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The Okinawan Music Business March 29, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music, Other Arts.
Tags: , , , , ,

To me, the title of this entry is a contradiction in terms. It’s at least something I never considered before, but here’s why I’m thinking about it now:

Musix 2010, the Okinawa International Asia Music Festival, was this weekend, and as part of the festival conference we attended a keynote address and panel discussion on music business issues.

The keynote speaker, a representative of Google Japan, spoke about bands using Youtube to sell their name, increase web traffic and improve advertising. An audience member asked about how to get Okinawan bands better recognized in mainland Japan. And the whole time I was thinking, this goes against everything Okinawan folk music (and I) stands for.

Here’s a quote from The Folk Arts of Japan by Hugo Munsterberg:

One of the most notable features of the folk-art movement in Japan has been its emphasis upon the significance of anonymity.

Folk art … by its very nature, has always been inevitably anonymous; it shows us the beauty of a world in which there is no necessity for the individual to make his name known.

There’s a term for the spirit of Japanese folk art, shibui. It implies a subtle quality, not gaudy like court or religious artwork, with a subdued color palette in visual arts (like bashofu versus bingata). It’s playful and unpretentious, and the same goes for Japanese folk music.

Even though the speaker was not addressing folk music, I can’t help but feel that all music should have similar ideals, in which making art and community is the end goal, not making money and MySpace friends. Unfortunately we live in a world where the music business means an oxymoronic push-pull between trying to stand out and trying to fit into the mainstream.

The men who spoke during the panel discussion kind of redeemed the conference for me, though. The moderator, an editor for Nikkei Entertainment, reminded that advertising and promoting Okinawan bands is not about the money, “I just want as many people as possible to hear this music.”

And this music is unique, they stressed, because so much of Okinawa is set in tradition. It’s easy for real voices to be heard because Okinawa is real, everyday people. It’s easy for traditional sounds to reemerge because so many people here still practice and play sanshin and other old-style instruments. There’s enough inspiration here that no musicians should resort to mimicking what comes out of Tokyo.

So if “the music business” can continue to help bridge the generational gap between young and old, rockers and traditionalists, and stop artists from relocating to the mainland mainstream, then I can’t argue against that. The moderator concluded, “If we have money, we can invest it to make something better.” And more music and outlets for musicians is always better.



1. okidu - March 29, 2010

Is that George Murasaki, the middle panelist?

Elisa - March 30, 2010

Nope, some producer guy. I looked for George, though.

2. Jory Kinjo - April 13, 2010

Elisa, I liked your column very much. My brothers and I are musicians from Canada of Okinawan heritage. We just returned to Canada after visiting and playing some music in Okinawa. If you get the chance, please check out our music or take the time to write me an email, so I can reply with some questions I’m hoping to ask you.
Thanks very much, hope to hear from you
Jory Kinjo


3. Even If the Engines Fail « oki yo! - April 30, 2010

[…] the way, I had Justin in mind when I wrote about the anonymity of folk music. He’s been locally famous for years, and even though he could arguably make it big, […]

4. Okinawa asolada - July 9, 2014

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