Archive for March 2021

Natsuki Nakamura: Agaritida

March 23, 2021

It’s been a long time coming but Agaritida is the first solo release from Okinawa’s Natsuki Nakamura who has been well-known on the island music scene for some time.

Nakamura learned traditional singing and sanshin with the Noborikawa-ryu but is equally at home with contemporary styles. She has been a vocalist with techno units Ryukyudisko and Ryukyu Underground, and in 2007 joined Soul Flower Mononoke Summit for their Henoko Peace Festa to campaign against the proposed new US base – a protest that continues to this day.

Agaritida has seven tracks and for these she is joined by a handful of musicians. For the opener ‘Oka no Ipponmatsu’ her vocal and sanshin is accompanied by acoustic guitar played by Naoto from the rock band Orange Range. Elsewhere there is some saxophone, flute, and piano, while Kanako Hatoma provides shimadaiko on a couple of tracks.

Everything is sung, played, and recorded competently and straightforwardly. While there can be no complaints about Nakamura’s performance, it’s nevertheless a bit surprising that – given her interest in contemporary music – she didn’t take a few more risks. The powerful traditional song ‘Kunjan Sabakui’, for example, calls out for a stronger, more adventurous approach but the version here is a bit lacklustre.

On ‘Naritai Bushi’ she duets with what sounds like an elderly man but is in fact the ubiquitous Hajime Nakasone sounding more than ever as if he’s doing an impersonation of Seijin Noborikawa. The pair duet again on ‘Koina Yunta~Asadoya Yunta’ unusually combining the two songs. The final track ‘Mikazuki’ has a nice blend of sanshin, sax, and piano and is the kind of song that Chihiro Kamiya does so well.

It’s good to know that Natsuki Nakamura is recording and playing again as she is someone it’s always a pleasure to see and hear and she performs with all the ease you would expect. It’s just a shame that it all sounds a tiny bit routine when compared to some of the exciting recordings by great Okinawan singers of the past and present. 

Agaritida is released on CD by Natsukiya Records and is out now.

FC Ryukyu 2021

March 21, 2021

The new 2021 season has already begun and FC Ryukyu are competing once more in J2, the second tier of the J.League. It was time for another visit to see them. Yesterday was a warm and sunny day in Okinawa and the pre-match entertainment included a performance by the Ryukyukoku Matsuri Taiko group. Away supporters from Nagasaki were also allowed into the stadium for the first time this season.

This home game was a difficult test as they faced V-Varen Nagasaki, a club with J1 experience and ambitions to return to the top flight. I attended fearing it might put a jinx on that winning run. However, all fears were dismissed as Ryukyu put on an excellent display of passing, movement, and attacking football which was quite outstanding. By the 68th minute Ryukyu had a 3-0 lead with two goals from Ikeda and one from defender Numata, and despite conceding a late goal they were comfortable winners.

On one of the smallest budgets, Manager Higuchi has quietly built a team able to compete at this level and yesterday’s performance was probably the best I’ve seen from them in Okinawa. FC Ryukyu now find themselves in the unexpected position of second in the J2 league table with maximum points after four matches.

The next home match is on Saturday 3rd April at 17:00 when the visitors will be Omiya Ardija.

Music from the Basque Country Mix

March 12, 2021

The latest of my music mixes is here and can be listened to now on K.O.L. Radio’s online channel. For this one, I’ve put together a playlist of music from Euskal Herria (Basque Country). It samples some of the various musical styles and introduces the most well-known singers and musicians.

All the songs are sung in the Basque language – Euskara – possibly the oldest language in Europe and, it seems, unrelated to any other language. There is a mix of trikitixa, triki-pop, singer-songwriters, one or two rock bands, and a dash of the old txalaparta wooden percussion instrument.  

Among the artists I’ve chosen are famed trikitixa player Kepa Junkera, as well as triki-pop duo Alaitz eta Maider and band Huntza. The most important singer-songwriters are represented by Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, Ruper Ordorika and Mikel Urdangarin. And it all begins with the first Basque music I ever listened to by Maixa ta Ixiar.

The most recent tracks are those by Mikel Urdangarin and by father and daughter duo Esti eta Mikel Markez. Both are from albums released just a few months ago. By contrast, the Oskorri track, with a vocal by renowned singer Mikel Laboa, is from the band’s 25th anniversary concert in 1996.

The show is online here:

The playlist order with artist names and song titles is below.

Maixa ta Ixiar ‘Espartzinarena’

Ken Zazpi ‘Gaueko argiak’

Kepa Junkera ‘Madagaskar’

Kirmen Uribe ft. Mikel Urdangarin ‘Sausalitora bidean’

Izaki Gardenak ‘Horma eta haizea’

Benito Lertxundi ‘Baldorba’

Alaitz eta Maider ‘Amets bat’

Oreka TX ‘Keinuka Ilargiari’

Fermin Muguruza ‘Eguraldi lainotsua hiriburuan’

Agurtzane eta Ion Elustondo ‘Bidetxurretik’

Ruper Ordorika ‘Itzala’

Oskorri with Mikel Laboa ‘Aita Semeak’

Beñat Igerabide ‘Helduen Mozorroa’

Korrontzi ‘Joxek Andreari’

Esti eta Mikel Markez ‘Oroitzapenek Esnatu Naute’

Willis Drummond ‘Lehentasuna’

Mikel Urdangarin ‘Hiru Ahizpatik Bigarrena’

Huntza ‘Aldapan gora’

For more information and reviews, please have a look at the Basque Music category of this blog.

Special thanks to my friend Anjel Valdes who first awakened my interest in Basque music and culture. He also produced some of the albums from which these tracks were sourced. My interview with him is in the Features Archive.

Thoughts in the Park

March 10, 2021

I like walking in Heiwasozo no Mori Koen near my home on the south coast of Okinawa. I go there regularly and it’s also a great place to have lunch out in the open. The spacious park is on a hillside that slopes down to the ocean at the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the East China Sea. On weekdays there are few visitors and I sometimes have the entire place to myself. 

Now things are changing. The park itself is the same, thankfully, but a large adjacent area has been taken over by a mining company and is being dug up. As can be seen in these photos taken from the park yesterday, it has become a blot on the otherwise beautiful landscape. On my visit yesterday the noise from dump trucks, and diggers moving rocks and earth, reverberated around the park and was incessant and unrelenting.

This, of course, is an area where there are many memorials and peace monuments to the tens of thousands who suffered unspeakable horrors and terrible deaths here in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. It’s seen now as a sacred place by Okinawans, where families of war victims visit to pray. Close to the park is one of the most important monuments, Konpaku no To, built by the people to honour all lives lost at this spot which was littered with bones and human remains. 

The reason for all the digging nearby is only too well-known in Okinawa but is still a matter of little consequence in Japan and elsewhere. Its purpose is to gather earth for the landfill at the proposed new US military base much further north on the island at Henoko. The rocks, earth and soil will be dumped in the ocean at Oura Bay as a lot more landfill is needed than was at first thought. Long before this, there has been great concern at the damage to the coral reefs, and rare marine creatures of Oura Bay such as the dugong.

Inevitably, the work to provide landfill from Itoman involves digging up the bones of many who died here and whose remains are now mixed in with the soil. There have been many protests and a movement to stop this desecration. These include a weeklong hunger strike earlier this month by activist Takamatsu Gushiken whose volunteer group Gamafuya has been working to uncover and identify the bones of the dead and return them to their families.

But the US war machine rolls on – aided and abetted by Japan and its government who have always shown nothing but ill-disguised disdain for the plight of its colony Okinawa. And it’s all very well talking of the need for better treatment and more autonomy. This looks more than ever like a pipe dream while the Ryukyu Islands remain dependent on Japan. 

Meanwhile, the awful irony is that the war dead are now contributing to the construction of yet another unwanted military base on Okinawa. Even after all this time their bones still have no place to rest. They are, in effect, being killed twice, and #dontkilltwice is already widespread on social media campaigns and discussions around the issue.

Much respect is due to those such as Takamatsu Gushiken who never gives up, and to the persistence of peace activists in Okinawa who never forget the lessons of war. Also, to those of the Okinawa diaspora who are helping to bring this matter to the attention of the outside world.