Christine Primrose: Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris

Posted July 3, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

The full title of this new album by Christine Primrose is Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris: Love and Loss – A Lone Voice and it contains eleven songs of unaccompanied traditional Scottish Gaelic sung by one of the great singers from Scotland who has travelled the world performing and teaching. There are also three bonus tracks chosen from earlier recordings.

It might seem a daunting task to sit down and listen for an hour to such sparse unaccompanied songs rendered in a language that will be unfamiliar to most people. However, if anyone is capable of dispelling our fears then it’s surely Christine Primrose whose long career includes being awarded Gaelic Singer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2009. With these new recordings she is out there on her own with no safety net and that she so obviously succeeds is a great testament to her art.

If there are any parallels with Okinawa it is with some of the timeless unaccompanied songs sung and collected in the local communities of these islands –  particularly those of Yaeyama and Miyako – as well as in the many songs of hardship, emigration and exile.

Primrose focuses here on sad songs of love and loss, some very old, others by known composers. In one case she adds a melody of her own to some words by the poet William Campbell. The final song is by John McGregor (in English: ‘Island of Lewis, I Travelled Afar from You’) in which the singer reflects on his native island after a long time away. As Primrose writes in her notes, “Like McGregor, you may never return permanently but it’s always home.”

Christine Primrose was brought up in a Gaelic speaking culture on the Hebridean island of Lewis where she sang in her native language from a very young age. On this album she gives a master class in how to interpret these songs. There is nothing remotely flashy or showy on display. Instead, the emotions of each song are conveyed with subtlety, clarity and a quiet power.

The album booklet contains Primrose’s explanations in English of all the songs. Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris: Love and Loss – A Lone Voice is released by Temple Records and is available directly from their website.

www.templerecords.co.uk

www.christineprimrose.com 

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Uchina Love Song

Posted June 29, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Uchina Love Song is a new compilation of songs from the Ryukyu Islands sung by six different women singers. The album contains 18 tracks and the songs are shared equally between the singers so they have three tracks each. The singers are Lucy Nagamine, Yoko Ishikawa, Kaori Yamashiro, Kanako Horiuchi, Megumi Aragaki, and Mina.

It has been said many times that there are so many Okinawan compilation albums that it needs something rather special or different to justify the release of yet another one. Well, Uchina Love Song is certainly different as it focuses on both Ryukyu minyo and classical love songs all concerned with women’s feelings towards men. (Despite this, all of the songs seem to have been written by men). Generally, the stories told in the songs have unhappy endings and this makes for an unusual theme and atmosphere throughout.

The responsibility for choosing the 18 songs was with Setsuko Kikuyama, a famed teacher of minyo and she gave guidance on singing and sanshin playing as well as appearing on the album along with a few other musicians in supporting roles. The songs are performed uniformly well but among those that stand out is a version of Teihan China’s ‘Kataumui’ by Lucy Nagamine – a song much associated with Misako Oshiro. Megumi Aragaki takes on the standard ‘Shirakumu Bushi’, Kanako Horiuchi sings Choki Fukuhara’s ‘Yotakara Bushi’, and Mina performs ‘Musume Jintoyo’ a song written by Fukuhara’s son Tsuneo and a big hit for Yoriko Ganeko in 1978.

What is interesting about the artists who appear on the album is that only one of them – Megumi Aragaki – was born and raised in Okinawa. Of the others, Lucy is well-known for her upbringing in Peru, and Horiuchi moved to Okinawa from Hokkaido in order to study Okinawan singing and sanshin. Yamashiro was born in Osaka but came back to live in Okinawa, while Yoko Ishikawa is from the Okinawan island of Iyeha-jima but was brought up in Osaka. Mina is Swiss-Japanese and lives in London.

Kanako Horiuchi and Lucy Nagamine may be the best known of these singers and not surprisingly their contributions are outstanding but everyone deserves credit for a new compilation with a slightly different focus and purpose. The release comes with a second CD containing a nine minute recording of ‘Nakuni~Kaisare’ featuring all of the singers. The CD booklet contains Japanese translations and explanations of the songs by the writer Tsukasa Kohama.

Uchina Love Song will be released on 2nd August by Respect.

www.respect-record.co.jp

Irei no hi 2017

Posted June 23, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It’s the 23rd June once again and so it’s Irei no hi in Okinawa which is a public holiday throughout the Ryukyu Islands. For the eighth year in succession I attended the Memorial Service for all the war dead in the Battle of Okinawa which ended on this day 72 years ago at a cost of more than 240,000 lives. As always, the main ceremony was held at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman.

The rainy season is finally at an end in Okinawa and today, like all the other Irei no hi ceremonies I’ve attended, there was blazing sunshine and sweltering heat.

As before, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an appearance that was about as welcome as a fly in your soup. Tight security ensured that his visit went off without incident but his speech on the need for peace and assurances that he was thinking about Okinawa seemed hypocritical at the very least. His actions and those of his government have been completely at odds with his words today.

The current situation in Okinawa was better addressed by Yonekichi Shinzato, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:

“Although 72 years have passed, there are still vast US military facilities in Okinawa, and people still suffer from incidents and accidents due to their presence. The reduction of Okinawa’s excessive military burden has repeatedly been called for. However, considering the number of military related incidents in Okinawa such as parachute drop training in Kadena Air Base despite local opposition and frequent military aircraft flyovers, I have to say the situation has been regressing. Therefore, I firmly request, again, reducing our military burden.”

This was taken up by Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga in his Peace Declaration:

“Especially regarding the relocation of Futenma Air Station to the Henoko area, we cannot tolerate that the construction has been forcibly begun, ignoring the will of the people of Okinawa. I am determined to work closely with the Okinawan people in order to block the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko.”

Onaga went on: “This year marks the 70th anniversary of enforcement of the Japanese constitution and 45th anniversary of its application to Okinawa Prefecture. Considering this milestone, we must reaffirm the principle of pacifism of the constitution and every individual has to firmly pursue lasting peace for the world and make efforts to realize it.”

“Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa, passed away last week. He wanted Okinawa to become a foundation for creation of peace and peaceful co-existence. As a vow to prevent the re-occurrence of the horrors of war, he decided to establish “The Cornerstone of Peace” to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, regardless of their nationalities.”

“We, as citizens living in Okinawa, will strive to pass on our hope for a better tomorrow which is built into “The Cornerstone of Peace” to the next generation. In addition, we are determined to continue making efforts to create a society full of joy, where our children and grandchildren, who hold the fate of the future in their hands, will be able to live in peace and safety.”

Harry & Mac – Road to Okinawa

Posted June 19, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Road to Okinawa is billed as a ‘Talk Show’ by Harry (Haruomi Hosono) and Mac (Makoto Kubota), who have been for many years two of the most well-established musicians and producers from mainland Japan. Both also have strong connections to these islands. The Talk Show takes place on Saturday in Naha.

Hosono is probably best known for his work as a member of electronic music pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra and he has released many solo albums covering a wide range of styles. Kubota has also had a long interest in the music of Okinawa and is a musician, engineer, and producer. His Blue Asia projects and his work with singers in the Miyako Islands have attracted much attention in recent years.

What actually happens on Saturday is anyone’s guess but it seems likely that the pair won’t just be talking. They also have guests from Okinawa who will be playing live. The guest artists are Shoukichi Kina, Tetsuhiro Daiku, and Banjo Ai. It’s hard to imagine that Kina at least won’t have something to say if he gets half a chance.

Shoukichi Kina

Banjo Ai

Harry & Mac’s Road to Okinawa is presented by Takara Records and starts at 19:00 on 24th June at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A). Tickets are 3,000 yen in advance and 3,500 on the day.

http://www.sakura-zaka.com/

Home thoughts from abroad

Posted June 6, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

I am a stranger to the ballot box. Not through choice but because I’m not entitled to vote in elections either in the UK or in Japan the country where I have permanent residency. And although I have no plans to take it up, it would also be nice to have the right to return with my family to live in my native country if we ever wanted to but under current British government laws this is apparently forbidden to us on economic grounds.

Over the past decade or so I haven’t much cared about never being able to take part in the democratic process, especially since the available options through the UK ballot box always seemed so unappealing and lacking in real diversity. However, for the first time in ages it appears that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party offers a glimmer of hope for a better and more inclusive society for everyone and not just for the few.

To my surprise I found myself actually being impressed with the answers of a political leader last week when I watched Corbyn on BBC TV’s Question Time. What was disappointing was the reaction of some, mostly older, members of the audience who expressed indignation that he prefers to talk with dangerous people he doesn’t like such as ‘terrorists’; he is very reluctant to use nuclear weapons; and is wholeheartedly in favour of multiculturalism.

It is encouraging that most of the younger people I’ve listened to have been more positive and open-minded about many issues and some of them are puzzled as to why their elders are so keen to have the nuclear option at all. Young people are often portrayed as naive or irresponsible but many of those I’ve heard have talked more sense than some of their seniors who are more concerned with retaliation and blowing everyone up than with reasoning and understanding.

In Okinawa, where people have suffered invasion and occupation, innumerable deaths and destruction, attitudes are different and it is usually the elderly who are the most vociferous in condemning all forms of violence. They must know from bitter experience that killing people doesn’t make things better and there are only losers in war. Despite this sad history – which continues to this day with American military bases forcibly imposed on Okinawa by Japan – Okinawan people have generally welcomed outsiders and taken pride in their mixed champloo culture. While most Okinawans happily embrace pacifism, the macho British see nothing incongruous about holding military parades at football matches and using any opportunity to celebrate the armed forces.

So I won’t be voting this week and am not optimistic about the outcome of the UK general election, given some of the attitudes I’ve seen among the British public and the reluctance of people to change their ways. Too many also would rather close borders and pull up the drawbridge. But stranger things have happened in the world, not least with the election of the terrible Trump, so I don’t expect, but cautiously hope for a Labour victory.

Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya

Posted May 29, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Malian singer Oumou Sangaré is one of the biggest stars in African music. She is also an icon for feminism and women’s rights in her country and her songs have challenged and cajoled on a number of social issues close to her heart. Now she returns to the recording studio with her first album since the magical Seya which was released all of eight years ago.

This is in many ways a very different album from its illustrious predecessors. Sangaré was previously with World Circuit but has changed record labels and is now with the French company No Format! The new album was recorded in Stockholm and Paris together with members of a Parisian music collective. This stripped back approach is heavy on rhythm giving this a more driving, direct and accessible sound than we’ve previously heard.

What has been achieved very well is the difficult balancing act between the rock guitars, keyboards and synths, and Sangaré’s powerful vocals and stylish presence and she is very much upfront throughout and always in control. Her music roots from the Wassoulou region are never far away either and instruments such as the traditional kamelengoni are present throughout. The female backing singers complementing the lead vocal are also an essential ingredient.

It’s a relatively short album at around 40 minutes (though my copy also contained a bonus remix track) but packs a considerable punch. Of the nine songs the upbeat ‘Djoukourou’ drives along superbly while ‘Kounkoun’ achieves the perfect blend of old and new. Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen features on ‘Yere Faga’ while ‘Minata Waraba’ is a tribute to Sangaré’s mother. The haunting title song ‘Mogoya’ (it means ‘people today’) is much slower with strings and guitar.

Mogoya is released by No Format!

www.noformat.net

Heiwasozo no Mori Koen

Posted May 21, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

A few days ago I stumbled upon Heiwasozo no Mori Koen (Peace Forest Park) not far from my home on the south coast of Okinawa. I’d seen it signposted before but had never thought to seek it out and have never met anyone who has even mentioned its existence.

Entrance to the park

Many areas named ‘parks’ in Okinawa (and mainland Japan) are no more than small patches of ground not much bigger than my own garden so it came as quite a surprise to discover a green and spacious land that really deserves the name.

On a sloping hillside with great views of the ocean, the park contains a fountain, pond, woods, and areas for walking, play and rest. Amazingly, on this lovely morning there were no other visitors and I had the entire park to myself.