MODERN JAPANESE ROOTS MUSIC
In the mid 1980s, when 'world music' became a generally accepted term, some Japanese started to look at themselves and wonder what their own country had to offer. There was traditional music, but this had mostly been preserved and held little connection to most Japanese people. Pop music on the other hand, had lost virtually any trace of anything inherently Japanese. Japanese musicians found themselves attracted to the music of Okinawa, even though to many Japanese, Okinawa can seem quite distant and even foreign.
Japanese groups began to be influenced by the groups emanating from Okinawa, such as Shokichi Kina and Champloose and Rinken Band. One of the first groups to look to Okinawa, but create an original Japanese 'roots' music with other world influences were Shang Shang Typhoon. Shang Shang Typhoon didn't just update traditional music, or add Japanese instruments to pop music. Instead, they created their own sound, probably closest in style and attitude to post-war kayokyoku, the Japanese version of pop music, that mixed elements of Western, Hawaiian or Latin music with Japanese traditions and humorous words. In their music was fragments of ondo ( festival music), min'yo (folk) and rokyoku (storytelling). These were combined in varying degrees with an eclectic array of music from Okinawa, Korea, China and Latin America, to pop, rock and reggae. Later Hawaiian, Irish, African and Indian music were added to an already blazingly vivid palette of sounds.
Ironically, the Okinawan roots music boom in the 90s, probably owes more to a Japanese band than to any Okinawan group. In 1993, the biggest selling single (1.5 million) was The Boom's 'Shima Uta', an Okinawan melody and sanshin combined with rock guitar and drums. The Boom captured the Japanese version of a Grammy for best song, and now is considered one of the classic Japanese songs of the decade. Japanese musicians such as Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto had already covered Okinawan traditional tunes as early as 1978, but the impact of the Boom was far greater on the general and young population of Japan. The Boom subsequently did much the same with Indonesian music, and then Brazilian music with the albums Far East Samba and Tropicalism, the latter a mix of all the elements in the Boom's music thus far. In 1998 the group's singer Miyazawa released two solo albums. 'Sixteenth Moon' recorded in London and 'Afrosick' recorded in Brazil.
In 2002, he has released his third self titled album, Miyazawa, released in Brazil and Europe.
If there is a song to rival the Boom's 'Shima Uta' as the best Japanese song of the decade, perhaps that would be Mangetsu no Yube ( A Full Moon Evening), composed by Takashi Nakagawa of the rock group Soul Flower Union and Hiroshi Yamaguchi of Heat Wave, for the victims of the Kobe earthquake. The Soul Flower Union version, with Okinawan sanshin, and an acoustic 'chindon' accompaniment even spurred a new acoustic unit of Soul Flower called Soul Flower Mononoke Summit. The group played tunes popular in Japan before and after the second world war, with Okinawan Tetsuhiro Daiku's albums a big influence. Soul Flower Union's output also seemed to improve, with Mononoke Summit acoustic sound, combined with a rockier approach, especially with the superb 'Electro Asyl- Bop'.
Min'yo singer Takio Ito expanded the realms of min'yo and was one of the most successful of the early attempts to update a tradition. He incorporated jazz and rock plus other Asian and Japanese traditional elements, while bass, guitar, violin, piano and drums were combined with shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko.
During the 1990s, producer Makoto Kubota and singer Sandii attempted to create a kind of pan-Asian music by recording Indonesian and Malaysian songs, as well working with musicians from south east Asian countries. They then turned their attention to the music of Sandii's birthplace Hawaii, releasing three superb Hawaiian albums. All feature Kubota's trademark mixture of sounds, including an Asian feel, and have done a lot to restore an interest in Hawaiian music in Japan.
Ainu music has also made a comeback as a living tradition in recent years, largely due to the efforts of singer and tonkori player Oki. Oki updates traditional Ainu tunes, composes his own songs and has also recorded an elder Ainu singer, Umeko Ando.
The taiko drum is one of the most primitive instruments which can provide straightforward emotions such as joy, hate, anger and harmony. To this end, Ondekoza were formed in 1969 on Sado Island, to lead a communal life, aiming for harmony and physical fitness. Through their sound they hoped to evoke these emotions within the listener. Young men and women, until then unassociated with Japanese traditional performing arts, underwent vigorous physical training of marathon and technical training of the Japanese Giant drums in communal life on the island.
The group later split into two, with one half, the Taiko drummers group Kodo, continuing to hold the ' Earth Celebration' event every year on Sado, and invite a number of foreign artists. Today, Kodo have become one of Japan's most famous musical exports and collaborate with musicians from around the world on record and in concert.
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