Archive for the ‘Okinawan Albums’ category

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

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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/

Element of the Moment: Okinawan Nights

December 12, 2017

Jazz is not the most obvious thing that comes to mind when we think about the music of Okinawa. But the Ryukyu Islands are nothing if not a melting pot of different musical genres and that includes many influences from overseas. The five members of Element of the Moment play saxophone, trombone, piano, bass and drums and have been performing regularly ever since they were formed in Okinawa in 2007.

Okinawan Nights is a live album containing eight original compositions recorded over two nights in February this year at Sound M’s in Naha. The band’s music is based on American jazz and funk with some Okinawan roots influences. On these recordings they produce a fine mix with the jazz element at the forefront.

This works best of all on two of their quieter and most melodic compositions ‘A Girl in Blue’ and ‘A Moon and Darkness’ but the whole recorded performance – at 63 minutes – offers  a very good introduction to the band and their music and shows that in Okinawa there are some very skilled musicians in many fields. All tracks were composed and arranged by drummer Akira Nakamura.

Okinawan Nights is released by Music from Okinawa.

www.musicfromokinawa.com

Seijin Noborikawa: Seigwa Yaibin

November 17, 2017

The important Okinawan singer and sanshin player Seijin Noborikawa – nicknamed Seigwa – died in 2013. His later career was very active and is already well-documented with several albums recorded for the Respect label including a career retrospective, a double live album, and duets with Misako Oshiro. Now we can add the unexpected release of Seigwa Yaibun an album containing some of his last live performances.

These are all from the annual Koza Terurin festival which celebrates the life of Rinsuke Teruya, another important character from an earlier generation of Okinawan musicians. The recordings are from three festivals and cover the years 2009 to 2011. What is remarkable is the high quality and clarity of sound. The tracks also blend together seamlessly so that we could be hearing the same live show.

On all of the performances Noborikawa is joined by his former pupil Hajime Nakasone, himself an established artist now with two solo albums to his credit in recent times. Despite Nakasone’s comparative youth his vocals and phrasing sound uncannily like his mentor’s. On some songs the two of them are also accompanied by Shuken Maekawa and Toru Yonaha.

In Okinawa different songs often segue into each other so we have both ‘Nakuni~Yanbaruteimato’ and ‘Nakuni~Hantabaru’ while of special interest is the final track ‘Tubarama~Rokucho Bushi’. Unusually, the Ishigaki song ‘Tubarama’ is sung by two men – Noborikawa and  Nakasone – with the former improvising in his typically playful and inventive way while the latter sticks to the standard path.

There is some expected talk between tracks by Noborikawa but this is edited to a minimum and the album has a running time of 45 minutes on which the songs, singing and sanshin are the stars.

Seigwa Yuibin is jointly released by Disc Akabana / Terurin Records.

www.offnote.org

Misako Oshiro: Shima Umui ~ Juban Shobu

July 29, 2017

The great Okinawan singer Misako Oshiro is back with another album at the age of 81. Last year she released an album of new recordings and before that there was a double album retrospective Kana Uta that focused mainly on earlier work and previously unreleased tracks. She has also made a number of duet albums in recent times. Just when it seemed she had finally run out of steam she comes back with Shima Umui ~ Juban Shobu where she is joined by a large number of guests to commemorate 60 years since she began her recording career.

She duets on each song with a different guest singer. This sometimes takes the form of Oshiro and her guest singing alternating verses and then joining together on the final verse – a familiar pattern with Okinawan songs. Some of her partners on these mainly traditional songs are singers she has sung with before but there are also some new additions. Perhaps most surprising is her collaboration with Nenez on ‘Kendou Bushi’ which turns out to be very successful.

All of the songs were recorded at Igaloo Studio in Okinawa and each guest singer contributes some notes in the CD booklet. Accompaniment is kept simple with sanshin and taiko and the performances are recorded with great clarity. The only diversion is ‘Kataumui Remix’ a recording of Oshiro’s most famous song written for her by Teihan China and remixed here by the electronic band Churashima Navigator (which includes Oshiro’s former pupil Kanako Horiuchi). It works well and doesn’t upset the rhythm of the album at all. In fact it enhances it by adding some variety. Churashima Navigator’s DJ Nu-doh provides the sleeve notes for this one.

The most illustrious guest singer is Sadao China who appears on the traditional ‘Yahan Mairi’ but there is also a duet with Kazufumi Miyazawa who makes his first appearance since announcing a break from singing last year. They get together on ‘Deigo no Hana’. Oshiro’s pupil Taku Oshiro sings with her on one song and there’s a duet with Yaeyama singer Isamu Asato on ‘Kanushamayo’. The other guest vocalists are Shuken Maekawa, Seibun Tokuhara, Emiko Miyazato, and Tomoki Kiyuna.

The original 1962 Marufuku single ‘Kataumui’ is added to the ten songs as a bonus track. (It was also included on Kana Uta). The new album is very welcome and adds a bit more to the legacy of a singer described in the promotional material as a ‘legend’. It’s a word sometimes used too freely but in this case is absolutely right.

Shima Umui ~ Juban Shobu is released by Tuff Beats.

www.tuff-beats.com

Okinawa Americana

July 18, 2017

The new album Okinawa Americana by the duo of the same name (Merry & David Ralston) does just what it says in the title. It puts together the music of Okinawa and America to make a champloo mix. Merry is an Okinawan singer and sanshin player while David Ralston is an American singer with blues and rock influences who is also a remarkable slide guitar player. He has been resident in Okinawa for many years. With this set of ten songs the two of them seem to have found their true purpose.

The pair recorded the album in various locations including Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles and they are also joined by some experienced American musicians. Previous Okinawa-America collaborations, such as Hirayasu & Brozman and Oshima & Keezer, have concentrated on the Okinawan songs. This is different in that it’s focused as much on Americana as on Okinawa and many songs feature a combination of English vocals from Ralston and Okinawan singing from Merry.

This works best of all on the traditional ‘Aha Bushi’ a normally austere song which is given a makeover here that totally works. The sanshin and slide guitar play off each other to great effect and the disparate blend of Merry’s Okinawan singing and Ralston’s bluesy-gospel vocal is a treat. ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’ is another success that drives along in the fast lane while ‘Nan Kuru Naisa’ has an English vocal about life in Okinawa and sounds like a distant relative of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’.

‘Red Wine and Mensore’ is standard country rock until Merry cuts in with a lovely counterpoint vocal to show that she is the duo’s secret weapon and her skill and effervescence lifts many of these songs. ‘Mimura Odori’ has shared vocals and a strong combination of sanshin and electric slide guitar. Meanwhile Ralston’s ‘Okinawa Is My Home’ has echoes of Ry Cooder’s ‘Going Back to Okinawa’ in its celebration of all things Okinawan. But it’s a song with more insight than Cooder’s because Ralston really knows what he’s singing about and isn’t just passing through as a musical tourist.

So we have an album that combines originals with old Okinawan songs; English and Okinawan vocals; sanshin and slide guitar. There’s also a decent version of the popular but too much recorded ‘Amazing Grace’ (renamed here ‘Mumukafu’) and a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. It’s a mixed bag but one that works nearly all the time. Most of all this is a fresh-sounding album in which all involved are obviously having a lot of fun.

Okinawa Americana will be released by Mad Music Intl on 6th August.

http://okinawaamericana.com/