Miwa Yonashiro: Miyako-jima o Utau

The music of the Miyako Islands is not generally as celebrated as that of the islands of Okinawa to the north or Yaeyama to the south. But Miyako is home to some of the finest Ryukyu songs which are full of sad melodies, energetic dance tunes, and heartrending ballads reflecting the islands’ history of poverty during the Ryukyu Kingdom era and the ravages caused from time to time by typhoons and natural disasters.

In modern times these songs have been recorded most famously by the great singer Genji Kuniyoshi. More recently Makoto Kubota’s Blue Asia project has rediscovered some of the songs and put them in a new musical setting, while Satoru Shimoji has also been active in a similar field. Solo albums by female singers have been much harder to come by and so it is a great pleasure to find this debut release by Miyako singer Miwa Yonashiro which was recorded at Satoru Shimoji’s Lagoon studio on the island of Miyako.

Miwa Yonashiro

Miwa Yonashiro was born in 1966 and began playing sanshin when she was ten years old. She won the Newcomers Award at the Ryukyu Shimpo sponsored Ryukyu Koten Geino Konkuru in 1996 but this is her first full-length solo recording. The album comprises nine songs, all traditional pieces from the islands of Miyako. Included among them are familiar songs such as ‘Nariyama Ayagu’ and ‘Irau Togani’ as well as ‘Ikima nu Shu’ (from Ikema Island) and some other less immediately recognisable songs.

Yonashiro has a lovely voice and is a fine sanshin player. The only other sounds on the album are a little koto and taiko and a hint of hayashi so this is a far cry from Kubota’s electronic experiments. Somehow it all seems the better for it and it’s very good to hear such clear, uncluttered and authentic sounding versions of these old songs. At 40 minutes the album doesn’t outstay its welcome and is just the thing to give a tantalising taste of Miyako’s rich musical culture.

Miyako-jima o Utau is released by Lagoon Music (MFGT-01)

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