Shura: Forevher

Posted August 20, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Forevher is the second album by English/Russian singer and songwriter Aleksandra Denton better known as Shura. Born in Manchester, she played football as a youngster for Manchester City before deciding to pursue a career in music. Football’s loss is music’s gain as the talented Shura has come up with a very assured successor to her debut Nothing’s Real which was listed here as a favourite album of 2016.

Up to now she has been best known for her electro-pop style with its echoes of the UK of the 1980s. For this album, recorded in London, there is a slight change musically as the synths are still there but there is also piano and generally a much broader sound palette. She borrows from various musical styles but updates these in ways that make the new album both very contemporary and uniquely Shura.

Lyrically too the concerns have shifted from the angst-ridden songs of three years ago to a more confident celebration of life and love. Some weighty topics are touched upon throughout, not least religion and death, but the overriding themes are to do with falling in love and the logistics of maintaining long-distance relationships. Clearly these have been triggered by Shura’s own relationship with her girlfriend in New York.

At the heart of the album is a trio of outstanding tracks. ‘BKLYNLDN’ is a love song that drives along infused with that wistful long-distance theme as she sings: “This isn’t love, this is an emergency”. It’s followed by ‘Tommy’ a song inspired by an 89-year old widower met in Texas and opens with a minute of his spoken word sample. It’s a touching, moving piece that flows along with a lovely melody.

Then comes ‘Princess Leia’ a reflection on death and more that all takes place while the singer is nearing the end of a plane trip. (Flight is another motif that appears on more than one song). The craft and precision of the song’s execution is reminiscent of Paul Simon. Only after listening did I realize the coincidental connection – Carrie Fisher, referenced in the song, was once married to Simon.

Elsewhere the (almost) title track ‘Forever’ begins as if it could be an outtake from ABC’s classic The Lexicon of Love while ‘Religion (u can lay your hands on me)’ is gloriously blasphemous with nuns kissing and smoking cigarettes in the official music video. The album’s cover image evokes Joni Mitchell with its shades of blue.

This is a very fine album that pays its dues to pop if not roots history while being refreshingly original. There are a couple of songs from Nothing’s Real that are just as good as anything here, if not better, but this is a real album to be listened to from start to finish.

Forevher is released by Secretly Canadian.


FC Ryukyu Update

Posted August 12, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: FC Ryukyu

We are now beyond the halfway stage of the 2019 J.League football season. As reported before, Okinawa’s only representatives in the J.League are FC Ryukyu who are competing for the first time in the second tier, J2, after becoming J3 champions last season.

After a surprisingly good start to the campaign Ryukyu have since struggled to maintain their early form and have slipped to the lower half of the league table. The club is apparently run on the proverbial shoestring budget and because of its geographical position has very long distances to travel to away games. Home attendances have improved from last year but are still small on an island with no real football culture or tradition.

FC Ryukyu before last Saturday’s kick-off

However, last Saturday was an exciting time to be an FC Ryukyu supporter as the team took on V-Varen Nagasaki who were relegated from J1 last season. The game was billed (rather awkwardly in English) as a ‘Peaceful Match’ in recognition of the terrible wartime sufferings of the people of both Okinawa and Nagasaki and a silence was observed by teams and supporters before the kick-off.

Ryukyu’s recent losing streak looked like continuing as they were 2-1 down going into the 85th minute. But the introduction of forward Ryo Wada proved to be an inspired substitution as he assisted for an equaliser by Satoki Uejo. With manager Higuchi frantically urging everyone forward from the touchline, Wada then scored himself in the seventh minute of added time to give Ryukyu three points and a very dramatic 3-2 victory.

Goalscoring substitute Ryo Wada

FC Ryukyu and V-Varen Nagasaki mascots 

Ryukyu are currently 15th in the 22-team league table and have given themselves a decent chance of staying in J2 for at least another season – which has always been the main aim. Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi is to be commended for sticking to his guns and continuing with Ryukyu’s attacking philosophy. There would be no point in changing it now especially in view of the limited resources at his disposal.

What is worrying is that the club sold their best midfielder Kazaki Nakagawa shortly after the start of the season and there are reports today that top goalscorer Koji Suzuki may also be leaving to join J1 club Cerezo Osaka. Nakagawa has never been properly replaced and the loss of Suzuki would be a big blow.

The club has, however, also been active in bringing in some new players over the past week or so. Young midfielder Ramon has arrived from Fluminense, Brazil, and another midfielder, Koya Kazama, came from Gifu on loan and has already made a mark by scoring the first goal on Saturday.

Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi with new signing Shinji Ono

The most high-profile signing though has been the capture of former Japan international Shinji Ono from J1 team Sapporo. Ono is a veteran with experience of three World Cup finals and is one of the greatest players produced by Japan. His arrival may well boost attendances at Ryukyu but he will be 40 next month so is unlikely to offer a huge amount on the pitch. Nevertheless, it’s hoped he may provide the knowledge and inspiration for his teammates as they fight for continued survival in J2 – and a brighter future for football in Okinawa.

Next Saturday (17th) FC Ryukyu are at home again, this time against Yokohama FC, kick off 19:00.

Dori Freeman: Every Single Star

Posted August 7, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Every Single Star is the third album by Appalachian singer and songwriter Dori Freeman who grew up in Virginia where she still lives. The album was recorded in New York and produced by Teddy Thompson (son of UK folk rock icons Richard and Linda Thompson) who also joins Freeman to share vocals on one of its ten songs.

Freeman’s self-titled debut album came out in 2016 when she announced herself as a bright young American singer-songwriter with deep family roots in the old-time tradition that she grew up with but with a formidable new presence as a chronicler of contemporary issues.

This new release focuses in part on her life as a mother and there is a strong emphasis in many of the songs on the lives of women. Despite the slight thematic shift from her previous work and a more optimistic outlook she is still a forthright singer who writes in a shrewd observational style about women’s lives. As Freeman herself says: “I think there’s always been a streak of resistance in Appalachia and maybe this is the next generation of that.”

The biggest musical influence seems to come from classic country and the musicians backing her play guitars, bass, drums, piano and fiddle. But there are diversions and different styles too and some of the songs are closer to pop and rock while there are others with just Freeman’s voice accompanied by her acoustic guitar.

Dori Freeman (Photo: Kristen H)

The first track ‘That’s How I Feel’ is a cracking way to start. The blend of country and pop immediately evokes words such as sparky, catchy and shiny, and it contains some glorious melodic changes. Riding on top of this is Freeman’s vocal which is strong, clear and emotive both here and throughout the album. It’s such a good opener that it’s a tough one to follow. She never quite tops it but doesn’t faulter either as each of the ten tracks have their own merits and attractions.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ was apparently inspired by Linda Ronstadt but also sounds like something that could have been sung by Roy Orbison. Meanwhile ‘Like I Do’ is an emotional song about the joys of motherhood, but she never becomes too sentimental when singing about her child as it’s so obviously heartfelt and the music is bouncy and upbeat. ‘2 Step’ is a laid-back country duet with Teddy Thompson. The acoustic guitar songs show off Freeman in more usual singer-songwriter mode and one of them ‘I’ll Be Coming Home’ is a fitting way to end the album.

It all clocks in at just 32 minutes during which time she covers some different musical approaches but always with a strong grounding in Appalachian and country music and everything hangs together very well. Every Single Star is very accessible – it kicks in quickly, gets the job done with great style and never overstays its welcome.

Every Single Star will be released by Blue Hens Music on 27th September.

Che Apalache: Rearrange My Heart

Posted July 14, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Rearrange My Heart is the debut album by Buenos Aires-based string band Che Apalache. Their musical style has been called ‘Latingrass’ as one of their aims is to mix American roots and bluegrass with Latin music. They are led by singer and fiddler Joe Troop, originally from North Carolina, while the other musicians are from Argentina and Mexico. The album is produced by the renowned banjo player Béla Fleck.

It’s an unusual blend and the band have been getting very positive feedback from their live shows. The vocals are in English, Spanish and Japanese. Yes, that’s right. For tucked in amongst all the fiddles, guitars, mandolins and banjos is a song called 春の便り (The Coming of Spring). This is sung in Japanese and sounds very much like a folk song with origins far away from Buenos Aires or the mountains of Appalachia.

The band’s much-travelled leader Joe Troop has lived in Europe, Morocco and Japan where he was able to explore lots of different music and culture before moving on to Argentina in 2010 where he eventually formed the current band.

Troop explains the choice of the album’s Japanese song, on which he is also the vocalist: “For two years I lived in Kamimura, a 600 person village in the Japanese Alps that preserves a very ancient traditional culture. This song is greatly influenced by the music I encountered in rural Japan. It paints the portrait of the coming of spring in a small mountainous village in southern Nagano Prefecture. There’s a lot of weird string exploration in this one: playing behind the nut and bridge on the non-bowed instruments, using the guitar like a cajón, false harmonics played on fiddle in unison with whistling.”

Che Apalache (Photo: Mauro Milanich and Andrés Corbo)

The album begins with a traditional greeting in the Uruguayan murga style and then the musical fun gets going. But there is a serious theme too and at its heart is the song ‘The Dreamer’ based on the story of Troop’s friend Moises Serrano who was the subject of a documentary ‘Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America’. It contains the verse most relevant here: “Now, you and I can sing a song / and we can build a congregation / but only when we take a stand / will we change our broken nation”.

Also, very much to the point is ‘The Wall’ with its brutally honest lyrics lamenting Trump’s ridiculous rhetoric. Another powerful song and musical standout ‘Rock of Ages’ is a gospel-laden bluegrass-style warning against politicians who use fundamentalist religion to bolster their campaigns.

A stated aim of the band is to create a real musical union between North and South America. Troop’s fiddle is influenced by elements of flamenco, jazz manouche, and swing as well as the bluegrass he has been teaching in Argentina and whenever he takes the lead the temperature rises. His fellow musicians are Franco Martino (guitar), Martin Bobrik (mandolin), and Pau Barjau (banjo).

This is a fine album that draws in the listener with some great musicianship and then subverts the narrative from within with songs tackling topics of immigration, hate-filled politics and more, plus that unexpectedly entertaining detour into Japanese minyo.

The Power of Okinawa is pleased to be able to give a premiere here to the song 春の便り (The Coming of Spring):

Rearrange My Heart will be released by Free Dirt Records on 9th August. Che Apalache are currently touring the USA. Details of live dates are on their website.

End of an Era?

Posted July 11, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

The most depressing piece of roots music news lately has been the announcement that UK magazine fRoots is suspending publication. This comes just as its latest issue celebrates 40 years of existence, and earlier this year the magazine was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at Folk Alliance International in Canada.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been a contributing writer to the magazine for many years. The opportunity to write for them has given me a comparatively rare overseas platform for the introduction and promotion of Okinawan music.

Unlike the big corporate sponsored publications, fRoots has remained independent all this time under its founder and editor Ian Anderson. It has been at the forefront in championing the more adventurous, independent, sometimes downright wacky ‘local music from out there’ – an essential guide for anyone with an interest in folk, roots and what became known for a time as ‘world music’.

The magazine paid regular attention to music from Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, and writer Paul Fisher and I have frequently been able to indulge our island music enthusiasms in its pages. So much so that the relatively unknown Jun Yasuba & An-chang Project even found themselves on the front cover in the April 2000 issue!

One of the most satisfying experiences for me was being able to interview the late Shouei Kina in a long leisurely conversation that ended up as a three-page feature in the June 2003 edition. And last year I was able to report on the Basque Ryukyu Project. In fact, it was an early fRoots CD that initially sparked my interest in the Basques at the end of the last century.

Many of the articles I wrote for fRoots can be accessed on the Features Archive category of this blog. Another I was still writing when the news came through will eventually be completed and included in the archive. The difficulty of running a print magazine independently is a sign of the times. But it may not be the end yet and fRoots may live on, at least in its online form. Thanks to Ian Anderson for all his hard work. Now he deserves a rest!

For more on fRoots and its demise see the article in this week’s Guardian:

The fRoots website is at:

Rauma: Deep Ocean

Posted June 28, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

The new album Deep Ocean (Fukai Umi) is a collaborative project by the duo known as Rauma. Both musicians are based in Hokkaido and the album was recorded and mixed there in Sapporo. However, they both bring some very different influences from outside Japan to the eleven mainly instrumental compositions here.

Hiroko Ara is an accomplished, award-winning kantele player. The kantele is the best-known traditional plucked stringed instrument from Finland. Although very different in conception, its sound has some echoes of the Ryukyu koto in Okinawa. On these recordings Ara plays a 39-string concert kantele as well as the 5-string and 10-string versions of the instrument.

Her partner on the album is Haruhiko Saga, an experienced musician with many recording credits to his name. He plays morinkhuur (horse-head fiddle) on most of these pieces and provides some rather unobtrusive throat-singing on three of the tracks. Together the pair manage to seamlessly combine the music of Finland, Mongolia and more.

The album generally has a slow, relaxed atmosphere, bordering at times on the ambient. The selections contain both traditional Finnish and Mongolian compositions and there are also three original pieces. It all begins, however, with a version of Ireland’s ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ which provides a fine introduction and is one of the highlights.

The title track is a traditional Mongolian urtin duu or ‘long song’ and is a meditation on the deep ocean and ‘a prayer for the happiness of all living things’. Nevertheless, it somehow manages to squeeze in a snippet of the Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’ as well. The album ends with ‘Red Bird, Blue Bird, White Bird’ which puts together a Japanese nursery rhyme and a Finnish kantele melody.

Perhaps best of all is ‘Night Flower’ an original composition by Hiroko Ara. This is a simple, evocative and haunting melody on which the musicians find the perfect blend of emotion with their instruments.

Deep Ocean is released by Green Pigeon Music.

Agurtzane eta Ion Elustondo: Bizirik dauden eskuak

Posted June 26, 2019 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Basque Music

This is the new album from Basque trikitixa duo Agurtzane eta Ion Elustondo. Their previous album four years ago, simply titled Elustondo, was also reviewed here. But first a useful definition: “The word trikitixa can be a generic term, applied to a kind of dance, a style of music or the instrument. But, nowadays, the term is almost always used to refer to this last meaning: the Basque diatonic accordion.”

The Elustondo pair are sister and brother. Agurtzane is one of the most important Basque musicians and she is also the president of Trikitixa Elkartea –an association that finds opportunities for young players and offers a wealth of information about the world of trikitixa, its festivals and albums. (The trikitixa definition above is from their website). Her brother Ion sings and plays panderoa (tambourine) the instrument most often played alongside trikitixa.

Agurtzane Elustondo learned the instrument when she was a child from the legendary master Laja who died recently at the age of 74. The album’s title can be translated as ‘Hands that remain alive’ and is intended as a tribute to all the forerunners who helped create such a vibrant people’s music in the Basque Country. They believe that “each time we play the keys of the accordion, their hands move together with ours”.

The album contains 16 tracks divided equally between songs sung by Ion Elustondo and tunes that include a good deal of irrintziak: the loud joyous yelling which plays a similar role to hayashi in Okinawan music. For this, and on some of the songs, they are joined by a small number of collaborators. Ten of the compositions are by Martin Aginalde, a veteran musician and influential figure for all younger players.

Some of the songs have traditional melodies and it was a surprise to find the familiar tune of ‘Bagoaz’ corresponding to the 1920s American gospel song ‘I’ll Fly Away’. It shows how universal the links in roots music can be. The final track ‘Adio amets’ also has a traditional tune and this time it’s arranged in a Latin American style by Agurtzane.

It’s familiar nowadays to hear trikitixa mixed up with many other styles, from triki-pop to hip-hop. Most recently it has been achieved very effectively by the bands Esne Beltza and Huntza. But it comes as a very refreshing experience to listen to this album of straightforward music and song played so lovingly by two of the best musicians around. It’s an advance on their previous album and can be highly recommended to anyone with even the slightest interest in Basque roots music.

Bizirik dauden eskuak is released by Elkar.