Archive for August 2019

Okinawan Avant-Garde Night

August 30, 2019

There will be an Okinawan Avant-Garde Night in London, UK, on Thursday 3rd October. This is presented by MYM at Rich Mix arts centre in Shoreditch. Taking part will be Okinawa’s Mutsumi Aragaki (vocals, sanshin, electronics, audio-visuals) and UK-based Japanese/Swiss singer Mina who plays sanshin and violin. The pair will be joined by Japanese dancer Yu Tamura who will also be familiar to Power of Okinawa readers as a member of An-chang Project.

The trio will give a music and dance performance that offers an avant-garde approach to ancient sounds and tales from Okinawa.

“By blending songs, stories, images and movements together with Japanese performing artist Yu Tamura, this new collaboration invites the audience to discover the unique and rich culture of Okinawa with a highly artistic perspective.”

More details can be found on the Rich Mix website.

Shura: Forevher

August 20, 2019

Forevher is the second album by English/Russian singer and songwriter Aleksandra Denton better known as Shura. Born in Manchester, she played football as a youngster for Manchester City before deciding to pursue a career in music. Football’s loss is music’s gain as the talented Shura has come up with a very assured successor to her debut Nothing’s Real which was listed here as a favourite album of 2016.

Up to now she has been best known for her electro-pop style with its echoes of the UK of the 1980s. For this album, recorded in London, there is a slight change musically as the synths are still there but there is also piano and generally a much broader sound palette. She borrows from various musical styles but updates these in ways that make the new album both very contemporary and uniquely Shura.

Lyrically too the concerns have shifted from the angst-ridden songs of three years ago to a more confident celebration of life and love. Some weighty topics are touched upon throughout, not least religion and death, but the overriding themes are to do with falling in love and the logistics of maintaining long-distance relationships. Clearly these have been triggered by Shura’s own relationship with her girlfriend in New York.

At the heart of the album is a trio of outstanding tracks. ‘BKLYNLDN’ is a love song that drives along infused with that wistful long-distance theme as she sings: “This isn’t love, this is an emergency”. It’s followed by ‘Tommy’ a song inspired by an 89-year old widower met in Texas and opens with a minute of his spoken word sample. It’s a touching, moving piece that flows along with a lovely melody.

Then comes ‘Princess Leia’ a reflection on death and more that all takes place while the singer is nearing the end of a plane trip. (Flight is another motif that appears on more than one song). The craft and precision of the song’s execution is reminiscent of Paul Simon. Only after listening did I realize the coincidental connection – Carrie Fisher, referenced in the song, was once married to Simon.

Elsewhere the (almost) title track ‘Forever’ begins as if it could be an outtake from ABC’s classic The Lexicon of Love while ‘Religion (u can lay your hands on me)’ is gloriously blasphemous with nuns kissing and smoking cigarettes in the official music video. The album’s cover image evokes Joni Mitchell with its shades of blue.

This is a very fine album that pays its dues to pop if not roots history while being refreshingly original. There are a couple of songs from Nothing’s Real that are just as good as anything here, if not better, but this is a real album to be listened to from start to finish.

Forevher is released by Secretly Canadian.

FC Ryukyu Update

August 12, 2019

We are now beyond the halfway stage of the 2019 J.League football season. As reported before, Okinawa’s only representatives in the J.League are FC Ryukyu who are competing for the first time in the second tier, J2, after becoming J3 champions last season.

After a surprisingly good start to the campaign Ryukyu have since struggled to maintain their early form and have slipped to the lower half of the league table. The club is apparently run on the proverbial shoestring budget and because of its geographical position has very long distances to travel to away games. Home attendances have improved from last year but are still small on an island with no real football culture or tradition.

FC Ryukyu before last Saturday’s kick-off

However, last Saturday was an exciting time to be an FC Ryukyu supporter as the team took on V-Varen Nagasaki who were relegated from J1 last season. The game was billed (rather awkwardly in English) as a ‘Peaceful Match’ in recognition of the terrible wartime sufferings of the people of both Okinawa and Nagasaki and a silence was observed by teams and supporters before the kick-off.

Ryukyu’s recent losing streak looked like continuing as they were 2-1 down going into the 85th minute. But the introduction of forward Ryo Wada proved to be an inspired substitution as he assisted for an equaliser by Satoki Uejo. With manager Higuchi frantically urging everyone forward from the touchline, Wada then scored himself in the seventh minute of added time to give Ryukyu three points and a very dramatic 3-2 victory.

Goalscoring substitute Ryo Wada

FC Ryukyu and V-Varen Nagasaki mascots 

Ryukyu are currently 15th in the 22-team league table and have given themselves a decent chance of staying in J2 for at least another season – which has always been the main aim. Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi is to be commended for sticking to his guns and continuing with Ryukyu’s attacking philosophy. There would be no point in changing it now especially in view of the limited resources at his disposal.

What is worrying is that the club sold their best midfielder Kazaki Nakagawa shortly after the start of the season and there are reports today that top goalscorer Koji Suzuki may also be leaving to join J1 club Cerezo Osaka. Nakagawa has never been properly replaced and the loss of Suzuki would be a big blow.

The club has, however, also been active in bringing in some new players over the past week or so. Young midfielder Ramon has arrived from Fluminense, Brazil, and another midfielder, Koya Kazama, came from Gifu on loan and has already made a mark by scoring the first goal on Saturday.

Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi with new signing Shinji Ono

The most high-profile signing though has been the capture of former Japan international Shinji Ono from J1 team Sapporo. Ono is a veteran with experience of three World Cup finals and is one of the greatest players produced by Japan. His arrival may well boost attendances at Ryukyu but he will be 40 next month so is unlikely to offer a huge amount on the pitch. Nevertheless, it’s hoped he may provide the knowledge and inspiration for his teammates as they fight for continued survival in J2 – and a brighter future for football in Okinawa.

Next Saturday (17th) FC Ryukyu are at home again, this time against Yokohama FC, kick off 19:00.

Dori Freeman: Every Single Star

August 7, 2019

Every Single Star is the third album by Appalachian singer and songwriter Dori Freeman who grew up in Virginia where she still lives. The album was recorded in New York and produced by Teddy Thompson (son of UK folk rock icons Richard and Linda Thompson) who also joins Freeman to share vocals on one of its ten songs.

Freeman’s self-titled debut album came out in 2016 when she announced herself as a bright young American singer-songwriter with deep family roots in the old-time tradition that she grew up with but with a formidable new presence as a chronicler of contemporary issues.

This new release focuses in part on her life as a mother and there is a strong emphasis in many of the songs on the lives of women. Despite the slight thematic shift from her previous work and a more optimistic outlook she is still a forthright singer who writes in a shrewd observational style about women’s lives. As Freeman herself says: “I think there’s always been a streak of resistance in Appalachia and maybe this is the next generation of that.”

The biggest musical influence seems to come from classic country and the musicians backing her play guitars, bass, drums, piano and fiddle. But there are diversions and different styles too and some of the songs are closer to pop and rock while there are others with just Freeman’s voice accompanied by her acoustic guitar.

Dori Freeman (Photo: Kristen H)

The first track ‘That’s How I Feel’ is a cracking way to start. The blend of country and pop immediately evokes words such as sparky, catchy and shiny, and it contains some glorious melodic changes. Riding on top of this is Freeman’s vocal which is strong, clear and emotive both here and throughout the album. It’s such a good opener that it’s a tough one to follow. She never quite tops it but doesn’t faulter either as each of the ten tracks have their own merits and attractions.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ was apparently inspired by Linda Ronstadt but also sounds like something that could have been sung by Roy Orbison. Meanwhile ‘Like I Do’ is an emotional song about the joys of motherhood, but she never becomes too sentimental when singing about her child as it’s so obviously heartfelt and the music is bouncy and upbeat. ‘2 Step’ is a laid-back country duet with Teddy Thompson. The acoustic guitar songs show off Freeman in more usual singer-songwriter mode and one of them ‘I’ll Be Coming Home’ is a fitting way to end the album.

It all clocks in at just 32 minutes during which time she covers some different musical approaches but always with a strong grounding in Appalachian and country music and everything hangs together very well. Every Single Star is very accessible – it kicks in quickly, gets the job done with great style and never overstays its welcome.

Every Single Star will be released by Blue Hens Music on 27th September.