Archive for the ‘Notes from the Ryukyus’ category

Irei no Hi 2021

June 24, 2021

23rd June is a public holiday in the Ryukyus. This is Irei no Hi, the day when all those who died in the Battle of Okinawa are remembered. The total number of dead is currently 241,632.  Yesterday was the 76th anniversary and there were ceremonies throughout the islands.

The main ceremony was held as usual at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park near my home in Itoman. In recent years there has been very sunny weather but this time the rainy season lingers on, and the televised ceremony took place in wet conditions. The pandemic also shows little sign of abating and with Okinawa still in a state of emergency, the event was drastically scaled down with only around 30 invited guests.

The 2021 ceremony at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo)

Fortunately, this meant there was no appearance from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who must have been relieved not to face the Okinawan public again. Instead, he sent a video message. His face appeared on a large screen, and he talked of the wounds of the Okinawan people and the need to ease their base burden. It was an emotionless speech of hypocrisy and insincerity from someone who has claimed not to know about the history of Okinawa, or want to talk about it, because he was born after the war.

Much more impressive was the peace poem recited (also partly sung) by Miharu Uehara, aged 13, from Miyako Island. Her poem ‘Mirukuyu no Uta’ (Songs of Peacetime) was chosen from 1,500 entries from schoolchildren around the islands.  

It’s sadly ironic that while people gathered here to remember the dead, just up the road on the Itoman coast the digging continues. This is where remains of the war dead are almost certainly mixed in the earth used as landfill for the unwanted new American base at Henoko. Even Okinawa’s governor Denny Tamaki seems unwilling, or else unable, to put a stop to it. Meanwhile, news this week reported on the continuing danger of many unexploded US shells from the Battle of Okinawa.

While Irei no Hi is a public holiday here, it is just another day in mainland Japan. In a survey conducted this month, and just published in the Okinawa Times newspaper, it was reported that 75.5% of Japanese had never even heard of Irei no Hi. This underlines just how far from justice and fair treatment Okinawa remains, with a large part of its main island still occupied by US bases, and the ‘prefecture’ a colony of Japan.

Speak, Okinawa

May 7, 2021

The English Football League Championship has just been won by the club I support. This means next season Norwich City will play in the Premier League. Naturally, I felt like shouting this news from the rooftops last Saturday night. But that would have upset my neighbours in Okinawa who have never heard of my team anyway.

Instead, I should have gone on social media to post, tweet, like, share, and emote all about it. However, while Norwich were being crowned champions, they and all other football clubs in England were boycotting social media platforms in a three-day protest about the abuse (racial and otherwise) footballers have suffered. This online abuse has gone unpunished by the social media companies. I supported the boycott so had to hold back my online celebrations.

A boycott alone won’t solve anything, but it is a gesture worth making. Despite its darker side, social media is frequently used as a power for good. Not least as a valuable source to enable people with similar interests to share ideas and information, to keep in touch, make useful contacts, and to promote campaigns for positive change.

I was reminded of this when reading the new book Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina. I had missed this memoir when it came out earlier this year but was then alerted to its existence by the author Akemi Johnson, who I follow, when she tweeted the link to her Washington Post review of Brina’s book.

Akemi Johnson has been mentioned here before. Her own book Night in the American Village (2019) is an enlightening account of the lives of women in relation to American bases on Okinawa. The new book by Elizabeth Miki Brina is also strongly connected with Okinawa but hers is a memoir and in some ways, it reminded me of Kyoko Mori’s The Dream of Water (1995) especially in its narrator’s search for an understanding of family, roots, culture, and heritage.

Brina’s parents met in a nightclub in Okinawa, her mother a local waitress, and her father a white American soldier from a wealthy family. Elizabeth was brought up mostly in America where she was embarrassed by her mother’s accent and Okinawan background. Siding with her father she writes of pushing her mother away and then, after years of rebellion and self-destruction, to the gradual realisation of Okinawa’s tragic history, and eventually towards a reconciliation of sorts with her mother.

The memoir is written in a series of short chapters with the cumulative effect of telling both the story of her life up to now, her relationship with her parents, and her time growing up as an Asian-American.

It does two important things. First, it tells the story of the tortured relationship with her mother that leads to the beginnings of a reconciliation and to an apology. This part of the book is at times heartrending. There are no epiphanies because the turning point is always much more gradual and imperceptible. But the book also does much more than this.  

Its second important achievement – also heartrending – is to tell in short, simple, straightforward prose, the history of Okinawa. These chapters are written in bite-sized pieces covering the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom and up to the present and the ongoing protests over the base construction at Henoko. Being told from the point of view of island people living through these times creates a sense of immediacy and realism that is quite remarkable.

In fact, this is a remarkable and moving book. There are a couple of very tiny mistakes with Japanese words and, not surprisingly, I found the description of the sanshin as a ‘sanshin guitar’ grating. (Nitpicking is a bad habit of mine, or so I’ve been told). But Speak, Okinawa also moved me to tears and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And to get back to where I started. The online abuse of footballers in England is bad enough. But what we are seeing now with Asian hate, not just in America but elsewhere in the world, is utterly despicable. Elizabeth Miki Brina’s book is infused with the sense of her being uncomfortably perceived by others as an Asian not wholly belonging to America. It shows the effects of colonialism and racism and offers ideas of how to fight back.

Closer to home, the ongoing abuse of Okinawa itself by Japan and America is something the outside world needs to know about.

Thoughts in the Park

March 10, 2021

I like walking in Heiwasozo no Mori Koen near my home on the south coast of Okinawa. I go there regularly and it’s also a great place to have lunch out in the open. The spacious park is on a hillside that slopes down to the ocean at the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the East China Sea. On weekdays there are few visitors and I sometimes have the entire place to myself. 

Now things are changing. The park itself is the same, thankfully, but a large adjacent area has been taken over by a mining company and is being dug up. As can be seen in these photos taken from the park yesterday, it has become a blot on the otherwise beautiful landscape. On my visit yesterday the noise from dump trucks, and diggers moving rocks and earth, reverberated around the park and was incessant and unrelenting.

This, of course, is an area where there are many memorials and peace monuments to the tens of thousands who suffered unspeakable horrors and terrible deaths here in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. It’s seen now as a sacred place by Okinawans, where families of war victims visit to pray. Close to the park is one of the most important monuments, Konpaku no To, built by the people to honour all lives lost at this spot which was littered with bones and human remains. 

The reason for all the digging nearby is only too well-known in Okinawa but is still a matter of little consequence in Japan and elsewhere. Its purpose is to gather earth for the landfill at the proposed new US military base much further north on the island at Henoko. The rocks, earth and soil will be dumped in the ocean at Oura Bay as a lot more landfill is needed than was at first thought. Long before this, there has been great concern at the damage to the coral reefs, and rare marine creatures of Oura Bay such as the dugong.

Inevitably, the work to provide landfill from Itoman involves digging up the bones of many who died here and whose remains are now mixed in with the soil. There have been many protests and a movement to stop this desecration. These include a weeklong hunger strike earlier this month by activist Takamatsu Gushiken whose volunteer group Gamafuya has been working to uncover and identify the bones of the dead and return them to their families.

But the US war machine rolls on – aided and abetted by Japan and its government who have always shown nothing but ill-disguised disdain for the plight of its colony Okinawa. And it’s all very well talking of the need for better treatment and more autonomy. This looks more than ever like a pipe dream while the Ryukyu Islands remain dependent on Japan. 

Meanwhile, the awful irony is that the war dead are now contributing to the construction of yet another unwanted military base on Okinawa. Even after all this time their bones still have no place to rest. They are, in effect, being killed twice, and #dontkilltwice is already widespread on social media campaigns and discussions around the issue.

Much respect is due to those such as Takamatsu Gushiken who never gives up, and to the persistence of peace activists in Okinawa who never forget the lessons of war. Also, to those of the Okinawa diaspora who are helping to bring this matter to the attention of the outside world.   

Roots Album Round-up 2020

December 9, 2020

It’s that time of the year to look back and reflect on the albums that reached me in 2020. Despite the pandemic, new roots music kept on coming and there were several new Okinawan albums to review.

This year, songs from Yonaguni were unusually well represented with new recordings by Ayame Band’s Takao Nagama and a debut album from Yuu Yonaha. There was also the arrival of a welcome second release from Okinawa Americana.

But – and just for fun – these were the Power of Okinawa’s top three joint best albums (together with little quotes from my reviews):

VARIOUS ARTISTS   Okinawa Yuumoasongu Ketteiban (Respect) Nine singers share a double album focusing on the humorous side of Okinawa. “The album is packed with fine songs, and the vocals, sanshin, and general musicianship are exemplary throughout.”

MUTSUMI ARAGAKI   Another World of Okinawan Music (Niinuhai) An adventurous, experimental album from the sanshin virtuoso. It also came with a DVD.  “…essential listening for anyone interested in what is going on now in Okinawan music and in the exciting new directions in which Aragaki is taking it.”

NARISE ARAKAKI   Shinayakani…Shimauta (Miri Records) The debut album of the young singer from Yaese. “Managing to sound fresh while drawing on the living traditions of the islands’ music, she can be rightly proud of this album.”

As for ‘Roots Music from Out There’, there were many to choose from including important new releases from Estonia’s Trad.Attack! and English folk legend Shirley Collins. The collaboration by Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn was a highlight and so was Jake Blount’s Spider Tales. Then there was Cinder Well whose meditative No Summer caught the mood of the times perfectly, as did the album by Emily Barker. 

So, an impossible task, but my personal favourite was:

PHARIS AND JASON ROMERO   Bet on Love The best record yet from the Canadian duo. “The deceptively simple and timeless quality of Pharis and Jason’s music seems more essential now than ever in these troubled times.”

Reviews of all these albums and more are on the blog. Tracks from most of the non-Okinawan ones reviewed can also be listened to on my Contemporary Roots Music Mix at K.O.L. Radio on Mixcloud. An Okinawan music radio mix is also on the way soon.

Poisoning the Pacific

November 4, 2020

While the world awaits the result of the US presidential election it’s a timely moment to draw attention to a new book published last month documenting the toxic influence of American power in Asia. Poisoning the Pacific is by Welsh investigative journalist Jon Mitchell who is based in Japan and writes regularly for the Okinawa Times newspaper.

In writing the book Mitchell had access to 12,000 pages of US government documents under the US Freedom of Information Act. He also did his own extensive research and interviews with local people and military veterans. As a result, his book “chronicles the US military’s decades-long contamination of indigenous lands across the Pacific as well as the ocean itself, endangering lives and ecosystems across the vast Pacific Ocean.”

While Guam features heavily, much attention is also paid to Okinawa where the US seized land and violated human rights with the full support of Japan. The author writes of the continuing US legacy of radioactive waste, nerve agents, and chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.

The review of the book in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper says that the US has maintained “a base” in Okinawa for decades. If only that were true! The reality is much worse, with much of the main island still occupied by numerous military bases more than 75 years after the end of the Battle of Okinawa.

It is unlikely the US government will be thrilled with the book. In fact, Mitchell received much opposition to his investigations and was also monitored by the US marine corps criminal investigation division. Thankfully, he was able to conclude the book and it sits nicely alongside another recent book on Okinawa, Akemi Johnson’s excellent Night in the American Village mentioned here last year.

As for the US presidential election, it would be nice to believe that the appalling Donald Trump will be soundly beaten. Sadly though, for Okinawa at least, it will make little or no difference who wins while Japan’s PM Suga is intent on continuing his country’s support for America and its military bases that litter the island.

Poisoning the Pacific is published by Rowman & Littlefield.

https://www.jonmitchellinjapan.com/

Anniversary in a Pandemic 3

August 28, 2020

The first of these Anniversary in a Pandemic pieces appeared earlier this year. It began by mentioning the ten years that has passed since the publication of the 2nd edition of the book The Power of Okinawa as well as the commencement of this blog. However, the year 2020 saw a much more important landmark as it was the 50th anniversary in May of what has become an Okinawan music institution – Campus Records.

As anyone from Okinawa with an interest in roots music will surely know, Campus Records is a music shop in Koza as well as a record label releasing music by local musicians, and it has been run since its inception by Yoshikatsu Bise, popularly known as Bisekatsu. In addition to his half century as its founder he is also a well-known record producer, songwriter, and concert promoter.

It was in 2005, on the 35th anniversary of Campus Records, that I interviewed Bisekatsu for the UK’s fRoots magazine and the article is still in the Features Archive category of this blog. At that time, I had already known him for a few years and his genial personality, generosity, helpfulness, and immense knowledge of Okinawa’s music history has been invaluable to me and many others.

Some of the many Okinawan musicians on Campus albums

Moving on another decade, a 45th anniversary album compilation of Campus recordings was released (perhaps a 50th is now on the way?) and most recently Bisekatsu was finally given official recognition, at the age of 80, for his lifetime of work in Okinawan music when he received the prestigious Choho Miyara Music Award last year. The contribution of daughter Makiko Bise has also ensured the Campus name thrives, and long may it continue.

It’s also hoped that Bisekatsu – and everyone else on these islands – manages to steer clear of the dreaded coronavirus. Since the last Power of Okinawa pandemic update in June there have been significant changes owing to the resurgence of Covid-19 and, at the time of writing, Okinawa is under a State of Emergency declared by Governor Denny Tamaki.

The complacent words of the Japanese government on its ‘success’ in the pandemic now look hollow as numbers have risen. (Today’s news that PM Abe is resigning gives no reason to believe that anything will change). The increase in infections has been rapid on Okinawa and it’s not hard to see why. The American military exceeded even their own expectations by ignoring all the rules and partying both inside and outside the bases for their 4th July celebrations, leading almost inevitably to a resumption of the outbreak after many weeks without a single case.

Yukito Ara (of The Sakishima Meeting) during their live show this week

Governor Tamaki has gone on record as saying the pandemic situation was also exacerbated by the Japanese government’s ‘Go To Travel’ campaign that offered large discounts to encourage domestic travel. Okinawa is, of course, heavily reliant on its tourism but no doubt this also led to more cases of Covid-19 and contributed to a situation where Okinawa has now had to return to its State of Emergency. At the time of writing, the total number of infected has increased to 2,013 while the number of deaths has risen to 26.

It is notable that despite a State of Emergency, no UK-style ‘lockdown’ is in place either here or in mainland Japan. Instead the public are advised, rather than ordered, to take precautions to avoid the spread of the virus and generally this advice is adhered to very well. Face masks are ever-present on almost everyone venturing out, though attention to social distancing is often less rigorous.

As for live music, Shoukichi Kina had planned a rare concert in Naha, but this had to be cancelled, while many other musicians are streaming their live performances from home. Some are also streaming from live venues without audiences, such as the show by The Sakishima Meeting and other musicians in Koza this week.

Finally, and of course needless to say… Stay safe!

Anniversary in a Pandemic 2

June 8, 2020

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the 10th anniversary of the updated edition of The Power of Okinawa book. Since then I was reminded of another milestone when Dutch musician Pascal Plantinga got in touch to say he had been listening to Paul Fisher interviewing me on his Far Side Radio show. It came as a surprise to realise that it’s almost ten years since I spoke on Paul’s weekly one-hour programme through a telephone link to London from my (then) new home in Okinawa.

Pascal Plantinga at the Niraikanai Matsuri in Okinawa (Photo: Heiko Junge)

With the UK still under lockdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Far Side Radio has taken the opportunity to broadcast again a series of interviews with people connected with Asian music. As well as my own interview in which I recommended (and Paul played) songs by Toru Yonaha, Nenes, Yasukatsu Oshima, and Yuki Yamazato, they include talks with Pascal Plantinga, Isamu Shimoji and many others. There are currently 18 episodes available.

To access any of them go to:

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

Live music during a pandemic cannot be stopped completely and many musicians have taken to streaming shows from their homes through various social media platforms. Meanwhile new album releases have continued to trickle through – if not so much from Okinawa then from various other sources around the world. Even the venerable Bob Dylan, now in his eightieth year, has a new album on the way.

Here in Okinawa the most interesting new release for me has been Donan by Takao Nagama (although the very, very long-awaited solo album by Mutsumi Aragaki seems to be finally about to be unleashed). Generally though, too many Okinawan releases slip out almost unnoticed. Some of them can also be downright difficult to find, stream, download or otherwise access, especially overseas, in all the usual ways that the outside world seems to manage perfectly well.

Jake Blount: banjoist, fiddler, singer, LGBTQ activist

As a critic or reviewer, it is also frustrating sometimes having to act as a detective to find detailed information about new recordings from Okinawa when many overseas music publicists, such as Hearth Music in North America, provide excellent services with extensive media kits, information and photos to support their artists. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in the increased number of albums reviewed in the ‘Roots Music from Out There’ category of this blog.

One of those artists featured here recently is Jake Blount whose album Spider Tales came out a few days ago and has been getting rave reviews right across the board. His album was reviewed here back in March. Blount, as an outspoken black, queer artist, has rapidly become even more important in these times when the Black Lives Matter movement has become so vital that it has eclipsed even coronavirus news following recent events in America and subsequent protests around the world.

But finally, back to the pandemic in Okinawa. Since my previous post in April when the first death had just been recorded, the number of deaths has risen to just seven, the total number of cases is 142, and there have been no newly reported cases of the virus for nearly six weeks. In mainland Japan the situation has naturally been worse.

Despite PM Abe’s government not imposing a lockdown and trying to play down the virus in its early days when Japan was still desperate for the Olympic Games to go ahead, the belated measures taken have been more successful than might have been expected.

Finance Minister Taro Aso: not known for subtlety

It is still too soon to be overly optimistic but if Japan has managed to cope relatively well, the reasons are something that may only become apparent when all this is over, if then. At present it seems to be down more to luck than judgement from a government that has always appeared distant from its people, bordering on arrogant (and worse as far as Okinawa is concerned).

Not helpful are the comments of Finance Minister Taro Aso, a man who always puts his foot in it. He has long rivalled even Donald Trump in his lack of subtlety. This time he condescendingly puts down Japan’s relatively low mortality rate to its superior culture. The Asahi Shimbun quotes him as boasting: “I often got phone calls from people in other countries asking, ‘Do you guys have your own special medicine or something? I told these people, ‘Between your country and our country, mindo (the level of people) is different.’ And that made them speechless and quiet. Every time.”

No wonder they were speechless. I think listening to Jake Blount is a great antidote to all of this in such times. Or to any of the many great Okinawan singers and musicians produced by these islands.

Anyway, stay safe, as everyone always says.

Anniversary in a Pandemic

April 17, 2020

Last month was the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Power of Okinawa in its second edition. This blog began around the same time, to accompany the book. Now, a decade later, the blog is still being updated. Along the way it has expanded to include a ‘Features Archive’ while ‘A Musical Journey’ was a memoir of sorts. ‘Notes from the Ryukyus’ meanwhile is the place where I go off in other more personal directions like this.

All this pales into insignificance, of course, when the world is still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. In Okinawa, and Japan generally, there is a feeling that, while much of the rest of the world has been dealing with the pandemic and some governments have been quick to take action to prevent its spread, the Japanese government has taken it all too lightly.

PM Abe and his government are obviously more concerned about economics than with people’s lives. Despite the first cases of coronavirus appearing in Japan three months ago, the government has done its best to play down the threat and has been slow to act. It was not until yesterday that a nationwide state of emergency was finally declared after the sudden, and almost inevitable, sharp increase in cases throughout the country and particularly in Tokyo.

The Cornerstone of Peace at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park

Unlike many other countries which have lockdowns enforced by law, the state of emergency throughout Japan is still reliant on everyone obeying the government’s request to stay at home if possible. There is no legal force behind this and there are no penalties for non-compliance. Not surprisingly, many are reluctant to stop work as the government is not taking over responsibility for lost incomes. The state of emergency is scheduled to end on 6th May.

To encourage a stay at home mentality a video was recently released by the Prime Minister, featuring Shinzo Abe himself relaxing at home on a sofa with his dog. This was met with an equal measure of ridicule, hilarity, and anger, by many who think he is completely out of touch with the people and has done too little too late to combat the virus. (If only he could be swapped for New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern).

Here on Okinawa we may be geographically a long way from Japan, but we are by no means free of the virus. In fact, the number of cases has multiplied rapidly in recent days and the current count is 95 and sure to rise. This includes the first death recorded this week on the main island. Ishigaki Island also recorded its first two cases of the virus over the past week.

Yesterday at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park

Responses to the emergency in my area have been varied so far. Yesterday I went to Okinawa Peace Memorial Park and it was almost deserted with the Peace Museum currently closed for renovations. However, on my local beach this morning there were the usual number of swimmers and snorkelers. Further along the beach there were even some people doing hang-gliding.

Live music of course has taken a battering with small venues especially being hit hard. Popular singer and sanshin player Yukito Ara was scheduled to play a solo concert next week at one of Naha’s bigger venues Sakurazaka Theatre but this was finally cancelled today.

In my home at least the music goes on. New discoveries outside Okinawa include Canadians Pharis and Jason Romero whose latest album (due for release next month and reviewed on this blog) is a favourite. I’ve also discovered, belatedly, the many delights of Alicia Keys. And to cheer us all up surely, Estonia’s Trad.Attack! have a new album on the way and a review of that will eventually make its way to the blog.

Like many, I’ve also been glued to the TV watching films and dramas. I was addicted to the amazing Tiger King docuseries and was also (in the absence of FC Ryukyu games) able to get a football fix with the compelling Sunderland ‘Til I Die. Now I’m eagerly awaiting Ricky Gervais’ After Life 2, while watching new episodes of Japanese drama Ossan’s Love. There’s more…but this is more than enough.

Here’s hoping everyone keeps safe and stays home as much as possible, preferably while listening to some great music. One can never have too much Rinsho Kadekaru.

Goodbye Europe

February 6, 2020

A few days ago my hometown Norwich made news in the UK and worldwide for all the wrong reasons. Notices appeared in an apartment tower block advising residents to speak only English. The posters were entitled Happy Brexit Day. Stating “we finally have our great country back” they included the message: “If you do want to speak whatever is the mother tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here.”

The local council was quick to condemn these posters and to reassure residents that this was not the work of the council. The matter was reported to the police, who are treating it as a racist incident, but the damage has been done. Residents of the housing complex have since rallied together to protest in a show of support for each other and for multiculturalism.

An isolated incident, no doubt, but it feels like a good time not to be in Britain. It’s hardly a coincidence that this and similar explosions of bigotry and prejudice have risen to the surface just as the UK leaves the European Union. What is perhaps even more depressing than the decision to go it alone is the celebratory attitude of some Brexit supporters who talk about getting their country back and gaining ‘independence’ from Europe.

People in London celebrate leaving the EU last week. (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

This is nostalgia for a ‘great’ past that never existed. Unless they want a return to the greatness of the British Empire with its shameful history of invasions, colonisation, theft, and repression. The Brits clearly don’t need independence as they already have it (though Scotland and Wales may need independence from the Brits, but that’s another matter).

By contrast, here on Okinawa there is a case to be argued in favour of the need for real independence or for ‘getting our islands back’ as the Brits might say. Human rights and democracy are constantly under threat from the Japanese government and, incredibly, large tracts of the main island are still controlled by the American military 75 years after they invaded to begin the Battle of Okinawa. A battle that claimed more than 240,000 lives.

Okinawa may need its independence, but no-one here wants a return to the ‘great’ days of the Ryukyu Kingdom either. The kingdom was responsible for the harsh treatment of its own people, not least on its outer islands of Miyako and Yaeyama. At the same time, it was a kingdom centred around trade in Southeast Asia rather than war and expansion, hence the famous dictate banning weapons during part of its rule.

Despite its unhappy history of being invaded and occupied, Okinawa is today rightly proud of its champloo culture. This is frequently celebrated and has evolved into a cultural mash-up affecting everything from food to music. The musician and activist Shoukichi Kina is a divisive character with – some would say – a lot of weird ideas, but his goal for a borderless world and his campaign to exchange all weapons for musical instruments sounds now like a breath of fresh air alongside much of what passes for political debate these days. A peaceful ideology of co-existence and acceptance of others is sorely needed now more than ever.

Back in the UK this week the Bishop of Norwich was calling for a return to the “great British values of tolerance and understanding” in view of the regrettable events at the city’s tower block. Well yes, but British politicians and religious leaders are too fond of mouthing this kind of thing, as if tolerance was somehow an inherently British virtue. It seems to be only the British who believe this. They should get out more.

It would also be making a tiny step in the right direction if those who rant against ‘imagration’ on social media could at least spell it correctly and not mangle their own language. Then perhaps they could go on to try and learn what tolerance really means and to understand how immigrants of all kinds make valuable contributions to many societies and enrich our global mix with their languages and cultures.

Roots Album Round-up 2019

December 23, 2019

It’s almost the end of another year and the time when I’d normally be thinking about choosing best albums for the fRoots critics poll. In fact, I would already have done it, some weeks ago. However, the magazine ceased publication this year, not long after celebrating its 40th anniversary, so instead I’ll tell you here about my favourite albums of 2019.

There were not so many new releases of Okinawan music to come my way this time but the obvious choice for most significant recording goes to Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019. This 30-track double album features the singing of veterans Hirokazu Matsuda and Seibun Tokuhara alongside Mika Uchizato and Akane Murayoshi.

As I wrote in my review (and to quote myself): “This is a timely and important release and serves as a reminder of the wealth of wonderful songs from these islands. Also, for the urgent need to protect the islands and their environment for future generations.” There is added poignancy now as Hirokazu Matsuda sadly died shortly after its release.

If I allow myself a runner-up in the ‘best’ Okinawan album category – and why not? – it would be From Myahk by Satoru Shimoji who continues to move and impress with his late flowering of atmospheric emotional songs from the islands of Miyako.

Among other notable Okinawan albums this year was Urisha Fukurashi by the evergreen Yuki Yamazato and Katsuko Yohen. The late Rinsho Kadekaru had an important release with his Maruteru Recordings from the 1960s, and there was a first release for Live! a double album by Seijin Noborikawa and Sadao China.

The always adventurous Takashi Hirayasu came up with Kumu Ashibi~Cloud Wandering recorded in Taiwan. And for something completely different, the young duo Harahells deserve praise for their Delicious Club which was such a lot of fun.

As ever, there were also lots of albums of ‘Roots Music from Out There’ – the music that reached me from other parts of the world. It was an especially rewarding year for the Appalachian music of North America and I was really spoilt for listening choices. Some more previously unreleased recordings came from the late Hedy West, but what was so refreshing was the number of younger singers and musicians with such a deep interest and love of this music.

In the end my favourite album from ‘out there’ has got to be Even the Sparrow the debut from Kansas City based singer and banjo player Kelly Hunt. What was so good about this is that she arrived seemingly fully formed and able to play and sing any style of American roots music with confidence. You might expect her to slip up or make a wrong turn along the way, but she never does and the whole album is devoid of unnecessary ornamentation.

A very worthy mention must also go to another debut album Rearrange My Heart by Buenos Aires based band Che Apalache. The scope of their musicianship is very wide, and they managed to fit bluegrass, Latin, and Japanese minyo onto an album with some strong political messages. The Nagano song 春の便り (The Coming of Spring) was given a world premiere on this blog and the album itself has recently been nominated for a Best Folk Album Grammy award.

All the albums mentioned above were reviewed on the Power of Okinawa blog this year so please look them up if you want further information or missed them first time around.

Happy listening to everyone in 2020!