Ryuchim Band: Gekkabijinsa!

This is the 5th album from Okinawa’s Ryuchim Band (also known as Ryukyu Chimdon Gakudan). For this recording the five members are joined by ten supporting musicians. It’s a big sound with the core sanshin, saxophone, guitar, bass and drums supplemented by brass and other instruments. They call themselves a ‘super entertainment group’ as they also perform comedy on stage and dress in colourful outfits emphasising their champloo mix of musical styles. These draw liberally on pop and traditional music from Asia and the album’s final track is sung in Chinese.

Gekkabijinsa! contains just seven tracks, all but one composed by guitarist Bobzy. The one female member, Belsachi, takes on most vocal duties and also plays sanshin. She was originally one half of the duo Tink Tink who were protégées of Rinken Teruya. In fact, there are some similarities here with Rinken Band’s approach though the most obvious likenesses are with Japan’s Shang Shang Typhoon and Shisars and the music they made in the 1990s.

ryuchim

Ryuchim Band will sound excitingly exotic to Western audiences and a track from their previous album was included on the Music from Okinawa CD presented at last year’s WOMEX in Spain. However, they are following a fairly well trodden path laid down by those earlier bands though in fairness they do make a very acceptable job of it as they carry forward the tradition. Everything on this short album is also played with great verve and enthusiasm. Probably they are even better live as their colourful show is best equipped to be seen as well as heard.

The one blot on an otherwise engaging album is ‘Ryukyu We Shall Overcome’ in which the traditional ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ segues into the protest anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’. Most commonly associated with the Civil Rights Movement and singers such as Pete Seeger, the song is said to be derived from gospel and this is the only justification for Ryuchim Band singing it in such a happy, breezy and theatrical way. Whatever the reason, the attempt to blend it with ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ is puzzling and the overall results are ghastly.

Gekkabinjinsa! is out now on AJS Records. An animated promotional video of the title track is on the band’s website.

www.ryuchim.com

 

 

 

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