Mutsumi Aragaki: Another World of Okinawan Music

The debut album from Okinawa’s Mutsumi Aragaki has been a long time coming. Another World of Okinawan Music was first reported to be in the pipeline three years ago and now after many twists and turns it has finally arrived. It’s also released in a package containing not just the CD album but also a companion DVD.

Many will be familiar with her numerous collaborations, for example with Basque singer Mikel Urdangarin who visited Okinawa a couple of years ago. But Aragaki has already built a reputation as a singer and sanshin player in her own right, not only around these islands but much further afield through explorations of her traditional Okinawan roots combined with avant-garde interpretations.

Another World of Okinawan Music is basically a continuous performance best listened to from beginning to end rather than skipped around. The tracks follow on naturally from each other, many containing traditional songs and music, often with new or additional words by Aragaki. There are also sections with loops and electronics joining and sometimes replacing vocals and sanshin.

It’s hard to pick out individual tracks on a recording such as this but two are outstanding for this listener. They are ‘Naakunii-Hantabaru’ and ‘Chijuyaa’. The former is especially well-known in Okinawa and is given a new arrangement here. At nine minutes, ‘Chijuyaa’ is the longest track and is credited as a Ryukyu traditional dance song arranged with added lyrics by Aragaki.

On these two especially, but also elsewhere, the singing and sanshin playing appear in ways not frequently heard in Okinawan music. In particular, she manages to use the sanshin not just as simple accompaniment to the words but as an instrument that can take the lead and express different emotions. All of this is achieved together with sanba, electronics, loops, effects, and soundscapes, while on the DVD the same music blends with videos, photos, paintings, natural sounds, and old Okinawan film footage.

This was obviously a labour of love and the packaging is nothing like the familiar ‘cheap and cheerful’ offerings with minimal information we’ve come to expect in Okinawa. By contrast the CD+DVD (also available as a download) comes with a 20-page booklet with details in Japanese and English. Song lyrics are also printed in the original Okinawan language as well as Japanese and English.

In fact, if there’s a caveat to all this, it’s that there is so much information about the artist, including six short appreciative notes (yes, hands up, I wrote one of them) and such a detailed history of her activities that it tends to read like a job application – she doesn’t really need it, the music speaks for itself. On the album I could also have done without the spoken intro and outro.

So, this is an album that will not suit everyone as it requires close attention to reap its rewards. It should, however, be essential listening for anyone interested in what is going on now in Okinawan music and in the exciting new directions in which Mutsumi Aragaki is taking it. She is indeed a trailblazer who can’t be compared to anyone else. The title of this album could hardly be more apt.

Another World of Okinawan Music is released by NIINUHAI Recordings and is available now:

Here is the video trailer:

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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