Keiko Kinjo: Umui

Umui is Keiko Kinjo’s debut album. There are so many good women singers in Okinawa that it’s easy to overlook the fact that Kinjo has already been making music for more than four decades. Born in Uruma, she began learning sanshin and minyo from her mentor Shizuko Oshiro when she was 19. She also developed a reputation for a strongly individual singing style which has been called both sensual and seductive. Now at the age of 65 – by Okinawan standards still a comparative youngster – she is about to release this first solo album.

The song ‘Umui’ was written for Kinjo by Matsuo Kawada and the original recording became a big hit back in 1971. It’s a favourite song of hers and this new recording was almost inevitably chosen as the album’s title track. Some of Kinjo’s other early hits were previously included on the Victor compilation Okinawan Hits and Standards and she also recorded a joint album Doushibi fairly recently with Yuki Yamazato and Katsuko Yohen. However, this is her first entirely solo album and the first time that she has played sanshin on every song.

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The album’s 16 tracks are a mixture of minyo and some well-known shimauta by Okinawan songwriters. Among the traditional songs there are both wistful tales of longing and some livelier dance songs. Kinjo’s sanshin provides the main backdrop to her vocals and she also plays shimadaiko (island drums). There is some koto (played by her sister Kumiko Agena) and she is joined on a few tracks by two veteran male singers, Seishin Taba and Seibun Tokuhara as well as young singer Yoko Ishikawa. Generally though, the album has a sparse and uncomplicated sound.

At 67 minutes it’s rather a long listen and could possibly have done with a little editing but on the other hand it will no doubt please her many admirers. She is also able to show off quite a variety of different styles. There is an interestingly different version of the lively ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ and superb versions of the traditional ‘Shirakumu Bushi’ and ‘Sagichijuya’ as well as the excellent title track. The album ends with the standard ‘Nakuni~Kaisare’.

I met Keiko Kinjo this week for an interview to talk about her new album. The article will be published in the Japan Times newspaper at the end of this month – and eventually on the Power of Okinawa website.

Umui is released by Respect Records on 4th September. www.respect-record.co.jp

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