Archive for the ‘Interviews’ category

An interview with Pascal Plantinga

October 18, 2011

Pascal Plantinga is a Dutch pop eccentric whose musical experiments span several genres. He has just released three records simultaneously on the German label Ata Tak. All three are completely different and all are equally intriguing. Promises of Pleasure is a studio recording of intimate soundscape songs. Even Angels Take Detours is a live performance by Plantinga with a band in New York and includes a 20 minute film as a bonus DVD. Of special interest to us though is the third of these records Yonaguni Shonkane/Bashofu which consists of these two Okinawan songs performed with lush electronic arrangements and featuring vocals by Keiko Kina.

I have yet to meet Pascal Plantinga in person but we’ve been in touch a few times by phone and email. I recently interviewed him about his collaboration with Keiko Kina. Here are his answers to some of my questions:

How did you come to know Keiko Kina?

The first time I met Keiko was in October 2005, at Chakra, where she was doing her nightly performance as a member of Champloose. I already had a few CDs of Shoukichi Kina & Champloose. I was intrigued by the high pitched sounds of the female voices and determined to experience this otherworldly phenomena right at the source. That night Keiko did a few songs all by herself, and I was mesmerized, not only by the beauty of her voice, but also by the glow on her face when she sang, eyes closed. She must have noticed me somehow because when the show was over, she introduced herself and was curious about why I was there. She told me, most non-Asians who visit Chakra are very specific music lovers and many times musicians themselves. I told her I had just bought a sanshin and Keiko invited me to come back the next night, so we could play together. Which I did. That night I also gave her two of my CDs and Keiko immediately offered to sing on my next record.

How were the songs chosen?

They were not really chosen. They chose me. I had prerecorded some rough arrangements of new songs with Keiko in mind for my third trip to Okinawa last year. However, Keiko, who had just opened a new club, Ohana, felt more comfortable playing a few songs from her own repertoire. Much to my delight one of the songs she suggested was ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’, a classic I knew from the Yaeyama singer Isamu Asato. Keiko also sang a version of ‘Bashofu’, a very popular Okinawan song but not really a favorite of mine. And as great as Keiko sounded, I could not imagine wanting to do anything with the recording of that song.

So how did you come to record it?

Well, one thing I enjoy doing in Naha, is taking the monorail. We don’t have monorails in The Netherlands, so to me it’s quite an exotic means of transportation. What makes riding the monorail in Naha a real extravaganza, are the station jingles. On every station you hear an electronic, quite synthetic melody from an Okinawan song. I thought it would be fun to ride the monorail from beginning to end, and record all the jingles. Just to see if I would recognize them all. Back home, in The Netherlands, I listened to the recordings I had made during my trip and discovered that the monorail jingle version of ‘Bashofu’ was in the exact same key as Keiko had sung it when I recorded her performing the song. I tried to synchronize the two and was quite surprised how well they blended together.Then I went back to the original arrangements of the songs I had made before the trip to Naha. And realized that, with a few modifications, I could shape Keiko’s versions of ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’ and ‘Bashofu’ into the arrangements of my own songs. And that’s what I did!

Pascal Plantinga with Keiko Kina at Chakra

Have you ever been to Yonaguni Island where the song comes from?

I have not been to Yonaguni yet, but when I hear the sounds of ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’ I imagine myself sitting on the beach, looking at the waves, pondering about the mystery of the Yonaguni underwater structure, when suddenly a mermaid-like character rises up from the sea. It’s Keiko, singing and sort of mindlessly strumming her sanshin. I observe her appearance, and when it occurs to me I should approach her and reach out for her, Keiko sinks back into the waves. Leaving me empty handed. As you may notice, the song has no real intro or ending. It’s there and then it’s gone, abruptly, just as I imagine this scene.

Are you happy with the way the recordings turned out?

The result is exactly what I dreamt it to be: exotic minimal electronic music with Keiko’s enchanting voice on top of it all. And, even though I never meant to turn these two Okinawan tunes into new electronic music, I am very happy I ended up doing it.

How did you get the idea for the record?

The day after I recorded with Keiko I took a long bike ride around Naha. When I rode by the Okinawa Prefectural College of Nursing, I noticed 3 young ladies, holding little pompoms, standing in front of the school. I jumped off the bike, asked if I could take a picture, then took it and continued my ride. Later, I realized I had made a photograph for one of the most exciting record covers of all time. Now I only had to produce the right music to go with it! Working on these songs was a great stepping stone in my ongoing quest for the ultimate sound. The songs really grew on me and I thought I should give them a chance to have an existence in the real world as a record. Which turned out great; within a week (before the release date!) the record was played on 4 different radio stations in The Netherlands and England. It comes in a very limited edition of only 250 copies. This record is not for everybody, but I trust there are 250 people on the planet who will enjoy the living daylight out of it. Consider it a musical postcard from Okinawa sent to you by your personal friend Pascal.

These recordings are only available as records or downloads. Where can people buy them?

The record could be available at your local record store, but you can also order it directly from the record label www.atatak.com and in Japan from http://www.suezan.com/ It can be downloaded from iTunes. I also have a brand new website: www.pascalplantinga.com It contains no information whatsoever, but tells you something, somehow.

Ryukyu Shimpo interview

January 1, 2011

Last month I went to the Ryukyu Shimpo offices in Naha to be interviewed about The Power of Okinawa. The article was published in the 31st December 2010 edition of the newspaper and focuses on the 2nd edition of the book and on my general interest in Okinawa and its music. For those who can read Japanese the article is reprinted below.

沖縄音楽、英語で紹介 英国出身ポッターさん、今年の本ベスト20に2010年12月31日


自著について「沖縄音楽を掘り下げた内容の英語の本はこれが初めてではないか」と語るジョン・ポッターさん=琉球新報社

英国出身の音楽ジャーナリスト、ジョン・ポッターさん(62)=糸満市=はこのほど、英文の沖縄音楽本「The Power of OKINAWA(沖縄 の力)」(琉英企画、2000円・税別)を出版した。255ページにわたり、沖縄音楽を中心に歴史や文化、米軍基地についても触れている。創刊113年の 歴史があり、日本で約6万部を発行する英字紙「ジャパンタイムズ」の英語で書かれた本ベスト20にも選ばれ、注目を集めている。
ポッターさんは「沖縄音楽について掘り下げた内容の英語の本は、これが初めてではないか。多くの人に読んでほしい」と海外の読者も見据えている。
ポッターさんは関西で発行されていた英字情報誌「関西タイムアウト」で、長年音楽記事を執筆。沖縄音楽についても多く書いていたことから、同情報誌の出 版社(神戸市)から「沖縄の本を出してみないか」と勧められ、2001年に同じタイトルで初版を発行した。その初版本に今回追加取材し、加筆修正。表紙や 本のサイズもひと回り拡大しリニューアルした。
沖縄音楽との出会いは1989年ごろ。妻・みどりさん(51)が持っていた「喜納昌吉&チャンプルーズ」のファーストアルバムだった。「このアルバムが わたしの人生に大きな影響を与えた」と振り返る。以来、毎年沖縄に通うようになり、昨年3月、教員をしていた大学を退職、みどりさんと糸満市に移り住ん だ。
音楽家・喜納昌吉さんについては1章を割きインタビューなどを掲載。若手民謡歌手・鳩間可奈子さんをはじめ、知花竜海さん、よなは徹さん、古謝美佐子さ んら幅広く紹介している。本は県内書店で取り扱っているほか、ポッターさんのホームページでも購入できる。 http://www.powerofokinawa.com

Far Side Radio interview

October 23, 2010

Earlier this month I was interviewed by telephone from Okinawa on Paul Fisher’s weekly Far Side Radio programme which goes out every Wednesday on London’s Resonance 104.4fm. Paul is an old friend with a similar interest in Okinawan music. We have known each other for many years, ever since we first came into contact during the 1990s when we were both living in mainland Japan. Paul is now based in the UK and is involved in many aspects of the music business. He also runs his own website, Far Side Music, which is an online resource for music from East Asian countries.

Far Side Radio programmes also go out online and are eventually archived on Paul’s website. The one hour programme featuring my interview can be listened to again by going to the 6th October 2010 link here:

http://www.farsidemusic.com/acatalog/Far_Side_Radio.html

On the show I was asked about my book The Power of Okinawa and I also got to choose some selections of Okinawan music to listen to. I was relieved to find that the phone line seemed to be working well and the eight hour time difference meant that it began at 12 noon in London and at 8 pm here, so it was a very convenient time.  I hope the interview is of some interest.

 

An interview with photographer Heiko Junge

September 6, 2010

I first came into contact with the Norwegian-based photographer Heiko Junge about 15 years ago. I was in Osaka to attend an outdoor concert by Shoukichi Kina and Champloose. Heiko was busy taking photos throughout the show – hundreds of photos. I had no idea who he was at the time and wondered why this foreigner was so obsessed with taking endless pictures of the same musicians. It was only afterwards that I discovered Heiko had just become Kina’s official photographer. He travelled around with the band for about three years and went with them to Atlanta for the Olympic Games and travelled on their award winning Sabani Peace Connection project – a musical voyage through the Ryukyu Islands and on to Hiroshima. In 1996 he published Borderless, a book of photos of Kina and the band. Some of his photos of Kina and Champloose from that time are included in my own book The Power of Okinawa. Heiko Junge now works as a news photographer and travels all over the world. His recent work has taken him to France, Mali, and Congo, and next month he will be photographing in Australia.

Heiko Junge snorkeling in Okinawa

Heiko and his Okinawan wife Kazuyo live in Oslo together with their two children but they make frequent trips back to Okinawa. They are currently back on the island and Heiko is enjoying kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, taking photos. A few days ago I sat down with him and asked him some questions:

How did your connection with Okinawa begin?

I was in England working and studying English in 1987 and I met Kazuyo from Okinawa. She introduced me to a lot of Japanese and Okinawan people living in London, and in 1991 I went to Okinawa for the first time. We kept in touch throughout those years from 1987 to 1991. She was in Norway many times and we travelled to China and other places. We’ve been together ever since then, so that’s almost 20 years. I’ve been here since then twice a year at least, and I also lived in Okinawa from 1994 to 1997. It’s a great place to come to and be here and to discover…and we’re still married and I’m still coming here!

How did you get the job working for Shoukichi Kina?

Somehow everything is connected but it was by chance that a Norwegian friend of mine introduced me to the manager of Shoukichi Kina, telling her about me and inviting me to come to his Chakra ‘live house’. I brought my camera and took a few pictures, and then I was invited to photograph one of the big concerts he had in Okinawa and I took a lot of pictures, on film of course at that time, and I presented the data to Kina. He was fond of what he saw and he needed a photographer so it was Kina himself who made the decision. I did that for about three years, including the Sabani Peace Connection, and the Atlanta Olympics, and a lot of touring in Japan. But unfortunately during those years he didn’t produce good albums and so I only photographed for one album – The Best of Kina Shoukichi and Champloose. It would have been nice to have produced pictures for a better album, Hinukan or whatever. Just after I finished, the Champloo! album came out. Anyway, it was a good time and I had a really good time too.

Did you become interested in Okinawan music at that time?

Luckily, I was interested in the music even earlier. I listened to Shoukichi Kina because Kazuyo had introduced me to his music. And I thought it was great. So when I met him, there was a good vibe immediately. Nothing is better than working for a person and liking the music as well, so it was actually more than a job.

What is your job in Norway now?

After three years in Okinawa I felt a little bit claustrophobic here on the island. I needed to expand my horizons. Because those years with Kina, they were quite intense, working with him all the time and travelling, and I felt it was time for me to do something else and so I moved back to Norway where I immediately started work as a news photographer. I’ve been working as a full-time staff photographer for the Norwegian news agency ever since. I’m doing well and I love my job. It takes me around the world a lot. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Japan for my work so it’s good to combine those things.

What kind of photography is best for you?

My speciality is people. Feature and news photography, but mainly to go into different kinds of environments and meet people and just to be an observer, to be there and photograph it, and interact with the people. Because, you know, being a cameraman is not just being on the outside photographing. You actually need to interact with the people. And I love the interaction and I love the different societies and people and groups that you meet.

Do you have any thoughts on Okinawa after being away and then coming back?

Okinawan people have always been thriving and they love their little islands. They seem to live a good life. But looking from the outside, I’m a little bit concerned about the future and their dependence on mainland Japan – the way they have turned Okinawa into this Disneylike showcase, this fake kind of touristy place. Look at Kokusai-dori in Naha, there’s nothing original about it anymore. And I don’t like the way the Americans behave on the island, and the way they expand with their mansions and their cars. I love Okinawa and I love coming back here but I don’t think I could manage to live here. For me it’s just too tiny. It’s like a small society and most Okinawans don’t really bother somehow to get out of this society and think about things outside. All the Okinawan people I talk to are just so satisfied with their lives here, and so they really don’t bother about Norway or Europe or the rest of the world. It’s a good thing for them but it’s not a good thing for me, if you understand what I mean.

I hope they take care of their island and they don’t destroy it, because if you get interwoven with money – and of course Okinawa is – then money decides what will happen with the island. If there is too much money involved they will destroy it sooner or later, in the future, I think. But of course the Okinawan originality and the minyo and the folk tales and so on are still around and very much alive. If you have enough young people to keep their traditions then hopefully it will continue.

Below are some of Heiko Junge’s photos from his current stay on Okinawa:

Eisa festival in Naha

Market at Heiwa-dori, Naha

Heiko with kayak

Japan Times interview

May 16, 2010

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Kris Kosaka, a journalist from the national daily newspaper The Japan Times, about doing an interview for an article in the paper. This was prompted by the publication of the new edition of ‘The Power of Okinawa’. The Japan  Times is a major source of news in English which I regularly read online and I was very pleased to do the interview with her. Kris was a very sympathetic interviewer and she focused not just on the book, but on many other things to do with my life and how I seem to have ended up in Okinawa, so her piece is more like a mini-biography of me. It was published in last Saturday’s paper, 15th May, under the title: ‘Fatalist follows music to find his niche in life’. It can be found here on the Japan Times website:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2010/05/15/general/fatalist-follows-music-to-find-his-niche-in-life/#.VFrx7GcxicE

I have to add that I am definitely not a “fatalist” in the dictionary definition of the term. In no way do I think that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. But perhaps if it’s taken in the more general sense of drifting along with life’s flow, then I can forgive its use in the title, which was the idea of Kris’s editor. Anyway, I’m very pleased and rather flattered at their interest and to see the article finally  in print.