Toru Yonaha: Roots~Ryuraku Keisho

The full title of Toru Yonaha’s new album is Roots~Ryuraku Keisho Sono San~ Shima no Uta Shu and it’s the third in a series of Roots albums. Just to clarify (or perhaps add to the confusion) he also came up with an album of traditional songs entitled Roots in 2008.

This new release is produced by Yonaha who does everything here on his own. This means he sings all the songs as well as accompanying himself on sanshin, taiko, fue, and sanba on what is truly a solo outing. The two previous albums in this series have been more centred around Ryukyu classical songs but this is primarily a set of traditional folk songs or minyo with some of the music composed by Yonaha.

The Chatan born musician has been an important figure for some years on the Okinawan music scene. It’s now 21 years since his excellent debut Yozare Bushi which focused on some of the songs he learned growing up, and in the two decades since then he has proved himself a master of both traditional and classical Ryukyuan music. He has also recorded eisa and kachashii and made a duet album with the late Misako Oshiro.

His open-minded attitude has also seen him collaborate with numerous pop musicians and he helped promote the careers of others such as Chihiro Kamiya and Mika Uchizato. He dabbled in rock music too and during an interview I did with him for The Power of Okinawa book, he told me he enjoyed listening to the likes of Queen and Deep Purple and had got ideas from them when composing.

As expected, this is another solid album on which he sings and plays effortlessly – or so it seems – on a selection of songs that begin with the classical sounding ‘Haru no Ume’ which in fact has music composed by Yonaha. Unlike, for example, English folk music which is quite distinct from classical influences, Ryukyu classical songs and the people’s folk songs are frequently intertwined as is often the case here.

There are commonly known and frequently sung songs such as his versions of the outstanding ‘Chijuyagwa’, and the lively ‘Umi nu Chinbora’. (Yonaha guested on Misako Koja’s recording of the latter several years ago). He also gives us a version of the famed Miyako song ‘Irabu Togani’. There is a song from Ie-jima, and one or two tracks with lesser-known titles such as the fishing song ‘Itoman Otome’.

Despite all his experiments, diversions, and forays into other kinds of music, it’s the man and his sanshin that are at the heart of everything. On this album he is really at home doing what he loves with the folk songs of his islands. As he said years ago in our first meeting, he always wants to carry on with this because there are just so many great traditional songs. Long may it continue.

The album is out now and is released by J’s Records.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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