Music Is My Solace March 23, 2010Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Music.
Tags: kankara, Painting to Live, refugee camps, Richard O. Nidel, sanshin, UC Berkeley
Once the war ended and the U.S. made themselves at home on Okinawa, they set up refugee camps for the locals. Conditions on the island were still awful, and people continued to die from malnutrition and malaria. It was a bleak setting, but Okinawans powered through, with the help of a little music.
Recycling tin cans and parachute string, musicians created the kankara — or tin can sanshin. In such a dismal world, these brought a little relief to the suffering.
Knowing this, the U.S. military encouraged the performing and visual arts in the refugee camps. This also led to the painting groups that my aunt curated an exhibit of at UC Berkeley and the University of the Ryukyus last year.
This post-war hell introduced a new era of Okinawan folk music. So says world music buff Richard O. Nidel:
Okinawans feel their island was sacrificed for the rest of Japan during World War II and their music reflects this suffering. Not surprisingly Okinawa is home to Japan’s most prominent roots music, the only new music from Japan to make a true impact on the world music scene.
I wish I could say more about it, but without knowing the native language, most of the songs’ content is lost on me. But I can say it’s unlike any music I’ve heard from any other world region, and it continues to evolve with modern twists and influences, while still paying respects to traditional roots.
Even the rudimentary kankara has been re-appropriated as a classroom arts-and-crafts project or tourist souvenir. But as long as we remember the instrument’s origins, there’s nothing kitschy about it.