Kaka: Neon the time

Posted May 7, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

The 2nd edition of The Power of Okinawa has an interview with hip-hop artist and producer Tatsumi Chibana. Our meeting for this was at the Chibana family home in Onna. Among the family members present that day was baby son Kaka. Now years later, Kaka (かか) is fast becoming a musician in his own right and Neon the time is an album of his original songs. It will be released later this month on his 14th birthday.

Not surprisingly, in such a musical family, he began learning piano and drums as a young child. Together with his two sisters, he formed KiKaChi王 and they released an album when he was eleven.

This new recording has seven tracks with Vocaloid synthesiser software used to some effect and songs telling stories of great imagination. There is a good deal of creativity at work on the melodies too. The production and programming are by Kaka, while the cover design is by sister Kiki.

Neon the time will be released digitally by Akagawara on 15th May and will be available in all the usual places for streaming and download.

longhai@akagawara.com

Victor Kinjo: Terráqueos

Posted May 5, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Last week I was invited to the We Are Okinawa!!! concert at Music Town Otoichiba in Koza. This was a fascinating meeting of different singers, musicians, and cultures, with a strong emphasis on the connections between the Ryukyus and South America. One of the main featured artists was Okinawan-Peruvian singer Alberto Shiroma from the band Diamantes. Another was visiting musician Victor Kinjo whose second album Terráqueos is released this week.  

Kinjo is a fourth generation Okinawan-Brazilian singer. He is also a songwriter, researcher, and producer who is based in both São Paulo and New York. Following the release of his first album he was nominated for a best singer award at the 2018 Brazilian Music Awards and his vocal artistry is very evident on the new release.

Terráqueos is a short but ambitious statement. The album aims for a champloo musical journey in which Kinjo “melts sounds and languages of the world in a planetary statement for nature, diversity, and peace.” The eight tracks take us through a wide variety of styles with acoustic guitar and sanshin sometimes mixed with other instrumentation but always with the vocals at its core.

It all begins with a short vocal track in which a poem in Tupi (one of the indigenous languages of South America) is fused with the well-known traditional Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’. This is sung in Uchinaguchi, the language of Kinjo’s grandparents.

The album then takes in new interpretations of songs by composers such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil as well as some original songs by Kinjo sung in Portuguese, English, French, and Uchinaguchi. The album concludes with his original song ‘Uchina’.

One of the songs on the album is ‘Vem Pro Rio’ (Come to the river) and last year he released this as a single and music video (see below). It was recorded in an artistic and scientific expedition from the source to the mouth of the Tietê River in Southeast Brazil. As part of his continuing research, he has recently been investigating the contamination of Okinawan rivers by US military bases.

It was very good to meet Kinjo last week and talk with him about his projects, both environmental and musical, as he spoke of his work and the activist musicians who have inspired him, from Pete Seeger to Shoukichi Kina. His album is well worth checking out, but the last word goes to Kinjo himself:

“There is a shimanchu teaching that says ichariba choodee, which means we are siblings when we meet. In these times of pandemics, climate emergency and war, we must, at the same time, overcome historical injustices and rescue our common ancestry as Terráqueos (Earthlings) made by land and water. I believe music has the power to unite different peoples, identities, and cultures in harmony.”

Terráqueos is released digitally on 6th May by Brazilian label YB Music:

https://onerpm.link/Terraqueos

Victor Kinjo will be performing in Tokyo at a release concert for the album on Saturday 7th May. See website for details:

http://haremame.com/schedule/72741/

Shunichi Irei: Nangoku Beat

Posted April 28, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Nangoku Beat (南国ビート) is the first album for ten years by singer, songwriter and sanshin player Shunichi Irei who is from Izena-jima off the north-west coast of Okinawa. Irei learned sanshin at high school and then went to Okinawa Kenritsu Geijutsu Daigaku (Okinawa Arts University) where he studied Ryukyuan classical music.

One of the songs here was originally a single for him in 2007. A mini-album followed the next year, and he also appeared at the Summer Sonic 09 festival in mainland Japan. More recently he has acted in films and television drama including the movie Zampa set in Okinawa.

With this release he has recorded a set of mostly original songs. There is also one co-written with Akira Ikuma as well as a cover of the J-Pop hit ‘Hanamizuki’. Alongside his own original songs there are two traditional tracks – the familiar ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’.

The overall sound is probably best described as Uchina Pop. Irei has a strong voice and his sanshin playing is prominent throughout. Also crucial is his accomplice DJ Sasa who created all the arrangements in addition to keyboards and programming. It’s already more than a decade since DJ Sasa collaborated with Kanako Horiuchi on their Ska Lovers project and some of the atmosphere of their two fine albums is reproduced here.

The title track (see video below) is a bright, poppy affair and this, like much of the album, celebrates island life and the nature of Okinawa. It’s followed by ‘Precious Days’ a song written by Irei in memory of his late grandfather. It’s a smooth pop ballad of the kind that might easily be the theme song to a TV drama series.

‘Tsuki nu Kaisha’ is the better of the two traditional tracks. It’s taken at a slow pace and with an appealing vocal sung by someone obviously at home with the classics. It’s such a great song too that Irei could hardly go wrong just by singing it straight and true. For this listener, it’s a highlight, while Irei’s own compositions will no doubt please those looking for the more pop side of Okinawan music.

A live release event is planned for 3rd May in Tokyo. There will also be a live release show in Okinawa at Naha’s Sakurazaka Central on Saturday 16th July at 19:00.

Nangoku Beat is out now and is distributed by OR.

https://oki-reco.co.jp/

The 50th Anniversary of Reversion

Posted April 8, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

In just a few weeks, on the 15th May to be precise, the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan will be commemorated. I am reminded of ‘Jidai no Nagare’ (The Passage of Time) a song associated with Rinsho Kadekaru. Its opening lines (in English translation) are:

From rule by China to rule by Yamato

From rule by Yamato to rule by America        

How astonishing the changes in this Okinawa of ours!

Claiming rule by America was wrong          

Rule by Yamato returned                   

Which is better? One never knows for sure   

One thing we do know for sure is that reversion to Yamato (Japan) promised many things that have not come to pass, not least the hope that American bases would finally disappear, Okinawans would get their land back, and the islanders would be treated as equal citizens by Japan. None of this has happened and so the war still isn’t over for Okinawa.

As I’m almost tired of saying… not much has changed under the colonial rule of Japan, with the use and misuse of land stolen by US occupation forces for military bases. Accidents and incidents, crimes, and environmental degradation, all continue with the tacit approval of a Japanese government that has no intention of doing anything to seriously relieve Okinawans of their burden.

Only last week at Naha military port, an American soldier pointed a gun at a Ryukyu Shimpo reporter who was just doing his job. The chilling photo (below) says a lot about the reality of life under virtual occupation.

Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo

Returning to ‘Jidai no Nagare’, a newer version of the song contains these lines:

Long ago the hills and forests were ours      

Where we picked oranges freely         

Now as bases they are American                 

Long ago the seas were ours too                 

We could have a dip at any time         

Now the resorts keep us out                         

Change after change is our fate         

But bases on the island never change 

When will things become better?

It would be very optimistic to imagine things will soon become better. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that people on these islands are not yet calling for independence, since the prospects of ever achieving any kind of autonomy under Japan are extremely bleak. This is especially so in view of Japan’s slavish following of America and support for its wars.  

A few years ago, a referendum for independence in Scotland was a close-run thing and may yet come to fruition. By contrast, regaining independence has been almost a taboo subject in Okinawa. In my local community it’s not something that’s discussed, while some students at the university where I lectured were shocked at the idea. For younger Okinawans the Battle of Okinawa and its combined 240,000+ deaths, is something from the murky past and they have grown up used to the bases and the American war machine.

There is a sense of Stockholm Syndrome in all this. Many fear the unknown of going it alone and live in hopes they will somehow be treated better by their oppressors. There is, however, more enthusiasm for autonomy among some Uchinanchu Americans and others outside the islands, judging by what I read daily on social media: perhaps being away from it all they can see something that those closer cannot. They are also able to view it in the broader sense of a struggle by indigenous peoples worldwide.

On Saturday 30th April starting at 14:00 there will be a Kenmin Taikai or People’s Gathering at Onoyama Rikuyokyogijo in Naha. Its purpose is to protest about the American bases and to tell the younger generation about the problems of the last 50 years. It’s hoped to attract 10,000 participants. This is unlikely to lead to any significant change but that’s not the point. What is important is to show the unfairness meted out to these islands as Kadekaru’s song continues to resonate.  

Mama’s Broke: Narrow Line

Posted March 31, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Narrow Line is the new release by Canadian duo Mama’s Broke. It’s the second album from Amy Lou Keeler (vocals, guitar, banjo) and Lisa Maria (vocals, fiddle, mandolin) who are often described simply as a ‘folk duo’. In truth this doesn’t do justice to their music which draws influences from near and far (their website says they are “based out of nowhere and everywhere”) and all the compositions on their new album are originals – not traditional.

Despite all this their main connection is with Eastern Canada and in particular Nova Scotia. The two met in 2014 when Amy Lou gave Lisa Maria a lift from Montreal to Halifax and so began the idea for Mama’s Broke. Both women had already travelled the world, and their musical adventures encompass Quebecois, Balkan, Appalachian, punk and more. They’ve since toured Canada, the USA, Ireland, the UK, and Europe as a duo (though we’re still awaiting them in Okinawa…)

The album is breezy at 33 minutes but within that relatively short time they pack in as much as possible and it’s a superb listen from start to finish. The two are joined by guest musicians on only three tracks (on bass and dobro) and so for the most part it’s just Amy Lou and Lisa Maria singing and playing all the instruments. Everything is beautifully recorded and sounds so fresh it’s as if they’re in the room sitting next to us.

Close attention to the lyrics reveals a darkness in their songs as they sing about the vicissitudes of life while their tunes sometimes shift in unusual and unexpected directions. At times they recall fellow Canadian Kaia Kater, and their harmony vocals even hint of the Everly Brothers, but the soundscapes that emerge are both old-timey familiar and uniquely new.

Mama’s Broke (Photo: Blanca Chavez)

The opener ‘Just Pick One’ was written in Amy Lou’s uninsulated cabin in rural Nova Scotia at the height of a lockdown and has a haunting melody that unfolds to show off their blend of old and new. ‘How It Ends’ is a broken song of lost love, its catchiness almost turning it into a potential country hit as they sing: “Even when it was bad, you were the best I’ve ever had.”

The poignant title track is a song about borders and boundaries that obliquely touches on such things as climate destruction, violence against immigrants, and wealth disparity. Never mind all the implied weightiness, it’s a really rewarding listen. The same goes for ‘God’s Little Boy’ which addresses (but never too obviously) terrorism by angry young men looking to take their rage out on women. 

There is also a sublime a capella rendition of the hymn-like ballad ‘The Ones That I Love’, and a sprightly instrumental with some lively East European fiddling by Lisa Maria. Overall, the album is a fine testament to the still evolving talents of these two women. With roots music producing little gems like this it deserves a much bigger audience.

Narrow Line was recorded in Montreal and produced by Bill Garrett and Mama’s Broke. The album will be released by Free Dirt Records on 13th May.

https://freedirt.net/

https://mamasbroke.ca/

the you – album, video, festival

Posted March 17, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

A new album is released this week by Okinawan band the you. The album by now is the fourth release from the indie-pop band led by singer, guitarist, and composer Yuki Irei and is their first since Vein in 2017.

The band were formed in 2004 and their songs have been featured on two of the Music from Okinawa compilations produced to promote the wide spectrum of music being made on these islands.

by now is released on CD by Backwater Records. There is also a music video for 冬の汽笛 -winter whistle- one of the songs from the new album:

the you will perform in Koza at the Music Lane Festival Okinawa on Saturday 26th March.

https://backwatersound.wixsite.com/theyou

Awich – Queendom video and album

Posted March 7, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Okinawan-born rapper, poet, and hip-hop artist Awich has been featured here a few times over the years. In fact, it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that ten years has already passed since I first wrote about her ‘Flow Manifesto’ bilingual spoken word project in Ginowan.

Now she has a stunning new video Queendom which is also the title track of her newly released album which is a hip-hop recording with a strong Okinawan connection. The album has 13 tracks and was released a few days ago by Universal Music. It’s available through iTunes and other streaming platforms.

http://awich.jp/

Lily Henley: Oras Dezaoradas

Posted March 3, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Lily Henley is a US singer, composer, and musician who up to now has been best known for her work in American roots and traditional music. For this new album she turns to her Sephardic Jewish heritage and has come up with a collection of songs drawing entirely on that tradition and sung in Ladino – an endangered language that fuses old Spanish with Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish elements.

The Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century on penalty of death but kept their culture alive as they moved throughout North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Some of the ballads here date from those early times and Henley sets them to new melodies as well as writing three original songs in Ladino.

She explains: “There are so few young musicians in this song tradition, “and, to me, doing an album of the old melodies, re-recording what people have already recorded, didn’t make me excited. This feels inspiring because I’m creating music that feels really authentic and original to me and I’m adding to this tradition that is very endangered.”

All but the last of the ten tracks have music she composed and some of the old songs have words adapted by her. Henley sings and plays fiddle and guitar and is accompanied by Duncan Wickel (violin, cello, guitars, octave mandolin, piano, background vocals) and Haggai Cohen-Milo (double bass). She travelled to Paris for the recordings and was welcomed there by the largest Sephardic community in Europe.

Lily Henley (Photo: Ally Schmaling)

She has a strong, clear voice and the arrangements are very engaging. None more so than on the opening track ‘Duermite Mi Alma’ in which guitar and fiddle are joined to very tasty effect by bass and piano as the song builds. Another standout is her composition ‘La Galud’ with its attractive melody, and there is even a hint of a wider affinity with the Basque songs of Maider Zabalegi.

The folk songs on Oras Dezaoradas are drawn from living sources, old archives, and medieval love poems. They all have a strong female emphasis as much of the music was kept alive by the women who, in doing so, were going against standard gender roles. Unusually, the women in these Sephardic songs displayed a powerful independence as they sang of their daily thoughts and concerns.

Lily Henley has created a valuable work in the Sephardic song tradition. She manages at once to keep these ballads alive and to render them completely up to date for a modern audience as well as adding some new ones of her own. The CD booklet contains the original Ladino song lyrics alongside English translations.

Oras Dezaoradas will be released by Lior Éditions on 6th May.

https://www.lilyhenley.com/

Keiko Higa: Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi

Posted February 14, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

This new album features an ensemble cast of musicians led by Keiko Higa who is best known in Okinawa as a member of long-standing vocal group Deigo Musume. As well as a singer and sanshin player Higa is a talented exponent of the taiko and her percussive skills on that instrument form the basis of these recordings.

Most of the tracks are traditional songs but there are also three originals. One is the title track written by another well-known singer and musician Shuken Maekawa who is prominently featured on the album as one of Higa’s guests. There is also a composition by Sadao China, and another co-written by Higa with Bisekatsu. 

Higa is originally from Yomitan and has been involved with music in Okinawa ever since joining her sisters in Deigo Musume as a four-year old. The group were put together by their father and began performing in 1962. (Sadly, in 1973 both of their parents were killed in a car accident involving a drunken driver from the US military). In the 1990s she formed her own taiko group named Shimadaiko and now runs another group Shubizu.

There is an hour of songs and music, but it’s the almost 14-minute penultimate track that is by far the longest and this is described as the ‘climax’ of the album. This is a kachashii medley of seven well-known pieces for which she is joined by the whole ensemble, and it concludes with the inevitable ‘Toshin Doi’.

The kachashii dance medley formula is so well-known in Okinawa and already so familiar that it holds a bit less interest for this listener than some of the other recordings here. No doubt the dynamic dance music works very well and comes to life even more in live performance. But it’s some of the other songs that really hold the attention.

The musicians – Keiko Higa and Shuken Maekawa are seated front centre.

Her moving vocal duet with kumiodori performer Seigi Tamagusuku on ‘Konjigwa’ is a highlight. It’s followed by the fine ‘Kuibanja’ on which she is joined by Keiko Kinjo on vocal and sanshin. There is an eisa version of Shuken Maekawa’s hit ‘Ashibina’ featuring Maekawa himself. Also of note are the Yaeyama song ‘Densa Bushi’ with Kota Ito, and the Miyako song ‘Nakadati nu Mikagama’ on which Higa duets with Tadayuki Matsubara.

The album ends with ‘Kodoyo Hibike’ a song written especially for the album by Sadao China. This offers a different note from all that’s gone before as it includes a rhythm track and sounds like something China might have composed for one of his Nenes line-ups. This time it’s a total success and is, in fact, one of the best things on the album.

Tenmikachi Donmikachi Hiyamikachi will be released by Respect on 30th March. The CD contains a 48-page booklet.

http://www.respect-record.co.jp/

Okinawa Electric Girl Saya: Doomsday

Posted February 2, 2022 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

The musician known as Okinawa Electric Girl Saya first came to my attention a year or so ago when a friend alerted me to a video of her doing all kinds of electronic things involving Okinawan music. This new album is in fact the fourth release by Saya who is still just 21 years old, and its complete title is Doomsday ~ Shumatsu ~.  

The new album has 17 tracks and a total playing time of 72 minutes so there is plenty here to digest. It spans all kinds of styles and so the major focus is not only on Okinawan music. There are forays into electro-pop, noise, ambient and techno, and, as Saya says herself, she also found inspiration in sounds from all over the world – or in what used to be called ‘world music’.

With so many things going on over such a long running time there is always the danger that it sets its sights too high or is too wide-ranging to satisfy as a complete listening experience. However, while not every track will suit everyone, it’s also true to say there will surely be at least something here to make everyone happy.

In fact, Doomsday works surprisingly well as an album, consistently finding new sounds and directions to maintain interest and excitement. The production is clear and confident throughout and it bears repeated listening to stand up well as a new addition, not just to sounds from Okinawa but to music from much further afield.

The short opening track ‘Hito nu Du’ features unaccompanied voices (Saya is a singer as well as a musician) and her songs comprise more than half the album. Most of these songs and arrangements are by Saya who also produces – and designed the jacket. As for lyrics, both the title track and the song ‘Dancing in the distance’ are in English, three others have Uchinaguchi vocals, and the rest is sung in Japanese.

It’s no surprise that the most arresting for this listener are the three compositions drawing on Okinawan traditions. This trio of songs begins with ‘Arawarin 2022’. This is followed by the exuberant ‘Acchamee!’ (see video below). It might sound like a relative of Rinken Band, but she gives it her own twist with a rhythm track by Ryukyudisko’s Tetsushi Hiroyama. The mood carries on with the electro-driven emotionally charged ‘Ashibana’ which is perhaps the best thing on the album.

Doomsday has some guests helping on various tracks. One of these is Esme Mori who co-arranges the sublime dreamy pop of ‘Kasumisou’ written by Tabito Nanao. Elsewhere ‘Kamen’ offers a dash of noise, ‘Hotaru’ is a mood piece with soft background voices and spoken word; ‘Kareta Shima’ has menacing percussion and a wordless vocal.

Saya is based in Tokyo now but originally from Koza, Okinawa, and has been involved with music and dance since the age of twelve. She says the album was inspired by nature and an environmental awareness as well as being a reflection on her feelings from the pandemic. It has been called avant-garde but is at the same time very accessible.

Doomsday is released by infogarage and is out now. There will be a live performance by Okinawa Electric Girl Saya in Okinawa during April.

https://saya.okinawa/