Archive for the ‘Okinawa Overseas’ category

Seersha in Atlanta

December 16, 2020

It is always good to be contacted – sometimes out of the blue – by overseas musicians with strong connections to Okinawa. Seersha is one of those who I’ve been in touch with this year and is an American singer, composer, recording artist and producer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

The link to Okinawa is that she spent five years on the main island as a child, where she lived with her family in Urasoe, and she retains a great affection for the Ryukyus, its culture and its music. In fact, she first learned piano from a teacher on Okinawa and so the foundations of her own music go back to that time.  

Seersha’s own music emanates from her facility with composition and keyboards. It’s not overtly Okinawan in style but has instead been described as ‘moody indie synthpop’. The lush sound she creates also embraces more than a hint of retro-pop and of electronica in general.

Earlier this year her second EP Metaphors was released independently on her Fox Nose Records label. It contains the song ‘The Beach’ which can be traced back to those musical roots in Okinawa. The song’s video has some fascinating footage taken during her time as a child on the island. Her own family background is also diverse as her mother is from Jeju Island, South Korea, and her father from Indiana.

Bringing us right up to date, she has recently released a new song ‘Save Me Now’ which she says was inspired by Joan of Arc’s words and story. The video for the song is just out and was released yesterday (15th December).

This year has seen her concentrating on producing videos. ‘Lecture Me’ (also on Metaphors) is a particular favourite of mine, but an album may well be on the horizon for next year. In the meantime, more information can be found on her website below.

https://www.seershamusic.com/

Floating Room: Tired and True

December 4, 2020

Floating Room is the musical project of Maya Stoner who describes herself as an Uchinanchu American artist based in Portland, Oregon. Tired and True is her new five track EP on which she is joined by a handful of other musicians. All the songs are composed and sung by Stoner who also plays guitar.

Her vocals are supported by guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, with some slide guitar on one track and a bit of trumpet on another. The opener ‘Freakshow’ is the most pop-like and is a bit of an earworm. For all its melodic catchiness, this is a song about frustration, disillusion, and insincerity – deep emotions bubble under the shiny surface of the music as she sings, “Everybody loves a freakshow / They don’t like the freak though”.

Tired and True (cover painting by Ona Greenberg)

What’s impressive is that every song here manages to create a lyrical and musical palette of its own and each track sounds quite distinct from the one before. ‘Held Open Door’ is presented as a ‘meditation on dimming innocence set to jagged guitar pyrotechnics’, ‘Dancer’ has another strong melody, ‘Warm Death (HIFI)’ flirts with shoegaze, and ‘Gun’ rocks out.

None of this sounds remotely Okinawan so I was keen to learn about Stoner’s connection with these islands after listening to her music, and then reading her astute and insightful contributions on social media where she often addresses Okinawan issues. So, I did the obvious thing and got in touch to ask her about it directly. She got back to me with this answer:

“My ojiichan (grandfather) and obaachan (grandmother) both play sanshin and I think that’s where I got my musicality from. My mother is from Okinawa and that half of my family lives there. Okinawan music never fails to cut straight to my heart in a visceral way. Even though my own music sounds very different from it, when I hear the traditional music of my people it just makes sense to me that it is an intrinsic part of me.”

Floating Room’s Maya Stoner

Stoner was happy to talk more with me about her background, and, like her songs, she has a lightness and ease that is very engaging but also a clear underlying passion and an uncompromising concern about her heritage. Of her time in Okinawa she says:

“One of my favorite Okinawa memories is when I sat across from Misako Oshiro in her minyo bar Shima Umui and watched her perform. Another formative experience was visiting tents where water protectors maintained a 24-hour presence to protest the new US military base in Henoko. I was asked by the activists to share my knowledge about the bases and history of US-Okinawa relations with other Americans. Though I do not have a huge following I feel a responsibility as an Uchinanchu American to always shed light on what is happening there and the atrocities my own grandparents have lived through.”

Despite some of the dark themes that run throughout her writing on Tired and True, listening to these songs is ultimately an uplifting experience. This is a fine thing. Now it will be interesting to see further developments when there’s a full-length Floating Room album. There might even be some sanshin next time…

Tired and True is produced by Mo Troper and Floating Room. The EP is out now and is released independently by Maya Stoner on digital and vinyl.  

https://floatingroom.bandcamp.com/

Mako in Seattle

May 21, 2020

Traditional Okinawan music performer Mako has recently been in touch to introduce herself and to talk about her fascinating ‘Okinawa Overseas’ story.

She was born in Okinawa but moved to Hawaii with her family at the age of eleven, and later moved to Seattle as an adult. Her sanshin playing began after she moved away from Hawaii, and this led to the discovery that singing and playing sanshin offered a connection or ‘portal’ back to her roots.

As a member of the Okinawan community in Washington State she frequently plays in the Seattle area. “Sometimes this is at public events like cultural and/or world music festivals” she says, “other times at private events such as fundraising parties, school events, or as a guest speaker in classrooms. I just love to see people’s eyes pop open when they see and hear something they’ve never seen or heard before and to introduce Okinawa to those people.”

Mako

She performs both solo and sometimes as leader of the group known as Mako and Munjuru who can be found via their Facebook page. She is also a member of the Honolulu musical troupe Ukwanshin Kabudan.

“With this worldwide pandemic everything came to halt. After more than two months of stay-at-home and a small dip in the bar graph in the greater Seattle area it seems as though people’s wheels are starting to turn. Although stay-at-home was extended to take effect until the end of this month, I’m involved in a couple of projects starting very soon. I’m hoping to be able to keep introducing Okinawan music for as long as I’m enjoying it.”

An album of Mako’s recent recordings of traditional Okinawan songs has been released just this week. The album Portal is a fine example of her work and is available through Bandcamp at the link below:

https://mako3.bandcamp.com/album/portal

She will also be doing a live stream on 21st May at 7pm Pacific Daylight Time for 30 minutes or so. It can be seen on either of these Facebook pages:

Mako and Munjuru

SAMA: Seattle Sacred Music and Arts

Okinawan Avant-Garde Night

August 30, 2019

There will be an Okinawan Avant-Garde Night in London, UK, on Thursday 3rd October. This is presented by MYM at Rich Mix arts centre in Shoreditch. Taking part will be Okinawa’s Mutsumi Aragaki (vocals, sanshin, electronics, audio-visuals) and UK-based Japanese/Swiss singer Mina who plays sanshin and violin. The pair will be joined by Japanese dancer Yu Tamura who will also be familiar to Power of Okinawa readers as a member of An-chang Project.

The trio will give a music and dance performance that offers an avant-garde approach to ancient sounds and tales from Okinawa.

“By blending songs, stories, images and movements together with Japanese performing artist Yu Tamura, this new collaboration invites the audience to discover the unique and rich culture of Okinawa with a highly artistic perspective.”

More details can be found on the Rich Mix website.

https://richmix.org.uk

Okinawa Day 2019 in London

June 11, 2019

For those in London next week the annual Okinawa Day is being held on Saturday 22nd June at Spitalfields Market. The nearest station is Liverpool Street. As before, it will be an all-day event from 10:00 until 18:00 and admission is free. This is a great chance to find out about and celebrate the unique culture of the Ryukyu Islands. There will be performances of Okinawan music as well as karate and Eisa dancing.

As a preview to Okinawa Day there will also be an Okinawan Music Concert by the guest musicians on the 21st. They will play songs from the Miyako, Yaeyama, and Amami islands. This has been organised by the London Okinawa Sanshinkai and will take place at SOAS University of London in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre of their campus at Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square. Once again admission is free. Doors open at 19:00 and the performances will go on until 21:00.

https://sanshinkai.uk/okinawa-day

https://www.facebook.com/okinawadayinlondon

Okinawa Americana in fRoots Magazine

September 12, 2018

My interview with the duo Okinawa Americana – Merry and David Ralston – is included in the new Autumn issue of the UK magazine fRoots published this week. The one page feature is part of the magazine’s Root Salad series. The article will eventually appear in the Features Archive category of this blog.

A selection of musicians featured in the Autumn 2018 fRoots. Bottom left: Okinawa Americana

In the meantime it can be read in all its glory by buying the magazine. There is also a digital edition that can be subscribed to through the newly revamped and updated fRoots website.

http://www.frootsmag.com

London Okinawa Day 2018

June 5, 2018

The 10th anniversary of London Okinawa Day will be celebrated later this month. This annual event has grown each year and its purpose is to introduce and spread the culture of Okinawa in the UK. The performing arts have always been central to the culture of the Ryukyu Islands and the audience will be entertained by modern and classical music and dances from around the islands.

For this important 10th year anniversary some special guest artists have been invited to perform. Well-known singer and sanshin player Horiuchi Kanako will be coming from Okinawa and there will also be songs from Miyako Island singer Yogi Masaki and Amami Island singer Tamukai Miharu.

Other events will include Eisa drumming and dancing and performances of karate by several groups from the UK. A variety of stalls around the stage will provide more information as well as Okinawan food and awamori. You can even buy a sanshin!

Okinawa Day is an all day extravaganza that takes place at Spitalfields, Brushfield Street, London E1 from 10:00 to 18:00 on Saturday 23rd June.

https://www.sites.google.com/site/londonsanshin/okinawa-day

Music from Okinawa at WOMEX

October 17, 2016

The annual WOMEX (World Music Expo) 2016 is held from 19~23 October and it returns this year to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where it was also based two years ago. Once again there will be a stand for music from Okinawa and there is a live showcase by Naha band Maltese Rock on Saturday the 22nd.

womex

This year two sampler CDs have been produced to be given away at the event. One of them Music from Okinawa is a compilation of contemporary music from the Ryukyu Islands and its 15 tracks present a wide variety of genres and songs including Maltese Rock, MKR Project, Churashima Navigator and Sakishima Meeting. The booklet notes are in English and Spanish.

001

The other CD contains Okinawa Shimauta and has 14 recordings by Hajime Nakasone, Toru Yonaha, Yoshimasa Touyama and others including one of the very best performances I’ve heard of ‘Ashimiji-bushi’ by young singer and sanshin player Narise Arakaki. The booklet also has an introductory foreword in English by Kazufumi Miyazawa who was the project supervisor for the CD.

http://musicfromokinawa.com/

www.womex.com

Aragaki & An-chang in Tokyo

September 20, 2016

If you live in Tokyo there’s a highly recommended event at the end of this month with music from the Ryukyus at Cancolor Cafe, an Okinawan cafe in Shinjuku that regularly features acoustic live shows. The cafe hosts a joint appearance by Mutsumi Aragaki and An-chang Project on 30th September in an evening entitled Ryukyu Koros: chorus. It all starts at 19:30 and promises to be a special evening.

an-chang

Aragaki is a superb singer and sanshin player from Okinawa with eclectic musical tastes who performs solo and also with her trio MKR Project. She is equally at home with traditional songs and with her own innovative compositions. Joining her on the 30th will be Jun Yasuba’s An-chang Project from Japan (featured in The Power of Okinawa book) who are well-known for their lively harmonies and songs from the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and Micronesia.

http://cancolorcafe.com/

Debo Band’s Hiyamikachi Bushi

May 27, 2016

The lively song ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ will be known to anyone familiar with Okinawan music. It was written in the 1950s to cheer up the island people during troubled times. The song is still very relevant today as the people of Okinawa continue to undergo hardships and are still suffering from the forced burden of hosting a huge number of US military bases with all the inevitable trouble that this brings.

Now comes a unique version of ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ which has been recorded for their second album by Debo Band, a large group of Boston-based musicians whose main inspiration is the roots music of Ethiopia. The band has taken the song and re-imagined it in their own way.

Debo Band

Debo Band

In an interview with PRI the band’s accordion player Marie Abe says that she felt there was a lot in common with Ethiopian and Okinawan experiences: “There are two kinds of affinity we’re expressing here: one is musical, the use of the particular pentatonic scale. The other is geopolitical/historical; both Okinawa and Ethiopia have gone through extremely challenging events like famine, military occupation, war, and immigration that have led to the formation of large diaspora[s] throughout the world.”

The full feature can be read here together with an audio sample of Debo Band’s ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’:

http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-05-25/song-helped-japan-heal-after-wwii-gets-ethiopian-remake

Thanks to Mitzi Uehara Carter for alerting me to this.