Archive for the ‘Okinawan Albums’ category

Nenez: Mapai

September 28, 2018

Mapai is the latest album from Nenez. Some time ago they changed the spelling of their name from Nenes to Nenez. The group members have often changed too and so it’s a bit odd this time to see them appear on the cover of the new release as a trio rather than the more familiar quartet. The three women are Misuzu Okiyama, Nagisa Uehara and Rie Motomura.

As usual, the album is produced by their mentor Sadao China who also writes some of the songs. A large cast of musicians is brought in to help, especially with the songwriting and arrangements and they include Kazufumi Miyazawa, Shingo Maekawa (Kariyushi 58), Masaru Shimabukuro (Begin), Yasuko Yoshida and Satoshi Kadekaru while members of Nenez also contribute some original songs.

To begin with the positives, there are a couple of songs here that stand out as worthy recordings. The second track ‘Shinburi Manburi’ is an original by Shingo Maekawa and it’s a fine lively song in the shimauta mode that Nenez and all their earlier incarnations would surely be pleased with. The other high point comes midway through the album with the simple straightforward performance of Yoshinori Shinkawa’s classic ‘Ume no Kaori’.

Unfortunately, the stark simplicity of ‘Ume no Kaori’ is not evident anywhere else on an album which contains far too many tired-sounding songs, over-familiar tunes and unimaginative arrangements. The rot sets in right from the beginning with ‘Fai Fai’ and its tediously old-fashioned treatment. China’s co-written ‘Miyarabi Utagokoro’ is just as bad and another co-written China song ‘Jinsei Hanbun Sake Hanbun’ has a hackneyed tune and a dinosaur guitar band arrangement.

It gets worse. ‘Kanpai’ is not the rousing celebration of drinking we might have expected but instead begins in a vaguely Hawaiian style before a surprisingly dull and dreary descent into boredom. ‘Anata no Koe’ is no better with another plodding arrangement by Satoshi Kadekaru. The worst perhaps is saved for last with Sadao China’s ‘Harmony’ which is an utterly predictable and sentimental song about Okinawa that we seem to have heard a million times before.

The perfectly acceptable bonus track ‘Harikyamaku’ tagged on at the end is not quite enough to make us forget what an ultimately unexciting album we’ve just listened to. There can be no complaints about the three Nenez women who sing beautifully throughout and are obviously very talented. But there are too many re-treads here and the women are never really allowed to shine as they might: a case maybe of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Mapai ends up more like a parody of the old Nenes. It’s no better or worse than its predecessor Dikka but it still chips away at the great legacy of the original band.

Mapai is released by King Records.

https://nenes.ti-da.net/

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Yoko Ishikawa: Shami No Yorokobi

August 1, 2018

Last year Tokyo’s Respect label released the album Uchina Love Song which featured six different female singers. One of those was Yoko Ishikawa and she now has a debut solo album of her own Shami No Yorokobi. The title of the album comes from an original song from 1970 composed by Shizuko Oshiro. Ishikawa’s version is included here.

The well-known singer, sanshin player and teacher Shizuko Oshiro is from Yaeyama and she is also Ishikawa’s mentor. Her presence looms large on this album which Ishikawa dedicates to her and it contains several of Oshiro’s songs plus a selection of other compositions from the Ryukyu Islands, many of them traditional.

Ishikawa is from the small Okinawan island of Iheya but was brought up in Osaka where she learned to play sanshin as a high school student. There is a good balance of songs on this album, some very slow and others more exuberant and they come from throughout the Ryukyus. A standout track is ‘Chijuyagwa’. This traditional Okinawan song has been recorded often but Ishikawa takes it at a slightly slower pace than usual and her plaintive subdued reading makes it rather special. There is also a recording of the Amami song ‘Okinoerabu no Komoriuta’.

Nowadays albums can vary greatly in length and there are no rules. However, record companies in Japan seem to work under the assumption that more must always mean better. It’s therefore no surprise that this one runs to 64 minutes. No complaints about the quality but a little editing or trimming of the fifteen tracks might have produced a more focused result. But this is a fine debut from the seemingly endless supply of talented young musicians keeping Okinawan music alive and well.

Among the musicians accompanying Ishikawa are Setsuko Kikuyama (sanshin, sanba, hayashi) and Keiko Kinjo (shimadaiko). Ishikawa will play two concerts to promote the album. The first is in Naha, Okinawa at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall B) on 29th September and she will be joined by the musicians from the recording. The other date is at Tokyo Minami Aoyama Mandala on 19th October where she will play with Keiko Kinjo.

Shami No Yorokobi will be released by Respect on 5th September.

www.respect-record.co.jp

Maltese Rock: Otobune

June 1, 2018

Otobune means ‘Ship of Sounds’ and is an accurate reference to the musical voyage that Okinawa based Maltese Rock have been on since their formation in 1997. The band – led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Morito – describe what they play as punk, blues, Okinawan folk song and gypsy music (and a few other styles too) and they have created a bit of a cult following not least in the Sakaemachi market of Naha where Morito runs his own bar.

Their previous album three years ago led to an appearance in 2016 at a Womex showcase in Galicia, Spain and also to live shows in Poland and Taiwan. The new album is shorter (at 37 minutes) and is more straightforward and more tightly arranged than its predecessor. This generally works to its advantage as in the past the dominating presence of Morito has revelled a bit too much in showing off all the wildness.

This is not to say that Morito takes a back seat. The distinctive sound of the album is still that of his gravelly voice and six of the eight songs are his compositions. The exceptions are the first and last tracks.

Rinsho Kadekaru’s poignant ‘Jidai no Nagare’is transformed into the band’s own style for a fine opener. Closing the album is a new take on the familiar ‘What a Wonderful World’. It has been noted here before that Okinawans (and Japanese) have a disturbing habit of choosing the most hackneyed and obvious Western songs. (‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘’Danny Boy’ anyone?).  But Morito’s new Japanese lyrics and his inimitable vocal just about get away with this one.

Of the original songs two of the more conventional (if one can ever say that about Maltese Rock) are the most successful, and ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Melancholic Reimy’ are both very good additions to their canon. The five band members are joined by Yoko Tada who makes an important contribution on several tracks with saxophone, clarinet and flute. Yukito Ara also joins them to play sanshin on three songs.

Overall this is a very good release and while it doesn’t move in any significant new direction it will please fans of the band and will serve to further enhance their already high reputation.

Otobune is released today (1st June) on the Music from Okinawa label. Maltese Rock will play a joint concert with the band Hanggai from Mongolia at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A) Naha on 5th June at 19:00.

www.musicfromokinawa.com

Kanako Horiuchi: Chimu Churasa ~Connect with People~

February 20, 2018

Hokkaido-born Kanako Horiuchi has been resident in Okinawa for seventeen years and in that time has become a regular live wire on the music scene. She became a pupil of the highly-regarded veteran singer Misako Oshiro and learned traditional singing and sanshin but her openness to all kinds of musical styles and genres has also led her to travel widely overseas and she has performed and recorded in many different ways.

There have been excursions into Jamaican ska, Senegalese music, a duet album with mentor Misako Oshiro, and late last year an album of electronica with Churashima Navigator. She seems to have a finger on the pulse of everything in Okinawa – it’s remarkable in some ways that she also found time to get married last year and has recently given birth to a child.

Now there’s another release and this time it’s a 2 CD set. The album Chimu Churasa ~Connect with People~ might seem a bit haphazard at first glance, though it won’t surprise anyone familiar with Horiuchi’s work. It’s a sprawling collection of nineteen tracks over two discs and it shows off many of Horiuchi’s duets and collaborations, mainly in studio recordings but also with some live tracks. Most but not all of this is new and there are examples of many different styles. The main focus however is on the roots music of Okinawa.

The first disc starts with a seven minute original instrumental ‘To Be Born’ before we get another version of ‘Amazing Grace’ a song somehow much beloved of Okinawan and Japanese singers but which perhaps is overdue for retirement – though this one contains the unusual addition of Akira Sakata on saxophone. The traditional ‘Kunjan Sabakui’ begins with backing vocals that sound vaguely South African but in fact her collaborators here are Okinawan salsa band Kachimba4.

The second disc begins with one of the very best tracks, a duet with Kume Island singer and sanshin player Junji Toubaru on ‘Kuinu Hana’. Elsewhere ‘Yaka Bushi’ is another fine duet with piano and sanshin while the familiar ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ is experimental and unusual. ‘Hanaumui’ is another electronic adventure with Churashima Navigator, and ‘Danju Kariyushi’ finds Horiuchi joining forces with Malian kora player Mamadou Doumbia. Singer and guitarist Morito Itoman from Maltese Rock appears on ‘Futami Jowa’, and there is another collaboration with Misako Oshiro.

It may be a mixed bag and not everything will please equally but this is how Horiuchi operates and this generous collection of songs and music shows just how impressive she is as an open-minded singer and musician. If there is any surprise it’s that her four original contributions are so good and they stand up very well alongside many classic Okinawan songs. In fact ‘Memories Melodies’, with its blend of sanshin and guitar, is a warm melodic composition that wouldn’t be out of place as a hit song.

Chimu Churasa ~Connect with People~ is released on 3rd March by Big Mouth Records.

http://aikanaumui.ti-da.net/

tidanomiyuki: Now and Then

February 15, 2018

Now and Then is the second album from the Ishigaki Island singer-songwriter who goes under the name tidanomiyuki. After studying art and design for a year in the UK she moved to the main island of Okinawa in 2011. Her debut album was released in 2015 and she has subsequently appeared at festivals in South Korea and Mongolia.

All fourteen tracks on this album are original songs and two of them – ‘Understood’ and ‘Bottle’ – have lyrics entirely in English. She plays acoustic guitar throughout and sings in a gentle voice that may remind some listeners of Akiko Yano. But she has her own individual style and has evolved an appealing and distinctive way of singing and playing.

This all works best when she lets rip a little bit. There is some violin on a few tracks and Yoshio Hasegawa adds some nice warm textures with accordion, electric piano, flute and trumpet. The quirky ‘Mother tree’ is immediately catchy while ‘Loves’ featuring Okinawan singer-songwriter Fumitomo Yagi works very well. (Yagi’s own album Beyond is another worth seeking out).

Her deep south origins in Ishigaki Island also led her to play sanshin and learn traditional Yaeyama songs but on here she concentrates on her original songwriting. It’s a fine album in its own right and a good introduction to this likeable singer. And on a personal note, I met tidanomiyuki for the first time just last week in Naha and we were both surprised to discover we had a mutual connection – three months of her year in England were spent in my hometown of Norwich.

Now and Then is out now on tidanorecord.

http://tidanomiyuki.wixsite.com/officialwebsite

Churashima Navigator: Life is Treasure

December 21, 2017

Life is Treasure is the first album by Okinawa’s Churashima Navigator who were founded in 2011 by DJ Sinkichi and DJ Nu-Doh. Its five members include singer and sanshin player Kanako Horiuchi who is well known for her diverse musical adventures around the world that range from a duet album of traditional Okinawan songs with Misako Oshiro to an album recorded in West Africa with Senegalese kora player Falaye Sakho.

Churashima Navigator’s music mixes experimental beats and heavy bass influences from dub, techno, industrial and jazz and then applies this to some of the traditional songs of Okinawa to create a style they have named New Champloo. All the vocals and sanshin are by Horiuchi who seems to fit effortlessly into whatever project she takes on and her presence here is indispensable.

At least a couple of the eight tracks are extended workouts that probably take on more life in a live club setting but the album – at 56 minutes – is perfectly suited to home listening too and they find a good balance with some tracks segueing into others by way of sampling old Okinawan songs and speech. There is also an underlying political edge that is never more evident than on ‘Jidai no Nagare 2017’ a song still as vital as ever with its focus on Okinawa’s sad history of occupation and its uncertain future.

‘Hanaumui’ is a good opener and sets the tone for what follows while ‘Torisashimai’ has an unusual treatment that makes it sound more like music from another part of Asia. The band has already travelled overseas this year to Thailand and then to Mongolia for the Playtime Festival in July. What they are doing is another example of the variety to be found in Okinawa’s music scene and Life is Treasure is a solid statement. The album booklet contains lyrics of all the songs in English, Japanese and Uchinaguchi.

Life is Treasure is released by budryukyu.

https://soundcloud.com/budryukyulabel

Music from Okinawa 2018

December 18, 2017

Music from Okinawa 2018 is a new album that gathers together music from the many different styles and genres found on these islands. The album is released by the Music from Okinawa label that has been tirelessly promoting the music in recent years and has also been involved in presenting it at the annual WOMEX events in Europe. For this compilation there are 16 tracks from a wide variety of artists – many from Okinawa and all with strong connections to the Ryukyu Islands.

The ubiquitous Kachimba4 appear with another of their Cuban flavoured tracks as do other familiar names such as Maltese Rock and The Sakishima Meeting. The most famous name, however, is the one that opens the album – Nenez. The great days of the original line-up are long gone but thankfully the track selected for this release is not from their underwhelming latest album but is ‘Kunjan Sabakui’ one of their ‘covers’ from their 2015 album Reborn. They do a good job of recreating it and it makes a fine start to the album.

The Nenez track is followed by Churashima Navigator and the band make a success of blending traditional Okinawan sounds with dub and techno on ‘Haimurubushi’. Pianist and composer Naoko Hentona also experiments interestingly on her contribution ‘Kariyushi’ which draws on Ryukyu music traditions. And Makiko Miyara, originally from Ishigaki Island, comes up with one of the very best tracks with her version of the co-written Yasukatsu Oshima/Hitoshi Uechi song ‘Marijima Hanari’.

Moving away from traditional influenced songs to broaden the selection even further there is the cheery ‘Crane’ by Naha pop trio Home Party People; there is some jazz with Element of the Moment’s evocative ‘A Girl in Blue’; and the album ends with a track from Ishigaki rapper and producer Ritto & Olive Oil. But perhaps best of all is Chihiro Kamiya with the original song ‘Kanashigwa’ from her excellent album Utaui.

Unfortunately the notes on the artists and song lyrics in the booklet are in Japanese only. However, the Music from Okinawa label can be congratulated for producing what is overall a very good album that introduces many different facets of island music. Too often in the past this has not been the case and many of the numerous compilations out there on other labels are unimaginative selections recycling the same old music and musicians. This one is different.

http://musicfromokinawa.com/