Archive for the ‘Okinawan Albums’ category

Satoru Shimoji: From Myahk

December 17, 2019

It’s been quite a while since Miyako singer Satoru Shimoji’s last album, but now we have a new collection of songs, From Myahk. In fact, the album was released earlier this year but has only just reached my ears, so this is rather a late and overdue review.

The new release is in a similar vein to its predecessors, Myahk (2012) and Myahk-U (2015). Together they form a trilogy that presents traditional songs from Miyako given new arrangements, and original compositions by Shimoji. As before, the music is centred around piano and guitars. There are some big productions, as well as songs with just piano or guitar, and a final track with Shimoji’s lone vocal accompanied only by background sounds of the ocean.

This time all eleven tracks are either written or co-written by the singer, and as before he co-produces with Goh Hotoda. The strongest impression is Shimoji’s ability to evoke emotion and atmosphere. Everything oozes Miyako and that’s only the music. In a previous interview with him (on this blog) he summed it up in his own words: “For me the most important thing is to express the atmosphere of Miyako. If you open the world atlas, Miyako is just a tiny dot but even so you can send a light from there to the outside world.”

The lyrics are mostly in Japanese with some Miyako words, while the themes are almost exclusively concerned with Miyako life and the singer’s love for his islands. All of this is served up with Shimoji’s inimitable voice and expressively emotional singing. His daughter Minami plays sanshin on four of the tracks.

Titles such as ‘Boku no Shima’ and ‘Otori Song’ place us straight away in this world while the lovely song ‘Kaze no Ayagu’ is up there with some of his very best work. There’s also a song co-written with Kazufumi Miyazawa who joins as featured vocalist. It’s not the best thing here but the high-profile Miyazawa is obviously an admirer of Shimoji and he also writes the essay included in the CD booklet.

It’s slightly more varied than before regarding the pace of the individual tracks and there’s the inclusion of one song from earlier days. This is ‘Tida no Uta’, a fine song from the album Ryugu no Shima: The Peaceful Island (2000) that is given a reworking here. From Myahk is a very fine album that stands alongside the two previous ones. If you liked them then you’ll need this.

From Myahk is released by Lagoon Music.

Rinsho Kadekaru: Maruteru Recordings

September 18, 2019

It’s already five years since the appearance of the last batch of Rinsho Kadekaru recordings. Now here comes another album of recordings from the studio collected and released for the first time on CD. Maruteru Recordings is also subtitled in Japanese as Shimauta Ogonjidai no Kadekaru Rinsho.

Many previous dips into the vaults have focused on Kadekaru’s work in the 1970s but this one goes back a bit further and the songs here were recorded in the 1960s when the singer was in his forties. Despite this he still sounds the same as always. Not so Misako Oshiro who sounds very young indeed. She joins him on five songs.

The album offers a generous slice of Kadekaru who, it almost goes without saying, does not disappoint in the least. It shows again why 20 years after his death he is still revered as arguably the finest interpreter of Okinawan traditional songs and is the singer and sanshin player most looked up to as an example of the very best of the first generation of Okinawan recording artists.

The recordings were made before he was taken up by journalist and music promoter Rou Takenaka and introduced to mainland Japan where he became very well-known. Until then it had been other singers, especially Shouei Kina, who were more popular back home in Okinawa.

On these tracks he is on his own with his sanshin for most of the time though occasionally accompanied by taiko. As well as the five songs with Misako Oshiro, he is joined by Keiko Higa for ‘Mue Guwa Bushi’ and by Setsuko Uezu on ‘Magukuru nu Hana’. There are 18 tracks and a total of 75 minutes playing time. The CD booklet has extensive notes in Japanese and lyrics of all the songs. The cover shows a photo of Kadekaru unwisely puffing on a cigarette alongside Rinsuke Teruya whose family owned and ran the Maruteru record company.

This is another important piece of Okinawan music history and yet another addition to the continually growing catalogue of Rinsho Kadekaru recordings.

Maruteru Recordings is released by Disc Akabana / Terurin Records.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.