Archive for the ‘Okinawan Albums’ category

Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019

June 10, 2019

Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019 is the title of a significant new release of Okinawan music from Tokyo’s Respect label. It’s a double album comprising 30 tracks, two CDs, and two hours of songs from four featured artists. The singers are Hirokazu Matsuda, Seibun Tokuhara, Mika Uchizato, and Akane Murayoshi.

The title can be translated as ‘elegy for the lost sea’. This harks back to a 1975 double album of 27 songs under a similar title produced by Okinawan writer, critic and entrepreneur Rou Takenaka that showcased some important Okinawan singers. Takenaka was a prominent supporter of Okinawa and its music as well as a vociferous opponent of the islands’ reversion to Japanese rule.

In his essay included with the new release, producer Tsukasa Kohama writes of this as the inspiration for the new recordings and says he believes it’s the right time to release this album as it has never been so important to save Okinawa’s beautiful sea and nature from threats posed by America and Japan. He also writes of the first generation of Okinawan recording artists led by Shouei Kina, Rinsho Kadekaru and Shotoko Yamauchi.

The new album features some of the leaders of the ‘second generation’. Hirokazu Matsuda and Seibun Tokuhara, both in their 70s, have been important in carrying on the songs and both are stalwarts of the island music scene. The two women are much younger. Mika Uchizato is already well-known as one of the top female voices with several recordings to her name. Akane Murayoshi, now 30, has released a couple of albums. The second was the frankly awful Challenge in 2011 so it’s good to see her recovering from that and back at her best. Matsuda and Tokuhara are both from Okinawa’s main island while Uchizato hails from Minami Daito, and Murayoshi from Kume Island.

The songs will be well-known to those familiar with Okinawan music. Most are traditional and some, but not all, are directly connected with the sea. All convey the atmosphere of everyday life on these islands which has always been inextricably linked with nature and the sea. There are songs from around the Ryukyus rather than just Okinawa. One of the best is ‘Yonaguni Kouta’ sung here by the two women. Another is ‘Tenyou Bushi’ with a vocal by Matsuda. There are both fast and slow songs. Outstanding among the latter is ‘Hama Sodachi’ with vocal and sanshin by Murayoshi.

The title song, in full ‘Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019 (Jintoyo-gwa)’, is a traditional tune to which producer Kohama has added some new verses. The song laments the dreadful changes in Okinawa – the unwanted presence of hotels and military bases; the disappearance of coral and fish; how beautiful Henoko used to be and how it is changing. And it concludes that when we get Okinawa back the people can smile again.

(L to R): Hirokazu Matsuda, Mika Uchizato, Akane Murayoshi, Seibun Tokuhara

The songs are all performed straightforwardly with sanshin accompaniment plus shima-daiko and hayashi. There is the occasional addition of Keiko Hamakawa’s Ryukyu koto, and Hiroyuki Kinjo’s fue. The four singers share the vocals and find several different combinations to play with on individual songs. It almost goes without saying that everything is sung and played with enormous skill and vitality. Most importantly the album just sounds very good indeed and the two hours passed by very quickly for this listener.

One small caveat is that in Okinawa it’s impossible, even now, to escape the hierarchical nature of the music world. It would have been nice to have Mika Uchizato and Akane Murayoshi take the lead on more than the six songs they are given. But at least they do have this much as it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see them appearing only as backing singers.

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.

Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019 will be released by Respect on 24th July.

An album release concert will be held in Naha at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A) on Saturday 7th September.

http://www.respect-record.co.jp

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Takashi Hirayasu: Kumu Ashibi~Cloud Wandering

May 30, 2019

Kumu Ashibi ~ Cloud Wandering is the new album by Okinawa’s Takashi Hirayasu who has been based in Tokyo for several years. Once guitarist with Shoukichi Kina’s band Champloose he has since pursued his own path for a long time. Along the way he made the classic Warabi Uta collaboration with American guitarist Bob Brozman and more recently there was an excellent solo album Yuu that hinted at African connections.

The new release finds him once more in an adventurous mood. The album was recorded in Taiwan and co-produced by Japanese guitarist Ken Ohtake who has played with Hirayasu before. Now based in Taiwan, Ohtake plays guitar throughout and co-writes some of the original songs. There are also traditional Okinawan songs given a new spin by Hirayasu who sings and plays sanshin here as well as sanba and Okinawan drums.

Hirayasu and Ohtake are joined by other musicians – both Japanese and Taiwanese – on most tracks. They include Chung Yufeng (Fade to Blue) who plays pipa on a Chinese version of the Yaeyama song ‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’ with new lyrics and a vocal by Wan Fang.

The first three tracks are all familiar songs from Okinawa – ‘Daisanaja’, ‘Umi no Chinbora’ and ‘Achamegwa’ – but these are given Hirayasu’s special treatment and after that the album goes off in all kinds of other musical directions to embrace rock, funk, reggae, and jazz, with a notable contribution from Min-yen Terry Hsieh on saxophones, but always with Hirayasu’s sanshin prominently in the mix.

On first listen this is very different from Hirayasu’s other work and has a much bigger sound, for example, than his previous release Yuu. Where that album seemed very carefully constructed this is a bit rougher around the edges and has a very immediate, almost improvised feeling as if these arrangements were all made in the studio and then recorded live. No doubt the Taiwanese connection has enabled a different process and the overall results are very satisfying.

Takashi Hirayasu continues his journey of musical exploration and his absence from Okinawa may have, oddly enough, helped his creative impulses and opened the doors to some interesting new developments. Despite the presence of many Western elements this is an Asian album first and foremost with a very strong Okinawan atmosphere. Most of all it is quite obviously an album in which Hirayasu expresses himself in his own way.

The album booklet comes with lyrics of all the songs in Japanese, Chinese and English and there are also some useful English notes.

Kumu Ashibi ~ Cloud Wandering is released in Taiwan by Foothills Folk. It can be bought online at https://kumuashibi.thebase.in/

Takashi Hirayasu will play a concert in Tokyo at Koenji Jirokichi on Friday 21st June starting at 19:30. Advance tickets 3,500 yen. Tel. 03-3339-2727.

Yuki Yamazato & Katsuko Yohen: Urisha Fukurasha

May 23, 2019

Urisha Fukurasha is an album by veteran Okinawan singers Yuki Yamazato and Katsuko Yohen. Both women have been well-known separately for a long time but have also recorded together and a few years ago made a joint album Doushibi along with another singer Keiko Kinjo.

The new album is divided quite distinctly into sections with five songs first from Yamazato then five from Yohen and finally two songs on which they sing together. There are also two bonus tracks recorded live in 2009 at a concert in Koza.

Most of the album is best described as shimauta with songs by known composers and three of the tracks are newly written. One of these is the first song ‘Inagu Hichui’ with lyrics by Naohiko Uehara and music by Minoru Kinjo. It’s also one of the standout tracks with a great vocal from Yamazato. At the age of 82 she doesn’t seem to have lost any of her power and her five songs that begin the album are quite sublime.

The title track, sung by Yamazato, was written by Shuken Maekawa and is another new composition, while another Maekawa song ‘Umui Shongane’ is sung by Yohen. Two Sadao China songs are included. One of these, performed by Yohen, is ‘Katadayui’ and the other is ‘Nageki no Ume’ on which Yamazato shares vocals with Hajime Nakasone. There is also a duet by Yohen and young singer Hikaru on a song by Teihan China and Choki Fukuhara.

As well as the two main singers there are notable contributions from musicians Hajime Nakasone and Hikari. Nakasone plays sanshin throughout and adds some taiko too and he is credited as the album’s director. Hikari, just 20 this year, plays Ryukyu koto, sanshin and sanba. All four get together on the two traditional songs and they make a fine job of ‘Kehitori Bushi~Kaisare’. There are also contributions from Asami Ohama (kokyū) and Marino Oshiro (hayashi).

It might seem a bit disjointed to have an album divided into separate sections in this way but it’s not uncommon in Okinawa and listening to it all the way through is proof that it works well. There are no surprises in choices of song or execution. You won’t find any synthesisers, strings or rock arrangements here. This is just straightforward Okinawan music played by some of its best practitioners. All involved deserve much credit, but special praise goes to Yuki Yamazato who has been singing for more than 60 years and can surely lay claim to being Okinawa’s greatest female singer.

Urisha Fukurasha is released this week by Campus.

http://www.campus-r.com/

HARAHELLS: Delicious Club

February 13, 2019

HARAHELLS (yes, all in capitals) are two young women from Okinawa. Delicious Club is their second mini-album release. At nine songs and 38 minutes it’s longer than some classic albums such as Shoukichi Kina’s Bloodline or even Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline but they insist it’s a mini-album. The duo comprises Ramen Maru (drums, vocals) and Nomisugi Mukumi (guitar, vocals).

In their notes for the album they say that their songs are about the food they like, the vegetables they hate, and daily episodes in their lives. This sums up very well what they are all about. They also maintain: “truth is, we are good at eating more than making music. Lately, we drink and eat everything happily, so we got chubby.” Well, I met the pair last week and later watched their live show at Sakurazaka Asylum. I don’t know how much they can eat but their music is a breath of fresh air and they are not chubby.

In fact, HARAHELLS have been around in different line-ups for a while now and were once a trio. The only original member is Ramen Maru and she composes all the songs. Their sound is very stripped back, at times almost to punk basics, with drums and guitar the only accompaniment to most of their songs. It is tempting to employ the overused word ‘quirky’ about what they do but it goes further than that and they can be hilariously funny while making some serious points.

Much of the impact relies on their deadpan lyrical cleverness and wordplay and as it’s all in Japanese it may have limited appeal overseas. Nevertheless, their show can be appreciated on more than one level and they deserve (and will probably get) a much wider audience. They have already played at a music festival in South Korea and the tiny venue where I saw them was packed with admiring fans.

The title track ‘Delicious Club’ is an ode to ramen and is almost irritatingly catchy. The video for this song is well worth checking out on their website. As well as several other songs in praise of food there are some sharp tongue-in -cheek observations of everyday life. In particular ‘Onna-bancho Saki-senpai’ in which they sing of their fear of an older bullying schoolgirl.

London-based Japanese duo Frank Chickens achieved some popularity in the 1980s and in some ways HARAHELLS are reminiscent of them. But HARAHELLS are a more innocent and straightforward duo who are adding some Okinawan flavours and new tastes to the musical dishes they serve.

Delicious Club is out now on the Music from Okinawa label. A release party will be held at Output, Naha on Saturday 2nd March at 18:30. Advance tickets 1,500 yen, or 2,000 yen at the door.

https://harahells2013.wixsite.com/sukippara

Seijin Noborikawa & Sadao China: Live!

January 23, 2019

In 2001 legendary Okinawan singer Seijin Noborikawa – the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the sanshin’ – was enjoying renewed popularity following his starring role in the movie Nabbie no Koi. On 5th September that year he got together with his former pupil Sadao China to play a joint concert at the live house CAY in Tokyo. The whole concert was recorded but for some reason was never made available in any form until now when it appears on this new 2 CD album.

Noborikawa – usually known by his nickname Seigwa – made a studio album with China three years after this. A live double album of a later Seigwa solo concert at the same venue was also released in 2011. He died in 2013.

The recording quality on the new release is excellent. Live! is subtitled ~Yuntaku to Uta Asobi~ and so we are forewarned this is going to include unedited talk and chat between the two singers in between songs. In Japan and Okinawa (as I’ve mentioned before) audiences not only don’t mind listening to rambling anecdotes but actively encourage it. It therefore comes as no great surprise to find the inclusion of Seigwa and China’s chats taking up around 50 minutes of the total running time of 125 minutes.

A mitigating factor is that Seigwa was generally considered to be an irreverent and amusing character and his jokey playful comments are preserved here as they were heard by the appreciative audience. The recording should be listened to in its entirety at least once in order to obtain the same live experience at home. However, if it gets tiring to hear so much talk repeated on subsequent listens the chatty bits (labelled ‘MC’ here) are all on separate tracks and can be edited out.

As for the music, it’s not surprisingly an exemplary performance from both singers and could hardly have been bettered. On the first (and longer) CD China begins on his own with four songs including ‘Nakuni’ and ‘Shirukumu Bushi’ before inviting Seigwa on stage. Seigwa then tackles some of the big traditional songs. Among them are Okinawa’s ‘Nakuni’, Yaeyama’s ‘Tubarama’, and Miyako’s ‘Togani’ before the pair get together again for ‘Yachaguwa~Yanbarutimatu’.

By the second CD Seigwa is in full swing as he veers off into several playful diversions – one of them an idiosyncratic sanshin instrumental of ‘Kimigayo’. Towards the end Seigwa presents what he calls ‘Minyo Fushi Watari’ which is an almost eight minutes run through of 22 traditional Okinawan songs. For that and the final song ‘Achameguwa’ he is joined by Takashi Hirayasu on sanba and by two members of Osaka band Soul Flower Union, Takashi Nakagawa and Hideko Itami.

The two encores are also two of the best. First is Sadao China’s moving solo version of ‘Jintoyo Waltz’ a song co-written by his father Teihan China and Rinsuke Teruya. Then finally comes Seigwa’s own song ‘Midori no Okinawa’ which he fittingly sings with Takashi Nakagawa who had recorded the song with him.

This is a masterclass by Seijin Noborikawa and Sadao China and it’s an important and unexpected release. It must have been a fun evening if you were lucky enough to be there but it can now be re-lived by anyone interested in two of the Okinawan music greats.

Live! is released today (23rd January) by Respect.

www.respect-record.co.jp

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/

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