In Love with Shoukichi

A few evenings ago, I listened again to In Love by Shoukichi Kina & Champloose. It was the first time for quite a while. But In Love must be a bit old now, I was thinking. Then I frightened myself at just how quickly my life is slipping away by checking the date. It was released by Toshiba-EMI on 30th September 1992 which means it will be its 30th anniversary on Friday!

Of all the albums made by Kina this is one that is often missed. Or even dismissed. Westerners especially are more attracted to what they imagine is ‘authentic’ roots music and, for many, In Love was just a bit too slick. Even Salif Keita received sniffy reviews around the same time for his use of synthesisers.

In Love is not too slick. In fact, it’s well-recorded, produced and played, and sounds almost as fresh today as it did three decades ago. It was the first time Kina had created such a polished concoction (in the right way) since his Earth Spirit album two years previously, recorded in Paris with the help of African musicians. It is a step up from some of the ramshackle hit and miss performances on some of his other albums.

A major reason for its success is the sheer quality of the songs, which include many Kina originals alongside a few tried and tested island songs. It all begins with the ever-popular Okinawan staple ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’. I remember very well a live show by Kina and his band in Osaka when they began their set with a blistering, all-action version of this. The studio recording on In Love is not as wild but still captures the glorious essence of the song.

Among the originals – and Kina was writing more in those days – is the beautiful ‘Shimusayutasasa’. Very surprisingly (knowing Kina’s penchant for endless re-recordings) this is the only album on which it appears. If only he could write another like it now. ‘Maitreya’ was another fine original song, this time co-written by Kina with former Champloose member Takao Nagama.

I have an awkward memory of a very different live performance of this at Chakra in Naha. This was six months to the day after the release of In Love. I know this as my CD was signed and dated by Shoukichi Kina moments before he took to the stage for his live show. He enquired before going on if I had any requests, and I asked for ‘Maitreya’. This was not a song his band were familiar with yet. Kina dedicated it to me, but my delight soon turned to alarm as the musicians mangled the tune and made several errors. After the set, Kina marched the musicians into the dressing room and his angry shouts of admonishment made all who heard them squirm with embarrassment. I knew then I should have requested ‘Hana’.

It may well have been later the same evening when, after having had a bit too much of the liquid refreshment on offer, I announced to Shoukichi Kina that I loved him. He took this in his stride with a simple nod of acknowledgement as if my declaration was of course the most natural response of any right-thinking person.

The nine-member line-up on In Love included Kina’s brother Masahiro and sisters Keiko, Sachiko, and Junko. It was augmented by some guest musicians and followers of the great man. Among them was British keyboardist Morgan Fisher whose ancient history involved spells as a member of Love Affair and Mott the Hoople.

There was a huge mix of influences in the music. You can find minyo and shimauta as well as rock, reggae, some eisa, a rap, even a bit of African guitar that crept in from Earth Spirit. And perhaps there’s still a hint of the spiritual guru Osho Rajneesh who was once followed by some members of Champloose before Shoukichi Kina himself usurped him as their guru. 

The often-maligned title track finds them all clustered together in a singalong in which they take a minute to get going as they struggle to learn the unfamiliar English words: “Your love, I feel it takes me to the depth of my being…” and so on. It might be thought tacky but it’s very good to hear so much enjoyment and a spirit of fun that certainly wasn’t there on that night when they played ‘Maitreya’ for me.

Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

One Comment on “In Love with Shoukichi”

  1. Izumi Nishi Says:

    I haven’t read your reviews for a while and find it pleasing that they still interest and touch me.

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