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Music By the People, For the People April 12, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music, Photos.
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In addition to last night’s slow jams, there were a few uptempo percussion-based pieces. It’s the music of the farmers — joyous, lively and catchy. They were the only songs when the players and dancers looked like they were having fun.

These taiko players did a medley, but here’s a clip of “Soi Soi” — my favorite!

And here’s a video of the eisa folk dancers and drummers. Eisa ensembles, usually made of young men and women, combine taiko, sanshin, costumed dances, skits and singing. This group was all women, and they are my heros!

Comparing the classical court music with this music, they are both beautiful and intriguing forms. But to me, this folk style feels so much more real. It’s participatory music made to be enjoyed by players and audience alike — music for music’s sake, not religion or prestige or solemn ritual. Music by and for folks is always the best.

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Slow Jams April 12, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
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Tonight Michiko-san took us to a sanshin and koto concert in Okinawa City. Most of the songs in the program were classical court music: very dignified, very precise, very slow. Since I’ve been sharing a lot of sanshin music, here’s a koto piece to mix it up. And it’s all women!

And here’s a koto and sanshin duet. The male singer/sanshin player kept his eyes forward the whole time, never looking down to check his fingers. I was quite impressed with both of them.

Upbeat music to come!

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.