Archive for the ‘Classic Albums Revisited’ category

Kina Shoukichi & Champloose (1st album)

August 22, 2012

The third in an occasional series revisiting classic albums and old favourites.

This self-titled album was the debut from Shoukichi Kina and his band Champloose when it was originally released in 1977. It contains nine songs recorded live at the Mikado club in Koza on the main island of Okinawa – the forerunner of the Chakra live house which Kina runs in Naha today. The album was finally released on CD by Tokuma Japan Records in 1989 as one of the titles in their ‘Japanese Rock CD Recollection 70s’ series. The CD came with two extra tracks, both studio recordings previously available only as a single. The album was also released by GlobeStyle in the UK as The Music Power From Okinawa.

So much for the details. What they don’t tell you is that this was a revolutionary album which shook the Okinawan music world and changed it forever. It was also my own introduction to sounds from Okinawa. When I first listened to Kina Shoukichi & Champloose on a homemade tape someone had given me in the late 80s I became completely hooked on this music and bought the newly released CD soon afterwards. It set me off on a journey to discover Okinawa and its music which eventually led to my moving to these islands. So it’s all Kina’s fault.

The album begins with the best recording of the much played ‘Haisai Ojisan’, then almost without stopping Kina goes straight into the lively ‘Uwaki Bushi’ and ‘Red Ojisan’. The great song ‘Agarizachi’ is here and so is the much loved ‘Bashagwa Suncha’. Also hidden among the later classics is the little gem ‘Sukuchina Mun’ which was (unusually for Kina) never recorded again. Several of these songs appeared again on subsequent albums but the sheer exuberance of these early live recordings takes some beating.

All the songs on the album are Kina originals strongly influenced by the traditional Okinawan music Kina grew up with but played in a newly mixed up rock style. Kina sings and plays electric guitar and brother-in-law Takao Nagama (later of Ayame Band) is on electric sanshin. Other family members are Kina’s wife Tomoko and his sisters Sachiko and Junko on backing vocals, while brother Masahiro is on bass. The additional studio recordings are ‘Tokyo Sanbika’ a comic song which mocks the busy lifestyle of the Tokyo businessman, and the single version of ‘Shimagwa Song’. The studio recordings are with different musicians and include well-known Japanese singer Akiko Yano on keyboards.

Even with the extra tracks the CD is just 40 minutes in length. Kina’s next album Bloodline was to be only 28 minutes. But Kina Shoukichi & Champloose should be quite long enough to get you onto your feet and into this glorious life-affirming music. For all its roughness and ramshackle immediacy it’s an Okinawan classic which still deserves attention today.

Sandii: Mercy

July 30, 2012

This is the second in the new series revisiting some classic albums and old favourites.

Japan’s Sandii had already been around for several years as the singer in the band Sandii and the Sunsetz when she made the groundbreaking album Mercy in 1990 for Toshiba-EMI. Before that she had begun to use Okinawan sounds in her music with the Sunsetz but Mercy was a real turning point which saw her going solo on an album with many influences from other parts of Asia. Mercy proudly showed off its Asian sensibility – not least to Japanese who had been too much in thrall to Western music. The album was produced by her then partner and long-time collaborator Makoto Kubota and by Singaporean Dick Lee who also wrote the title song.

There was real excitement that this was an album to push East Asia into the ‘world music’ scene and it was a big step forward musically for Sandii. The well-known Japanese songs ‘Sakura’ and ‘Sukiyaki’ were on the album, but a rap was added to ‘Sakura’, and ‘Sukiyaki’ was given an Indonesian flavoured arrangement. ‘Hello’ was co-written by Sandii and became a popular opening song for her live shows. As well as mixing up the musical styles she sang in several different languages including Italian on the unaccompanied closing track. Perhaps best of all was the outstanding ‘Ikan Kekek’ – originally a Malay folk song – which drives along with enormous rhythm and energy and it became a hit single in Malaysia.

Mercy is a very fine album but it wasn’t the end of the experimenting. Two years later Sandii released Pacifica, an album in similar vein but with the addition of influences from Polynesia. Her next album Airmata was a set of melayu and dangdut classics made in Indonesia. Dream Catcher from 1994 was again produced by Makoto Kubota and took things further still with more dangdut, rap, and a plethora of Asian pop styles and with singing in English, French, Japanese and Indonesian. By 1996, however, and the release of the album Sandii’s Hawaii, she was concentrating on exploring the music of Hawaii where she had spent much of her childhood and this is something she has continued to do ever since. She still releases Hawaiian albums and runs ‘Sandii’s Hula Studio’ in Tokyo. She also appeared at last weekend’s Fuji Rock Festival.

It’s now almost 20 years since I met Sandii for the first time in a restaurant in Kobe on the afternoon of a concert she was doing in the city. I was writing an article about her for Kansai Time Out magazine and was a little nervous as I’d never before sat down with a musician to do a lengthy interview. She immediately put me at ease and her positive attitude to life still resonates years later. She answered all my questions thoughtfully and even asked me some questions of her own. Her facility with languages – evident on Mercy and the other albums of what she calls her Pacifica period – also meant that she answered all my questions in fluent English. At the concert that evening she surprised me again by singing an Okinawan song just for me, having heard of my interest in Okinawa earlier that day. All of Sandii’s work is of interest but that period in the early 90s beginning with Mercy is a special one.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Beauty

July 24, 2012

‘Classic Albums Revisited’ is intended as an occasional series to briefly introduce – or revisit – some of the important albums which have made an impression on me over the years.  Some of these are from Okinawa, and most would be termed ‘roots’ music, but others are not. Here is the first…

Japan’s Ryuichi Sakamoto is well-known around the world for his composition of film soundtracks and also for his innovatory electronic music and techno-pop as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra. He is now based in New York and still very active at the age of 60. He was in the news recently for his organisation of the ‘No Nukes 2012’ concert – a hugely successful two day event in Chiba which gathered together anti-nuclear power protesters and musicians from all over Japan and beyond. The concert included performances from YMO and Kraftwerk as well as Amami singer Chitose Hajime, Osaka band Soul Flower Union, and many others.

Back in 1989 he made the ‘solo’ album Beauty which introduced some Okinawan influenced music to mainland Japanese listeners at a time when Okinawan music was still relatively unfamiliar to many of them. At that time I was just beginning to discover the joys of Okinawan music myself and was probably listening constantly to the early albums of Shoukichi Kina. Sakamoto’s Beauty includes two old island favourites, ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ (on the album it’s called ‘Chinsagu no Hana’). It was quite possibly the first time I’d listened to either of these songs – hard to believe now as I must have heard them about a thousand times since in all their various incarnations.

What I almost certainly didn’t realise at the time was that three of the very best Okinawan female singers were on this album playing sanshin and providing the distinctive Okinawan vocals to some of the songs. They are Misako Koja (who was soon to become a founder member of Nenes), Yoriko Ganeko, and Kazumi Tamaki. A few years later I would meet all three of them in Okinawa on separate occasions and get to know them much better. In fact, they would all become more important to me than Ryuichi Sakamoto himself. Also on the album is the great Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour whose superb voice and music I also discovered later through his own albums. Brian Wilson, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Robertson all make brief appearances too.

Beauty is a patchwork of disparate ideas put together by Sakamoto and he mixes together pop, electronic, classical, Japanese and Okinawan sounds. Not surprisingly some of the tracks work rather better than others. Sakamoto’s own voice is weak and this shows on the slight ‘Rose’ – probably the least interesting track, while the lengthy re-arrangement of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio’ which closes the album is just a little tedious. The Mick Jagger and Keith Richard cover ‘We Love You’ is more interesting but the album is at its best on ‘Asadoya Yunta’, ‘Romance’, and the N’Dour/Sakamoto co-written ‘Diabaram’. These all stand the test of time very well and the album as a whole still sounds vital after all these years. The album was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and released on Virgin.