Roots Album Round-up 2020

It’s that time of the year to look back and reflect on the albums that reached me in 2020. Despite the pandemic, new roots music kept on coming and there were several new Okinawan albums to review.

This year, songs from Yonaguni were unusually well represented with new recordings by Ayame Band’s Takao Nagama and a debut album from Yuu Yonaha. There was also the arrival of a welcome second release from Okinawa Americana.

But – and just for fun – these were the Power of Okinawa’s top three joint best albums (together with little quotes from my reviews):

VARIOUS ARTISTS   Okinawa Yuumoasongu Ketteiban (Respect) Nine singers share a double album focusing on the humorous side of Okinawa. “The album is packed with fine songs, and the vocals, sanshin, and general musicianship are exemplary throughout.”

MUTSUMI ARAGAKI   Another World of Okinawan Music (Niinuhai) An adventurous, experimental album from the sanshin virtuoso. It also came with a DVD.  “…essential listening for anyone interested in what is going on now in Okinawan music and in the exciting new directions in which Aragaki is taking it.”

NARISE ARAKAKI   Shinayakani…Shimauta (Miri Records) The debut album of the young singer from Yaese. “Managing to sound fresh while drawing on the living traditions of the islands’ music, she can be rightly proud of this album.”

As for ‘Roots Music from Out There’, there were many to choose from including important new releases from Estonia’s Trad.Attack! and English folk legend Shirley Collins. The collaboration by Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn was a highlight and so was Jake Blount’s Spider Tales. Then there was Cinder Well whose meditative No Summer caught the mood of the times perfectly, as did the album by Emily Barker. 

So, an impossible task, but my personal favourite was:

PHARIS AND JASON ROMERO   Bet on Love The best record yet from the Canadian duo. “The deceptively simple and timeless quality of Pharis and Jason’s music seems more essential now than ever in these troubled times.”

Reviews of all these albums and more are on the blog. Tracks from most of the non-Okinawan ones reviewed can also be listened to on my Contemporary Roots Music Mix at K.O.L. Radio on Mixcloud. An Okinawan music radio mix is also on the way soon.

Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

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