Archive for November 2022

Kenji Yano: Kalimba Plays Okinawan Songs

November 17, 2022

Kenji Yano is from Osaka but has long been resident in Okinawa where he has been active as both musician and producer. His name has already popped up a few times on this blog. He was a guitarist in 1980s band Rokuningumi and their very interesting mix of Asian styles was finally made available on CD a couple of years ago.

Yano has subsequently led various projects including Surf Champlers (known for their recording of the James Bond theme) and Sanshin Café Orchestra. His album Sanshin Island Café was reviewed here in 2016.

On this new solo album, he offers instrumental versions of 13 Okinawan songs played exclusively on the kalimba, an African instrument also known as mbira or thumb piano. Four different kalimbas are used for the recordings – two were made in Japan, one is from China, and the other from South Africa.

The songs chosen are all very well-known to those familiar with Okinawa and its music. Some of them are traditional while others are modern shimauta. They include ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Akata Sundunchi’ as well as covers of Begin’s ‘Nada Sousou’, The Boom’s ‘Shimauta’, Shoukichi Kina’s ‘Hana’, and ‘Bashoufu’ the popular composition by Tsuneo Fukuhara who died just a few weeks ago.

The liveliest track is another Kina song, ‘Haisai Ojisan’, but in general this is a very laidback and relaxing listen – hence its subtitle: ‘Relax to the Magic of Okinawa’, also used for a previous Yano album on which he played sanshin versions of Okinawan classics.

I don’t care for the term ‘healing’ (as regular readers will know), and it is overused in promoting tourism and beach holidays around the Ryukyu islands. However, this would not be too far off the mark when describing the album. It will doubtless appeal to fans of the kalimba which is played here with great expertise but may also find a welcome place as background music in island cafes.

Kalimba Plays Okinawan Songs is released on CD by Qwotchee Records.


Olatz Salvador and the Basques

November 4, 2022

It’s been a while since the roots music of the Basques was featured here. The steady arrival of new releases for review from Euskal Herria (Basque Country) dried up somewhat following the retirement last year of my good friend, record producer and coordinator Anjel Valdes.

It’s four years since our Basque-Ryukyu project brought Mikel Urdangarin to Okinawa for concerts and collaborations. This year Mikel has been on a 25th anniversary world tour to celebrate his career as a professional musician. Unfortunately, pandemic restrictions prevented the inclusion of Okinawa in the schedule.

But, of course, the music carries on and more recently I was impressed with a new album from master singer-songwriter Ruper Ordorika. His Amour eta toujours successfully adds a dash of Cuban music to his songs. Earlier this year there was also Hitzekin Jolasean a fine solo debut by Esti Markez whose album with her father was previously reviewed here.

Now that many Okinawan live music venues have reopened there is news of another Basque music live event coming next month. Donostia-San Sebastian singer and songwriter Olatz Salvador (pictured above) will begin her tour with a date in Okinawa before moving on to Japan where she plays several different venues.

Olatz Salvador is a popular and highly regarded musician who has been active for more than a decade, first as a member of the band Skakeitan and more recently as a solo artist. Her debut solo recording arrived in 2018. A second album Aho uhal was released last year, and this video features one of its songs:

She performs with her own band in Okinawa at Koza Crossover Café 614 on Wednesday 7th December starting at 20:00. Also on the bill are Okinawan band Shaolong To The Sky, and DJs Txako and Sima. Advance tickets are 3,000 yen. The evening is presented by 614 and Japonicus under the banner ‘Fight for Rights: Special Edition in Okinawa’.

Lastly, if you missed it and would like more Basque music – including some of the artists mentioned here – you can listen to over an hour of it on my K.O.L. Radio Mix from last year:

7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival

November 1, 2022

The 7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival began yesterday in Okinawa and goes on for five days. The taikai or festival is usually held every five years but because of the global pandemic it is six years since the last one.

Those with roots in the Ryukyus gather from all over the world and it’s expected that a total of 8,500 people will take part.

On the eve of the festival (30th October) there was a parade of participants from the Okinawa diaspora. This took place on Kokusai-dori in Naha. These photos (plus several others) appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

Photos: Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan