Takao Nagama: Donan

Takao Nagama’s previous album was recently reviewed here. Now comes Donan, another new release from the founder of Ayame Band. Its title is the original Okinawan name for Yonaguni Island where the singer was born. The songs are mainly original compositions by Nagama and they celebrate life, love, and nature on the small and isolated south-western Ryukyu island.

As often the case with Okinawan releases, nothing is that straightforward. Many of the tracks are newly recorded versions of songs from an early cassette tape made before the birth of Ayame Band. The original tape was named Umi Dunan. Now officially recognised as Nagama’s first album, most of the songs were released on CD under the same title in 2006. (It was chosen last year as one of my favourite ‘totally obscure records’).

A tad confusing also is that in the past some recordings have been credited to Ayame Band and some to Nagama. This one goes under the name: Takao Nagama -Ayame-. It’s safest just to assume that he and the band are one and the same. The release of Donan makes it their 12th album. It is also being promoted as Nagama’s 50th anniversary as a musician, since he first appeared on stage as a 14-year old.

As with last year’s release there is that familiar Ayame Band vibe running through the 16 tracks with Nagama’s strong vocals and sanshin backed by hayashi, keyboards, bass, and drums in a style known most often nowadays as shimauta or island pop. It should not be forgotten that Nagama was at the forefront of the genre and this sound created a sensation when it first appeared. Under his leadership it still sounds great today.

From the lively opening song ‘Donan Shima’ through to the final track ‘Fugarasa’ this is another exciting and frequently moving set of songs. (‘Fugarasa’, incidentally, was also recorded by Shoukichi Kina and Champloose. Kina gave it new lyrics and retitled it ‘Maitreya’). Among many outstanding songs are ‘Yaeyama Meguri’ (given a reggae rhythm), ‘Shonkane~Elegy’, ‘Shimachurasa’ and the superb ‘Yonaguni Kouta’.

Once again, the CD booklet (in Japanese) contains some unnecessary information while omitting more relevant details. And so, we are given Nagama’s date of birth and profile but not the sources of all the songs, nor details of the musicians. Never mind. This is a very welcome release and will surely lift the spirits of anyone who listens.

Donan is produced by Takao Nagama. The album is out now and is self-released.

http://ayameband.ti-da.net

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