THE VERY BEST OF THE FAR EAST
Compilation and liner notes by Paul Fisher
01. RYUKYU UNDERGROUND (OKINAWA) AKATA SUNDUNCHI (KID LOCO'S RIDING THE INDIAN GHOST PONT MIX) 5:29
The Ryukyu Islands are home to Japans most thriving music scene. Steeped in tradition, modern day Okinawa is brimming with musical vitality. Ryukyu Underground (American Jon Taylor and Brit Keith Gordon), mix the past and present together with spectacular results. Their self titled first album sampled mainly traditional recordings on local labels, while the follow up Mo-Ashibi was largely a collaboration with some fine young Okinawan musicians. On their third album, Ryukyu Remixed from which this track was taken, those tunes are given new mixes by a dazzling array of like-minded DJs, musicians, producers, remixers, other creative artists and Ryukyu Underground themselves. They include some of the top names in the world dance music scene, alongside equally talented up and coming artists. Kid Loco who remixed this version of Akata Sundunchi is a Paris based musician, producer and remixer, and a leading figure in the trip-hop downtempo scene.
02. JOSE BARINAGA (INDONESIA/SPAIN) KECAK SUARTI 5:11
Spanish born electronic music guru José Barinaga went to Bali in March 1997 and became fixated with the local gamelan music he discovered there. On return to his now native Paris he soon started work on an Indonesian music project. The following year, Barinaga teamed up with I Wayan Sadra, a creative art teacher at the renowned STSI (Music and Dance School) in Solo, Central Java, who arranged the recording of the gamelan, voices, and other Indonesian instruments, which were played by teachers from the school. I Wayan Sadra is furthermore uniquely an influential and experimental composer, working with Balinese and other traditional Indonesian traditions within a contemporary perspective. They were joined by percussionist and composer Steve Shehan, known for his worldwide collaborations including with Rokia Traore, Nittin Sawhney and Paul Simon. This track also features the Desak Suarti group from Bali.
03. KIN TAII (CHINA) A NIGHT IN THE HOLY PLACE 7:19
Kin Taii whose father is Chinese and mother Japanese went to Japan when he was 15 in 1979. His parents were afraid of the persecution of the Cultural Revolution, especially as his father is related to the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty. Until this time he had only listened to Russian classical composers such as Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and Chinese revolutionary songs. He remembers the shock of listening to rock music for the first time, by the likes of Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones. He bought a synthesizer and started playing rock covers, listened to New Wave groups from the UK and then from Japan Y.M.O, which was his first entry into techno and pop, along with Kraftwerk. These groups have remained a strong influence on his music until today. In 2001 Kin Taii went to Yunnan Province in southern China, home to 26 different ethnic communities, specifically to learn the music of the Naxi tribe living in Highlands 3500 metres above sea level. Their so-called Tompa culture, is reportedly the last language in the world to still use hieroglyphs, and has a rich and ancient musical range of songs. Kin Taii recorded those songs, to which he then added his own modern programmed beats and synthesized backing.
04. BLUE ASIA (VIETNAM/MALAYSIA/JAPAN) EM VE VOI HUE 5:26
Blue Asia is a project of possibly Japans most innovative producer Makoto Kubota, together with his assistant and arranger Yoichi Ikeda, and the Malaysian top producer team of Mac Chew and Jenny Chin. Since the 1970s Kubota has been at the cutting edge of Japanese productions of world music, with groundbreaking albums by among others Indonesian singers Elvy Sukaesih, Detty Kurnia and Malagasy band Njava. Blue Asia travel to work with artists in their own locality, including previously Turkey, Bali and on this track, Vietnam. The music is full of the local atmosphere with the local musicians given a platform to shine. Hotel Vietnam features traditional instruments such as the monochord, the dan bau, and some glorious female singers who Blue Asia discovered while recording in Vietnam, on this track Vanh Khan.
05. KODO (JAPAN) KEVIN YOST'S DEEP AND ETHNIC MIX 7:28
The taiko drummers group Kodo are one of Japan's major musical exports. Their music evokes the sounds of nature- the roar of thunder, the crash of the surf, and the melodic hum of the breeze. Taiko drumming has its roots in kagura, music offered to the gods. The belief is that within each drum there is a god who is awakened by the beating of the drum. The summoned goodwill then exerts a favourable influence on the crops. Formed in 1981, as a breakaway offshoot of the group Ondekoza who had exiled themselves to Sado island, Kodo have until today remained on the island, where they live in a converted farmhouse. They divide their time between touring overseas, in Japan or preparing new material on Sado, where they also organise the annual Earth Celebration festival with artists from around the world. Kodo have collaborated with a wide range of artists including Zakir Hussein and Airto Moreira. The album Sai-so, from which this track is taken is a remix of Kodo's Bill Laswell produced album Ibuki. Kevin Yost is an American percussionist who combines electronic music and jazz on his remix of their track, The Hunted.
06. MIYAZAWA (JAPAN) UCHINA NI FURU YUKI 4:19
One of Japan's leading musicians, Kazufumi Miyazawa has been called the Japanese David Byrne, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel rolled into one. He formed a rock group, the Boom at the end of the 80s who in 1993 released an Okinawan influenced single Shima Uta, (island songs) which went on to sell over a million and a half copies. Over the following years, Miyazawa expanded his horizons, travelling to and absorbing music from Indonesia, Jamaica, Cuba and particularly Brazil. Eventually he decided to divide his creativity between a more orthodox rock group and experimentation with various solo projects. He recorded solo albums in London and Brazil, and for his third self titled album, from which this track is taken, enlisted the help of producer and musician Arto Lindsay, that combined all of Miyazawas global influences. On Uchina ni Furu Yuki, he spectacularly mixed the music of Okinawa and Brazil, played by both Brazilian and Japanese musicians.
07. OKI KANO (JAPAN) MATNAW RERA 4:06
Oki is a musician of mixed Japanese and Ainu (indigenous Japanese) blood. He didn't learn of his Ainu ancestry until he was 24. Ever since Oki has made it his mission to revive Ainu culture and increase its awareness, which has been in danger of dying out ever since the Japanese government adopted a policy to ignore the Ainu existence over 300 years ago. After his cousin gave him the tonkori, a long skinny five stringed wooden instrument, he discovered that role was to show young Ainu a new perspective, and turn their culture into an exciting and relevant tradition. Oki intends to rediscover the identity of the Ainu, with the creation of a new Ainu music. His music encompasses a wide ranges of influences, including reggae, rock and electronica, although is mostly based on traditional tunes. Matnaw Rera is taken from his latest album, No One's Land featuring the vocals of female Ainu singer Repko.
08. SARABANDGE (OKINAWA) IWAI BUSHI 5:09
Sarabandge was the third project by Osaka native, Kenji Yano who now makes Okinawa his home. Yano went to University in Okinawa and became besotted with the local roots music, becoming a member of the legendary group Rokunin Gumi. Sarabandge features female singer Sachiko Shima along with Yano's guitar, stringed instruments and keyboards. One of the most inventive musicians in Okinawa, Yano is also known for his Surf Champlers project, that mixed surf and Okinawan music. 'Iwai Bushi' is a traditional song, taken from Sarabandge's only album.
09. DETTY KURNIA (INDONESIA) DURIRAN 3:53
Born in Bandung, Sunda, Western Java in 1960, Detty Kurnia is Indonesia's finest singer of pop sunda, a genre that mixes traditional Sundanese music with western elements. Detty grew up singing traditional music making her first recording aged 11, before becoming a well known pop sunda singer from the mid 1970s. Duriran is a pop sunda song taken from the album Dari Sunda, produced by Japanese producer Makoto Kubota (see Blue Asia) who brought new recording standards to Indonesian music. It also features former drummer of Japanese legendary group the Sunsetz Hideo Inoura, and the Indonesian drum (kendang) playing of Koko Wahyudin. Dari Sunda became a popular album in Japan and Detty Kurnia performed at the inaugural WOMAD festival in Japan in 1991.
10. WALDJINAH (INDONESIA) KENCONO WUNGU 5:03
Waldjinah has been a national singing star in Indonesia for over four decades. She is something of a singing chameleon, seamlessly switching from fairly traditional to more pop sounding material, but is probably best known for singing the style called kroncong, played on various stringed instruments with elements of Asian and European music and traces of possibly Arab and African influences too. Born in 1943 in Solo, Central Java, Waldjinah helped to develop a new style of popular music, called langgam jawa, based on Western pop music, accompanied by kroncong instrumentation, yet played in the traditional pentatonic (five note) pelog scale. On the album Ratu Jawa (Queen of Java) from which this track was taken, she was joined a dazzling array of talented Indonesian and Japanese musicians and producers. Kencono Wungu features long time Waldjinah collaborator Mantous, a top composer and musician of kroncong and modern Javanese music. This song has an historical theme about Queen Kencono Wungu, of the last Hindu Javanese based kingdom of Majapahit of the 14th century.
11. CALM (JAPAN) LONG WAY, LONG TIME (THE SECOND PAGE OF CREATOR'S DELIGHT) 8:57
Since 1996, Kiyotaka Fukagawa, under the professional alias of Calm (and also Farr) has been carving out a reputation in the global dance and electronic music scene both in Japan and overseas. Aside to his own albums he has been much in demand as a contributor to compilation albums and as a remixer. His worldwide mixing credits include Femi Kuti and Arto Lindsay, and in Japan Port of Notes and Sakura. In Europe he has been championed by the likes of Giles Peterson, Rainer Truby, Ross Allen and Patrick Forge and in the US by the San Francisco record label, Ubiquity. His music, variously described as nu-jazz, or chilled hip hop, usually contains Latin American or East Asian elements.
12. SHOKICHI KINA (OKINAWA) HAISAI OJISAN 3:23
For pure charisma, no other Okinawan musician, past or present can match Shokichi Kina. Over a thirty year career Kina has proven he's capable of writing some of Okinawa's most memorable music. He wrote Haisai Ojisan when he was just 16, which famously became a hit in Japan and Okinawa while he was in prison on a drugs charge. It was one of the first songs to mix Okinawan music and its local 'katcharsee' dance rhythm, with the rock music that he encountered around Okinawa's military bases. In 1980 he recorded the album 'Bloodline' with Ry Cooder as a guest guitarist, which featured his other big hit, Hana. His career however is also littered with long periods of musical inactivity, during which time his albums have consisted of mostly re-recordings and re-mixes of older material. Instead he has concentrated his energies onto various causes and politics, culminating in him being elected as politician in 2004. This version of Haisai Ojisan was recorded live at the Mikado club in Koza, Okinawa in 1977 and is a classic of Asian music.
Female singer Huong Thanh and guitarist / producer Nguyen Le mix up Vietnamese traditional music, with all kinds of extraneous influences. Huong Thanh was born in Saigon, where her father was one of the biggest stars of Cai Luong, a kind of Vietnamese theatre. In 1977, two years after the war ended, her family moved to Marseille in France, before moving to Paris. In 1995 she met guitarist Nguyen Le, who was born in Paris to Vietnamese parents, and started out playing rock and then jazz guitar. Eventually he wanted to explore his own identity which opened up the possibility to mix the Vietnamese music he remembers as a young child, with jazz and the other styles that he grew up with in Paris. The multicultural city of Paris has also been influential to their sound, this track featuring the Barbes Deluxe Strings. Most of their songs, including this track, are based on traditional tunes from all over Vietnam.
From the Ordos grasslands of the Southwest of Inner Mongolia, Urna Chahar-Tugchi comes from a family of livestock farmers. She learned traditional Mongolian songs from her grandmother and parents and later studied Yangqin (Chinese dulcimer) at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She combines these two different experiences in her own compositions, partly tradition and partly innovation. Furthermore, she adds the influences of other musical cultures to create original sounds. The most striking aspect of her music is Urna's amazing voice, her ability to improvise and her dynamic range. This traditional song is about Sangjidorji, a freedom fighter from her homeland.
One of the most successful East / West collaborations in recent years has been American cello pioneer David Darling's work with the Wulu Bulu people of Taiwan. In 2000, Darling (best known for his work with ECM and various soundtracks including Heat) visited the village of Wulu in the mountains of Taiwan and listened in astonishment to the harmony singing of the aboriginal Bunun tribe. A couple of years later he returned to the village to make an extraordinary album, whereby Darling's cello is multi-layered over the villager's polyphonic choral singing. With Darling's sensitive accompaniment, the Bunun's ancient tunes are given a radically different and beautiful interpretation, as on this song, about the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. David Darling and 23 members of the Wulu Bunun, subsequently toured in the UK.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is fairly unique in the Japanese music world, being almost as well known outside of Japan as at home. For over 25 years he has been one of Asia's great musical innovators, with an interest in world cultures while pushing technical boundaries. He was one of the founding members of the Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1978, who went on to become internationally acclaimed as pioneers of technopop. As a solo artist he has become even better known as one of the world's leading film soundtrack composers. Beginning in 1983, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, in which he also had an acting role alongside David Bowie, remains probably his best known work. He has since scored soundtracks for including The Last Emperor and Little Buddha. His musical collaborators have included David Byrne, David Sylvian, Youssou N'Dour and recently Jaques and Paula Morelenbaum on an acclaimed album of material by the bossa nova maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim.
fm3 is American punk composer Christiaan Virant and Chinese computer musician Zhang Jian. Both had been pioneering musicians operating in Beijing's underground music scene for over a decade, before forming fm3 in 1999. Fm3 are China's first ever avant garde electronica project, combining ancient Chinese traditional instruments (on this track the lute instrument, the pipa) with lo-fi computer software and a variety of original instruments.
Loaded with atmosphere, their original sound has a slightly eerie edge, that seeps its way into the listener's consciousness. Fm3 embarked on a successful six month European tour introducing their original, and spellbinding sound.
At the beginning of the 1990s, female vocal quartet Nenes championed the cause of Okinawan roots music in Japan with probably more success than anyone else as part of the burgeoning world music scene. Originally intended to make Okinawan min'yo or folk music accessible to young Okinawans, Nenes were brought together by producer Sadao China. The unison voices of Misako Koja, Yasuko Yoshida, Yukino Hiyane and Namiko Miyazato were combined with China's sanshin, over a backing of guitars, drums, percussion, bass and the layered keyboards of co-producer Kazuya Sahara. They varied the influences to include reggae, Brazilian, Hawaiian and Indonesian music, some staying closer to the tradition than others. In 1994, American guitarist Ry Cooder recorded with them on their wonderful album Koza Dabasa, which also featured David Lindley and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. The much loved local song Shima Jima Kaisha was the album's most glorious moment.
Rikki is from a place just about as far south in Japan proper as you can get. Amami island is the last drop of Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture of Kyushu, the southern of the four main islands that comprise Japan. Amami shima uta (island songs) are often considered to be the Japanese blues, and the southernmost of the country's folk styles. Rikki (full name Ritsuki Nakano) was born to sing Amami shima uta., beginning when she was four years old, eventually becoming the youngest ever winner of the National Folk Award title. On the album Miss You Amami, from which this track was taken, Rikki sings traditional songs and others rooted in the island tradition, with other influences and elements to create a new Amami island music. On Syumichinagahama she is joined by top Malaysian musicians, accordion player S.Atan, and pianist Mac Chew.
Chitotihc is a project of veteran Japanese drummer Chito Kawachi, who has played with variety of musicians, from appearing on Okinawan Shokichi Kina's album Bloodline with Ry Cooder, to Japan's the Boom featuring Kazufumi Miyazawa. Chitotihc incorporated Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian music into an eclectic and innovative pan Asian music brew with a talented group of musicians playing Japanese and other world instruments.
The latest one man band project by Kenji Yano, is The Sanshin Cafe Orchestra. Yano plays sanshin (snake skinned banjo) in medleys of some of Okinawa's most famous traditional tunes. This track Innocent Smile features two lullabies, Nishinjyo Bushi and Ittaanma Makaiga. In addition, Yano plays 6 and 12 stringed acoustic guitars and his custom made shimolele and chrominca.
Tokyosphere was a group fronted by American shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) player John Kaizan Neptune. Neptune began studying shakuhachi in 1971 while living in Hawaii, before relocating to Japan determined to master the instrument. He subsequently earned himself the top certificate in shakuhachi playing and the honorary name 'Kaizan' literally meaning sea mountain. Technically brilliant, he has pushed the boundaries of shakuhachi music with various projects, from mainstream jazz to various world mixtures. With Tokyosphere he performed with other master musicians from Japan on koto (zither) and Japanese percussion. Yamato Dawn was originally written to accompany a dance performance. The various kotos are plucked with fingers, while Neptune plays a bass shakuhachi.
This amazing project, pits acoustic guitarist and composer Tatsuya Koumazaki with monks from the Shingon buddhist sect in the Hida area of Gifu prefecture. The Shingon (Mantra) sect was founded by Kukai (774-835) in Wakayama prefecture. Koumazaki has played with different musicians from Asia, and is constantly exploring ways to combine his guitar with various roots music from around the world. Searching for the meeting point between Japanese and other world music, he discovered shomyo, or Buddhist chants from Japan, also the connection that links India to China and Japan. Accompanying them is Koumazaki's regular group Pangaea on wadaiko drums, sho (mouth organ), shinobue and nohkan (flutes) and koto.
Koto Vortex have gained a cult status for their minimalist, hypnotic music played on the Japanese zither, the koto. The koto is probably the most conservative of the Japanese traditional instruments, originating in China and being absorbed into Japanese court music. The four women of Koto Vortex studied under the late and great koto innovator Tadao Sawai and his wife Kazue Sawai, who devised a range of innovative techniques, increasing the tonal possibilities of the koto. Koto Vortex expanded this vision on their groundbreaking first album of compositions of renowned experimental composer Hiroshi Yoshimura who sadly died in 2003. This piece features two koto players, Miki Maruta and Michiyo Yagi.