Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Genji Kuniyoshi

May 6, 2021

The great Miyako singer and sanshin player Genji Kuniyoshi has died at the age of 90. The iconic performer of the traditional songs of his islands passed away from prostate cancer in hospital in Okinawa this week, on 4th May. His funeral is tomorrow (7th) in Urasoe.

In the same way that singers such as Rinsho Kadekaru and Shouei Kina are inextricably linked with the old Okinawan songs, so Kuniyoshi has long been the foremost representative of the songs of Miyako. Born in 1930, he grew up listening to his grandmother’s folk songs and went on to become the best-known exponent of songs such as ‘Togani Ayagu’ and ‘Nariyama Ayagu’ as well as being renowned for his many performances of the lively ‘Kuicha’ dance song.

I was fortunate to see him perform at the Ryukyu Festival held at Osaka Dome in 1998, and then saw him again ten years ago in Okinawa. There have also been many recordings over the years, but his 18-track album Irabu Togani made for Victor in 2002 contains all the essential songs and was released at a time when he was being rediscovered by a wider audience. He will be sadly missed.

This is his live performance of ‘Togani Ayagu’:

Misako Oshiro

January 18, 2021

There was sad news today of the death of Misako Oshiro at the age of 84. The singer and sanshin player will be remembered forever as one of the greatest in Okinawan music history.

She will always be associated with another great singer, the late Rinsho Kadekaru with whom she frequently performed and recorded. But Oshiro’s long career continued right up until her death and she was performing until recently at her own minyo bar Shima Umui in Naha.

She remained open to new ideas and in her later years made duet albums with Toru Yonaha, Kanako Horiuchi, the Ainu singer Oki, and then in 2012 the late Seijin Noborikawa. As well as this, she found time to appear in a leading acting role in the film Tsuru-Henry.  

As if that wasn’t enough, her last album Shima Umui ~ Juban Shobu (2017) was made up entirely of guest collaborations. It included ‘Kataumui Remix’ a recording of the most famous song written for her by Teihan China and remixed by the electronic band Churashima Navigator. The original 1962 ‘Kataumui’ single was added as a bonus track.

I was lucky enough to be able to see her live performances several times. And a few years ago, I met her and Kanako Horiuchi at Shima Umui for an interview to coincide with the release of their joint album. (The feature was originally published in fRoots magazine and is now in the Features Archive of this blog). Oshiro was quiet and unassuming at our meeting as well as kind and welcoming as she sipped on her glass of awamori and talked about her life. It was an honour to be in her presence, and she will be greatly missed.  

Bob Andy RIP

March 28, 2020

Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Andy has died at the age of 75 after a short illness. His death was reported on 27th March 2020. Andy will be best known to many around the world for his recordings with Marcia Griffiths and especially for their hit singles ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ and ‘Pied Piper’ which were released under the name Bob & Marcia.

However, Bob Andy was an enormously important figure in Jamaican music in his own right. His early solo album Songbook remains a classic and he wrote numerous songs that were recorded by many other stars of reggae. Among his best-known compositions were ‘Too Experienced’ and the socially concerned ‘You Don’t Know’ and ‘Fire Burning’.

Bob Andy, Osaka 1994. (Photo: John Potter)

He never visited Okinawa but in the 1990s he did come to Japan and I was able to meet and interview him for a magazine article when he appeared at a reggae festival in Osaka. I was immediately struck by his keen intelligence and broad musical knowledge, and we talked for quite a long time.

It must have been quickly apparent to him that I was no expert on Jamaican music but he was patient, gracious and helpful, and had some fascinating stories to tell of his life in music. Some years after our meeting he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for services to music. He will be greatly missed.

My interview with him is archived on the Power of Okinawa:

https://powerofokinawa.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/jamaican-punch-bob-andy/

The UK’s Guardian newspaper website has an obituary with a live video of ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ from 1970.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/27/jamaican-reggae-vocalist-bob-andy-dies-aged-75-young-gifted-black

Hirokazu Matsuda

November 7, 2019

The news has come through that singer and sanshin player Hirokazu Matsuda has died at the age of 72. His death yesterday (6th November) is reported in the Okinawan media today. Matsuda was a mainstay of many Okinawan music events, a highly respected singer of traditional songs, and a songwriter and teacher.

Hirokazu Matsuda in 2007 on the cover of his solo album Sanshin Zanmai

He was born into a musical family in Chatan and his daughter Shinobu is also a well-known singer and sanshin player. Matsuda was a member of the group The Fere and he had a solo album released nationwide when he was 60. Earlier this year he joined forces with three other singers for the release of the double album Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019 and in September he performed at the album release concert in Naha.

This sad and unexpected loss will be deeply felt throughout the music community in the Ryukyu Islands.

Shuri Castle

November 1, 2019

Although the world has already reported on the tragic fire and destruction of Shuri Castle, or Shurijo, it seems right to at least mention it now in the Power of Okinawa. Yesterday we woke up in Okinawa to this terrible news and the fire which had started in the early hours of Thursday morning was still burning.

The overseas media has tended to headline it as the destruction of a ‘Japanese castle’ which seems a bit ironic as Shurijo’s bright colours and much of its architectural style owe a lot more to China than to Japan. Like many things here it is a mix of influences. Originally the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom, it also became in modern times a symbol for Okinawa and its people as well as a great tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pages from today’s Okinawa Times

It’s hard for those outside the Ryukyu Islands to imagine just how important a symbol it has been in the lives of Okinawan people. Even the local football team, FC Ryukyu, take their colours from the bengara red pigment of the castle introduced from China. This proud display of Ryukyuan culture seems even more vital nowadays when the government in Japan treats Okinawa with such indifference.

Aftermath of the fire (Photo: Japan Times)

The castle was destroyed before by fire during the American invasion in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. No doubt it will eventually be rebuilt once more but for now it is just a very sad loss for all of Okinawa. Thankfully no-one was injured as a result of the fire.

Yukichi Yamazato

February 11, 2018

News came through this week of the death of singer and sanshin player Yukichi Yamazato who has died of lung cancer at the age of 92. Yamazato was one of the last survivors of the early generation of Okinawan recording artists.

Born in Shiraho on Ishigaki Island in 1925 he was a winner of the annual Tubarama Taikai in 1957 and went on to win many other awards to become one of the most important singers of traditional songs.  He also travelled to South America and was a mentor to many other musicians, most notably fellow Yaeyama singer Tetsuhiro Daiku. Among his recordings was the excellent joint album Uta Awase made with Rinsho Kadekaru and released in 1999 the year of Kadekaru’s death.

Shotoku Yamauchi

August 26, 2017

The sad news has come through of the death of Okinawan singer and sanshin player Shotoku Yamauchi on 24th August at the age of 95. Yamauchi was one of the first generation of Okinawan recording artists along with other great musicians such as the late Rinsho Kadekaru, Shouei Kina, Teihan China, and Shuei Kohama.

He was born in Yomitan on the main island and became an accomplished interpreter of traditional songs as well as a songwriter. In 1958 and 1959 he represented Okinawa at the annual NHK song contest and was an important member of the music association Ryukyu Ongaku Kyokai. In more recent times an 18 track collection of his best work was released on CD by Campus Records under the title Hokorasha Yamauchi Bushi.

The Power of Okinawa

February 3, 2017

Some of you out there may have noticed that The Power of Okinawa website is no more. The site was set up to promote and sell the 2nd edition of The Power of Okinawa book which has now sold out online. However, the book is still available in bookstores in Okinawa and also in mainland Japan. It can also be bought through Paul Fisher’s Far Side Music website which is based in the UK.

cover1

It is almost seven years since the new improved and expanded 2nd edition was published and it will soon be 16 years since the 1st edition came out. This blog was set up to complement the book with updates and reviews. I will continue to post here about things Okinawan as well as other musics from around the world….. and anything else that takes my fancy. Some of the longer pieces I’ve written for magazines such as fRoots and Songlines that were available to read on the website will eventually appear on this blog in a new Features Archive category.

Many thanks to all those who bought the book online.

John Potter

Toshikatsu Takahashi

May 8, 2015

The sad news has only just reached us of the death of Toshikatsu Takahashi who was the drummer with Shoukichi Kina’s band Champloose for more than two decades. Takahashi, who was 56, died suddenly in an accident in Hokkaido in the north of Japan on 13th March. Takahashi was a native of Yoichi, Hokkaido. He joined Champloose in 1990 for their Niraikanai Paradise album and became an indispensible member of the band. In recent times he returned to his hometown where he was also continuing his activities as a musician.

Toshikatsu Takahashi (far right) with Shoukichi Kina & Champloose in the 1990s

Toshikatsu Takahashi (far right) with Shoukichi Kina & Champloose in the 1990s

Takahashi was an excellent drummer and an integral part of Kina’s band throughout their finest period. He fitted into Okinawa and its music perfectly and it’s hard to imagine Champloose without him. I met him several times over the years and he was always kind, welcoming and friendly. What may be lesser known is that he also had a great interest in music from around the world. We exchanged recommendations on African music more than once and he always asked me what I had been listening to. He will be greatly missed.

Chidori Narai RIP

September 9, 2013

The news has come through of the death of the singer and sanshin player Chidori Narai who passed away in hospital in Naha on 7th September. She was 54 and had been suffering from cancer. Narai was one of many excellent female singers produced by these islands and she sang both original and traditional songs. She came from the Yaeyama island of Iriomote where she was well known and frequently referred to as the “Iriomote no uta hime” or Iriomote diva. Among her albums, Shima Tsundasa from 2000 mixes old and new with several guest musicians while her subsequent album Ira Sanisya is very traditional with many songs from her home islands accompanied by her sanshin.

narai2

Chidori Narai moved to the main island of Okinawa and ran her own bar ‘Chidori no Mise’ in Naha which is where I first met her in 2001. She was especially attached to the traditional Iriomote song ‘Densa Bushi’ and at my request she sang a superb version while sitting next to me on the evening of my visit. An experience not to be forgotten. We met once more after that when she played a concert in Osaka. Her sad death at such an early age comes as a very unhappy surprise.