the pair really shine. What also comes across strongly is how well their voices interplay on each of the songs and what talented and expressive singers they have become.
The alarm bells might start to ring when they try a couple of Western covers towards the end of the album but the over-familiar ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and ‘Danny Boy’ – the former sung in a mixture of English and Japanese, the latter in Japanese only – have fresh arrangements for sanshin and guitar which work better than expected. The album also has two lengthy ‘bonus tracks’ recorded live in May 2013.
The Best (with bonus tracks) runs to 63 minutes with 13 songs and one instrumental. It all leaves us wondering if Sakishima Meeting will come up with a new album of original songs in the future. The experiment has worked so well that it would be almost a crime to stop now. In the meantime, this is a good introduction to what they have done so far.
The Best is released on Arize.