Maltese Rock: Downtown Parade
They’re not from Malta and their music is not just rock. The band Maltese Rock were formed in 1997 and are now a kind of alternative music institution in Okinawa. They have played an important role in revitalising the Sakaemachi market area of Naha and have already given live shows in Japan and overseas. The new release Downtown Parade is their debut album made in Taiwan on the newly founded Music from Okinawa label.
Songwriter and vocalist Morito sings in a gravelly voice which makes Tom Waits sound sweet by comparison. There are many kinds of rock, Okinawan, gypsy music and Japanese chindon all present, sometimes in the same songs which have wild changes of tempo and mood. On ‘Dynamite Peace’ we could almost be listening to Soul Flower Union while the Okinawa flavoured ‘Ishin Denshin’ isn’t so far from Champloose. There are even hints of the Incredible String Band.
Some of the songs concern social issues as Morita growls out the words against a melange of sounds. He plays guitar while the other musicians add tenor and alto sax, bass, drums, piano and marimba. Kaori Suedome plays the morin khuur which is a Mongolian two-stringed bowed instrument. The title track comes near the end and is the only time when a guitar-driven song sounds almost conventional. Morita finally takes a back seat on the last track, the gently melodic ‘Ai no Uta’ which has a female vocal.
At times there is the suspicion that it’s all just a little too calculatedly avant-garde and a bit less thought and more spontaneity might not have gone amiss. Nevertheless Maltese Rock have created a niche for themselves and a sound which is quite unlike any other from Okinawa. Downtown Parade is a compelling and sometimes thrilling ride and it’s rare that a debut album is already as accomplished as this.
Maltese Rock will do a live show at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre on 27th December at 15:00. Tickets are 2,000 yen in advance and 2,500 at the door.
Downtown Parade is released by Music from Okinawa.