Keiko Higa: Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi

This new album features an ensemble cast of musicians led by Keiko Higa who is best known in Okinawa as a member of long-standing vocal group Deigo Musume. As well as a singer and sanshin player Higa is a talented exponent of the taiko and her percussive skills on that instrument form the basis of these recordings.

Most of the tracks are traditional songs but there are also three originals. One is the title track written by another well-known singer and musician Shuken Maekawa who is prominently featured on the album as one of Higa’s guests. There is also a composition by Sadao China, and another co-written by Higa with Bisekatsu. 

Higa is originally from Yomitan and has been involved with music in Okinawa ever since joining her sisters in Deigo Musume as a four-year old. The group were put together by their father and began performing in 1962. (Sadly, in 1973 both of their parents were killed in a car accident involving a drunken driver from the US military). In the 1990s she formed her own taiko group named Shimadaiko and now runs another group Shubizu.

There is an hour of songs and music, but it’s the almost 14-minute penultimate track that is by far the longest and this is described as the ‘climax’ of the album. This is a kachashii medley of seven well-known pieces for which she is joined by the whole ensemble, and it concludes with the inevitable ‘Toshin Doi’.

The kachashii dance medley formula is so well-known in Okinawa and already so familiar that it holds a bit less interest for this listener than some of the other recordings here. No doubt the dynamic dance music works very well and comes to life even more in live performance. But it’s some of the other songs that really hold the attention.

The musicians – Keiko Higa and Shuken Maekawa are seated front centre.

Her moving vocal duet with kumiodori performer Seigi Tamagusuku on ‘Konjigwa’ is a highlight. It’s followed by the fine ‘Kuibanja’ on which she is joined by Keiko Kinjo on vocal and sanshin. There is an eisa version of Shuken Maekawa’s hit ‘Ashibina’ featuring Maekawa himself. Also of note are the Yaeyama song ‘Densa Bushi’ with Kota Ito, and the Miyako song ‘Nakadati nu Mikagama’ on which Higa duets with Tadayuki Matsubara.

The album ends with ‘Kodoyo Hibike’ a song written especially for the album by Sadao China. This offers a different note from all that’s gone before as it includes a rhythm track and sounds like something China might have composed for one of his Nenes line-ups. This time it’s a total success and is, in fact, one of the best things on the album.

Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi will be released by Respect on 30th March. The CD contains a 48-page booklet.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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