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The Tonaki Song June 1, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music.
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One night on Tonaki Island, we went out to this seawall with Sigrunn, new friends Kinjo and Saya, the pink guitar, the recorder, two bottles of awamori and some panda chocolates. Here was the result:

This song utilizes some traditional elements of Okinawan folk and pop music:
1) Hogen phrases (akisamiyo = oh my god, deji = very)
2) Musical battle cry “iia za za!” (a vocable = lyrics with no lexical meaning)
3) Finger whistling (yubi bue)
4) Lyrics about a drunken creeper (a.k.a. Yamada Denki)
5) Power derived from distilled liquor (and chocolates)

Now to wax poetic. (more…)


Ideal Roommates May 28, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music.
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During our last week, Jojo and I filmed a music video for his band Please Quiet Ourselves. Jojo toted those masks around to Nakagusuku Castle, Kogen Hotel, Naha, and all over Okinawa City so we could present to you this:

A cab driver brought Jojo to tears by teaching him this Okinawan proverb: ichariba chode. Once we meet, we are brothers and sisters. We felt that strongly in Okinawa, being so quickly taken in by friends, and friends of friends of friends.This fraternal philosophy inspired the video.

“World Music” Boom May 7, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music.
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According to some experts, the surge of worldwide interest in Okinawan music stems from this song. The Boom is a mainland Japanese band, but the singer wrote “Shima Uta” after visiting Okinawa, and incorporated sanshin hooks and Hogen phrases. The Hogen title literally means “island music,” and the song is meant to capture the post-war island spirit.

According to Wikipedia, many others have covered this song, including … wait for it … ANDREW W.K.

Iteru Fasho! April 11, 2010

Posted by Jojo in Other Arts, Photos.
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Above is a picture of all three of my quickly improvised haiku. The teacher wrote them on the whiteboard for group interpretation.

From left to right:














Not my greatest work ever, but it was pretty fun to see a professional critique a mash up of American slang and Okinawan Hogen. It turns out I can’t count syllables very well!

Hearts & Soul of Uruma April 7, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music, Photos.
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The other day we went up to these castle ruins, Iha Gusuku, overlooking the Ishikawa district of Uruma City.

My Wikipedia research couldn’t tell me anything about whether Ishikawa was built on a landfill after World War II, or whether it became the headquarters for the CIA, or why my mom wasn’t allowed to visit her friends who lived there when she was in high school.

It did tell me that “Uruma” was an old alternate name for Okinawa, coming from the Hogen terms for “coral” (uru) and “island” (ma).

It also told me that Uruma was home to “the Japanese Jackson Five,” a group called Finger Five. The four preteen brothers and one sister, from a native Okinawan family, peaked in the early ’70s, after releasing a few albums with King Records and touring the Okinawa military bases. They pretty much disappeared after trying to hit the big-time in Tokyo.

Here’s their best-known single, “Love Call 6700”:

Court Music Concert February 21, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Music.
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Okinawa’s geographic location between mainland Japan, Southeast Asia, Korea and Taiwan makes it an ideal position for the U.S. Armed Forces. But more importantly, the strategic position allows pan-Asian influence on the music. We got to see examples of the resulting product last night at the Korinza theater in Koza, a free concert of traditional Okinawan court music and dance.

The plucked sanshin came from China to Japan via the Ryukyus (and later evolved into the better-know shamisen). The Japanese koto zither bares strong resemblance to the Korean kayageum (conflicting stories on which one came first). Certain dance costumes are borrowed from the Chinese, and certain emphatic hand movements are borrowed from Indonesia.

The opening piece featured 39 sanshins/singers, nine kotos, one shakuhachi bamboo flute, one fiddle and one drummer.

My favorite piece was with a smaller ensemble and these two dancers. Our friend Michiko-san told us it’s a fishing song from Onna Village (where we moved to today). The sanshins and kotos play in unison, and the dancers correlate most with the drums.

All the songs were sung in hogen, the native Okinawan language. It’s no longer taught in schools and has largely fallen out of everyday use, so probably this is the only medium in which the dialect will survive.