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“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.

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The Origin of Island Music April 13, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Music.
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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.