Archive for July 2022

Seishin Taba: Shiawase Retto

July 29, 2022

Seishin Taba has been a fixture on the Okinawan music scene for a long time. While he may not command the high profile of some of his contemporaries, he has built quite a reputation for himself over the years. Now, the best of his recordings has been rounded up and made available on this newly released double album.

The album’s full title is Shiawase Retto – Taba Seishin Tokushu and it brings together 32 tracks over two CDs. All but one of these are taken from previous recordings that span the whole of Taba’s career. The exception is the newly recorded ‘Shirakumu Nagariti’ a song written by Bisekatsu and Kazutoshi Matsuda. It’s one of the best things on what is a comprehensive selection covering a lot of musical ground.

Taba recently surfaced to take part as a guest on Keiko Higa’s album Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi, reviewed here earlier this year. He also sang and played impressively when I saw him at the Higa album release concert in Koza. Just last week, he also appeared in concert as one of a trio of top traditional singers along with Sadao China and Tetsuhiro Daiku, so he is obviously enjoying something of a renaissance.

The selections on this (mainly) retrospective release include several duets with women singers, and there are two songs with the great Yuki Yamazato: one is the superb ‘Saipan Kazoeuta’. Other female singers include Naeko Seragaki and Misako Koja, while the last track of all is a recording of ‘Sah Sah Bushi’ with Keiko Kinjo. As well as the women, Shuken Maekawa joins on one song and is composer of one of the best tracks, ‘Nakankiyo’.

In 1975, Taba had a big hit in Okinawa with the song ‘Shima no Hito’ and this is also included. Another of many highlights is ‘Nakuna Shichan’ in which Taba’s typically undemonstrative and gentle vocal is evident. Despite the upbeat album title, which takes its name from the first song ‘Shiawase Retto’ (or ‘happy island chain’), several songs are sad reflections on the harsh conditions and history of the islands.

Most of the recordings are either popular shimauta or traditional minyo, but Taba is also known for his singing of kayokyoku-style compositions and there are three examples of this. For this listener, these are the weakest point of what is otherwise a very fine collection, as they take Taba far too close to Japanese enka – for my own liking anyway. Otherwise, this excellent collection is the perfect introduction to the musical world of Seishin Taba.

Shiawase Retto is out now on Campus Records.

Jusu: Sagaribana

July 6, 2022

The complete title of this debut album is Sagaribana ~Shima o Kuchizusamu Vol.1~ and it’s by an Okinawa-based trio named Jusu. The trio comprises Ishigaki singer Makico Miyara complemented by the guitar and arrangements of Shigeharu Sasago and the sanshin of Gerhen Oshima.

While this is a new project, the members come to it with an impressive pedigree. Shigeharu Sasago and Gerhen Oshima both have more than 30 years of experience as musicians in numerous different guises, while Makico Miyara is a solo singer whose credits include writing and singing the theme song for a movie soundtrack.

Oshima began as a member of ambient unit Tingara and is keen to explore the possibilities of the sanshin. Meanwhile Sasago is a much in demand guitarist who has worked with, among others, Misako Koja and Yasukatsu Oshima. Inspired by the music of Okinawa, they formed Jusu last year with Makico Miyara, and Sagaribana contains nine songs written or co-written by Sasago and Oshima.

Famed Okinawan artist Bokunen Naka was responsible for the cover art in his unmistakable style, but he is also the composer of the lyrics for two of the songs included here. Earlier this week he joined the trio to talk about his contribution as part of a pre-release event that I was invited to attend at Sound M’s live stage in Naha.

The core sound of these songs is created by the interplay of acoustic guitar and sanshin, but some tracks have guest musicians playing flute, piano, cello, bass, and percussion. There is no obvious standout track but the whole album flows together in a natural progression. This could have slipped all too easily into the dreaded easy listening, but the musicians and the songs are good enough to avoid this.  

The first three songs are all Gerhen Oshima compositions and the best of these is ‘Shima e’ which opens the album. Miyara begins the next track ‘Ichi mudui’ with a lengthy unaccompanied vocal. This is one of the songs with lyrics by Bokunen Naka. The other, ‘Kaji ya n kai kaji’, is one of the liveliest and most engaging on the album.

This is a joint effort with vital contributions from all three, but the star is Makico Miyara whose confident but nuanced vocal delivery is strongly evident throughout. Listening to her at the pre-release event made me also want to listen to her singing some of the traditional songs of her islands. I’m sure she would do them justice but for now we can be content with the original songs she sings so well with Jusu.

Sagaribana ~Shima o Kuchizusamu Vol.1~ will be released by Jusu Records on 10th July.  Jusu will have an album release concert in Naha at Sakurazaka Theatre Hall B on Sunday 2nd October at 15:00.