Sven Kacirek: Songs From Okinawa

Songs From Okinawa is a new album from Hamburg’s Sven Kacirek. He studied music in Germany, the Netherlands, and New York where he concentrated on drums and marimba, and has subsequently worked on numerous musical projects in a wide variety of genres including jazz, classical, and film scores. In 2011 he released an album The Kenya Sessions on which he collaborated with local African musicians. Now he has turned his attention to Okinawa.

Kacirek’s project in the Ryukyu Islands has been bubbling under for some time and he began travelling and recording here in 2012. The results are finally being released next month. On his travels he was accompanied by Mina Mermoud, a musician and researcher based in London, and meetings were arranged with both professional and amateur musicians. So this is very much an album based around the field recordings they made. Back home Kacirek selected some of these recordings and added new elements with marimba, stone xylophone, brushes on various materials, piano and bass marimba while maintaining the basic arrangements performed by each of the singers.


During his journey Kacirek visited three groups of islands – Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama – but almost all the songs which make it onto the album are traditional songs from the Yaeyama Islands. The exceptions are two sung by Keiko Kina. One of these is ‘Koi no Hana’, which nevertheless originated in Yaeyama, while the other is her very different version of ‘Nagareru Mamani’ a lovely song co-written and previously recorded by her famous brother Shoukichi Kina.

The most easily recognisable name among the other featured singers is Tetsuhiro Daiku who has become a kind of ambassador for Yaeyama songs and his inimitable deep voice can be heard on two songs, ‘Tsundara Bushi’ and ‘Tsuku nu Kaisha’. At the other end of the spectrum there is a simple prayer song with unknown title from Taketomi Island sung by ‘Mrs Uesedo and her daughter’. The album ends with an instrumental version of ‘Densa Bushi’ in which the focus is on the interplay between sanshin and marimba.

The marimba is not to everyone’s taste and some may be concerned that the addition of this and other instruments may dilute the performances or soften the music to make it more palatable to outside listeners. However, Kacirek has an understanding and respect for these songs, his research has been thorough, and the finished recordings retain all that is good about the songs while sometimes enhancing them in new ways. In some ways the album has an affinity with Daiku’s Gamelan Yunta recordings in Bali a few years ago. Kacirek’s is an unusual and welcome release and should encourage overseas listeners especially to seek out more traditional Okinawan music.

Songs From Okinawa is being released on 20th November by the German label Pingipung. It will be available in both vinyl and CD formats as well as a download.

This video documentary by Agnieszka Krezeminska shows the recording process and some of the singers featured on the album:





Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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