Best of the Year 2018

It’s almost the end of another year and so it’s time to look back over the music we listened to. As usual there was a lot going on in the world of roots music and many fine new albums were released. My favourite of all was The Invisible Comes to Us which is the third album by Anna & Elizabeth. The young American duo took things into new territory by somehow managing to combine traditional Appalachian ballads with field recordings from the archives and with avant-garde experiments too. A superb achievement.

On the Okinawan front the debut solo album by Yoko Ishikawa was a very welcome release and showed there are many younger musicians around the Ryukyu Islands who are carrying on the song traditions and taking them forward. Her simply produced album owed a lot to her mentor Shizuko Oshiro. If anything, Ishikawa has been a bit too keen to acknowledge this fact – such is the way in the hierarchical world of Okinawan traditional song. Her album Shami No Yorokobi nevertheless demonstrated the emergence of yet another top singer from these islands.

There was also a good new album this year by Ishigaki singer-songwriter tidanomiyuki whose Now and Then was a fine discovery. Okinawa’s Maltese Rock released Otobune, and there was a double album Chimu Churasa from the ubiquitous Kanako Horiuchi. All these albums were reviewed on the Power of Okinawa blog.

There seems to have been a bigger influx of overseas artists performing live, at least on the main island of Okinawa. In the past many foreign musicians touring mainland Japan have been unable for logistical or financial reasons to include Okinawa in their tour schedule. Now a few are beginning to get through.

Trad.Attack! (Photo: Stina Kase)

The best concert I saw all year was by Estonian trio Trad.Attack! who played the last date of their Japan tour in October at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theatre. Like Anna & Elizabeth, they also use samples of archive recordings and they produced a thrilling sound with 12-string guitar, bagpipes, whistles and drums. Their second album, the wonderful Kullakarva, also received a release in Japan.

I mustn’t end without mentioning another great concert at the same venue in May when Mikel Urdangarin from the Basque Country played solo and with his ‘Okinawa trio’ of Mutsumi Aragaki and Makoto Miyata. This was the culmination of much planning and preparation for what we named the Basque Ryukyu Project which saw Mikel spending five weeks on Okinawa learning about the islands’ music and culture and collaborating with local musicians. It was also a rare occasion as Mikel played only in Okinawa and not in mainland Japan.

All the best for a happy and music-filled year in 2019!

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Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

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