Shunichi Irei: Nangoku Beat

Nangoku Beat (南国ビート) is the first album for ten years by singer, songwriter and sanshin player Shunichi Irei who is from Izena-jima off the north-west coast of Okinawa. Irei learned sanshin at high school and then went to Okinawa Kenritsu Geijutsu Daigaku (Okinawa Arts University) where he studied Ryukyuan classical music.

One of the songs here was originally a single for him in 2007. A mini-album followed the next year, and he also appeared at the Summer Sonic 09 festival in mainland Japan. More recently he has acted in films and television drama including the movie Zampa set in Okinawa.

With this release he has recorded a set of mostly original songs. There is also one co-written with Akira Ikuma as well as a cover of the J-Pop hit ‘Hanamizuki’. Alongside his own original songs there are two traditional tracks – the familiar ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’.

The overall sound is probably best described as Uchina Pop. Irei has a strong voice and his sanshin playing is prominent throughout. Also crucial is his accomplice DJ Sasa who created all the arrangements in addition to keyboards and programming. It’s already more than a decade since DJ Sasa collaborated with Kanako Horiuchi on their Ska Lovers project and some of the atmosphere of their two fine albums is reproduced here.

The title track (see video below) is a bright, poppy affair and this, like much of the album, celebrates island life and the nature of Okinawa. It’s followed by ‘Precious Days’ a song written by Irei in memory of his late grandfather. It’s a smooth pop ballad of the kind that might easily be the theme song to a TV drama series.

‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’ is the better of the two traditional tracks. It’s taken at a slow pace and with an appealing vocal sung by someone obviously at home with the classics. It’s such a great song too that Irei could hardly go wrong just by singing it straight and true. For this listener, it’s a highlight, while Irei’s own compositions will no doubt please those looking for the more pop side of Okinawan music.

A live release event is planned for 3rd May in Tokyo. There will also be a live release show in Okinawa at Naha’s Sakurazaka Central on Saturday 16th July at 19:00.

Nangoku Beat is out now and is distributed by OR.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

One Comment on “Shunichi Irei: Nangoku Beat”

  1. […] Beat” and the beautiful “Precious Days”. John Potter at Power of Okinawa has an amazing review of the album as well as an artist profile that’s a […]

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