jump to navigation

“World Music” Boom May 7, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music.
Tags: , , , , ,
3 comments

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.

Advertisements

A Sanshin Social May 2, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here’s Kinjo-san and one of his masters students at our last lesson with him. Let the minor imperfections in this song remind that most people in Okinawa learn and play music simply for the joy of it — spending time with friends, sipping tea between songs, and making beautiful sounds, not making money.

Notice the Little Mermaid sanshin up on the wall?

Sanshin Lesson #4 April 23, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , ,
9 comments

We had another lesson with Kinjo-sensei last night, and we finally nailed “Aha Bushi,” the beginner’s beginner song:

So serious!

Contemporary Sanshin & Kachashi Dance April 20, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

The other day we saw a supposedly famous Okinawan singer, Yogi-san. She’s a prime example of classical music in a contemporary context.

She also offered a beginners’ lesson in kachashi, the traditional folk dance. This was after a full day of awamori taste-testing, so most of the people in this room are pretty soused.

Lo-res is the best res. Not really, but that’s all we’ve got for video.

Sanshin Lesson #3 April 20, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Music.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

Jojo and I attended Kinjo-sensei’s sanshin lesson in Okinawa City last week. We fumbled through a couple of classical songs (clarification: I fumbled, Jojo really read the music) while the other, far more experienced students patiently waited. Then they busted out this jam:

Interesting sanshin facts:

  • sanshin literally translates to “three strings”
  • they are traditionally covered with python snake skin
  • the low string is known as the male string, and the high the female
  • the head of the instrument is “sky” (but, you know, in Japanese), and the taiko body is “earth”
  • the hogen lyrics of “Kagiyadefu” (which Jojo wrote about last week) translate roughly to: “How can I express the joy of this morning? I was a wilting flower, then the dew touched me and I was revitalized.”

There’s a professor at San Francisco State named Wesley Uenten who teaches Okinawan culture and sanshin. After hearing so much slow, sad sanshin music, I have to remember how Wesley explained Okinawa music:

Okinawans are capable of hating and loving passionately — always a mix of extremes — so even joyous songs sound somber.

The Origin of Island Music April 13, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Music.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

I shared before the Japanese legend about the origin of music, but I just learned the legend about the origin of Okinawan shima uta — island music.

There was a guy named Akainko, a prayer singer who traveled from village to village as a kind of troubadour. One night, he awoke to the rhythmic echoes of rainwater dripping from the roof to the ground.

In the morning he was inspired to craft a crude instrument with a wooden body and horsetail strings, the very first sanshin. From then on, he accompanied his prayer chants with rhythm and melody from the simple instrument.

The legend is doubtful due to so much obvious early musical influence from China. But Akainko definitely existed, and shima uta and the sanshin remain distinctly Okinawan art forms. Here’s a quote from some guy:

When you enter a house on Okinawa and view the [household shrine], you’ll notice that they aren’t decorated with an expensive piece of art, or an instrument of destruction such as a katana… They’re decorated with something far more precious — a sanshin.

All this information comes from Okinawa Living magazine, a monthly English guide to Okinawan culture. The Marine Corps Community Services publishes it in an attempt to get stationed Americans to experience the Real Okinawa.

East Meets Southeast April 13, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , , , ,
3 comments

Sorry Okinawa, but today my heart is in Indonesia!

This community gamelan group practices at the Geidai arts university in Naha. The director, Ryosen Kameshima, plays in the Gender Sanshin Trio. Since the Indonesian music scale is so similar to the Ryukyuan music scale, they sometimes add sanshin to their ensemble. So pretty! I can’t wait to go back.

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

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music, Photos.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

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.

Slow Jams April 12, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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!

Sanshin Lesson #2 April 4, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

I didn’t make it to Byron Jones’ class this week, but Uehara-san at the izakaya gave me a lesson instead. He taught me the refrains of “Shimanchu nu Takara” and “Chon Chon,” and the whole of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

But best of all he played “Wipe Out”: