Roots Round-up 2021

It’s that time again when everyone chooses their best albums of the year, so here are some of my favourites.  

In 2021 several new Okinawan releases came my way but best of all was Utayui by Chihiro Kamiya. This was her first full-length album for nine years and it really confirmed her place as one of the great singers from these islands with a set of songs mixing both old and new. The review of Kamiya’s album (and of all the albums here) can be found on the Power of Okinawa blog.

Next in my top three is the debut album Churaumi, Churashima by Miyako singer and sanshin player Tadayuki Matsubara who is following strongly in the footsteps of his mentor Genji Kuniyoshi who died earlier this year. Matsubara captures the mood of his islands perfectly on an album of traditional songs that would surely have made Kuniyoshi himself proud.

My third choice must be the double CD Mo Ashibi Magic recorded live in Tokyo in 1999 by Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman and released for the first time this year. As I wrote in the review: “For anyone familiar with their original albums this will be an unexpected and essential bonus. It also serves as a wonderful reminder of one of the most successful collaborations in any musical genre.”

Of the ‘Roots Music from Out There’ recordings to reach me, here are three favourites, in no special order:

Spiers & Boden’s Fallow Ground was a very welcome return for the Bellowhead pair working again as a duo with a great mix of songs and tunes. The two Englishmen made an intoxicatingly vibrant noise to prove they are still at the top of their game. While mainly an upbeat set, the instrumental track ‘The Fog’ is possibly the best thing John Spiers has ever done.

Meanwhile from America there were two recordings that I listened to more than any other. The first was the Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno self-titled album which contained a lovely selection of original songs, typified by the melancholy ‘Love and Chains’ (see video). It’s a remarkable album made with great skill, care, and love by young musicians already steeped in a tradition way beyond music fashions.

My other favourite was Joe Troop’s solo debut Borrowed Time a collection of self-composed protest songs plus a couple of instrumentals. The dominant sound is that of Troop’s voice and banjo and to this he adds some gifted musicians while slipping effortlessly between English and Spanish vocals. 

With the persistent pandemic affecting live shows there weren’t many trips out but I did see a terrific set from the Okinawa Americana duo Merry and David Ralston at Mod’s in Chatan last month.

This was with their full band line-up for the CD release of their second album Tachi. The earlier digital release was reviewed here some time ago. There’s another chance to see them when they play on 24th December at Stage Coco in Itoman. I’ll be there to start the Christmas celebrations.

Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

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