Thursday, July 28, 2011

Okinawa Roots Folk Pop Country: Shoukichi Kina

Peppermint Tea House: The Best of Shokichi Kina is a strangely adorable record. Exuberant, upbeat, almost hillbilly music from Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, most famous for American military bases (and scandals) and the martial art, karate.  The ‘roots-music’ feel is enhanced by the glorious guesting of guitar genius Ry Cooder!   

The Okinawans are of different ethnic stock than mainland Japanese and speak a different language and have a history that has been influenced by China and Thailand as much as their national neighbors to the north. That their language is distinct from Japanese was made clear to me when I asked a Japanese friend to translate some of the lyrics of this record. She furrowed her brow and squinted. Listening intently. After a few minutes she said, “Have no idea.”

The musical instruments on this record (in addition to Cooders’ heavenly slide guitar work) include the sanshin a three stringed banjo like instrument related to the Chinese sanxian. When it’s plucked with a bamboo plectrum it produces a strong clear twang which is perfectly suited to lively dance music. There is also evidence of the sanba a hand held percussion instrument that makes a clicking castanet sound.  High pitched, slightly pubescent female singing moves the music forward in a way that at first listen is outlandish but that is easy to warm to.

As for the main man himself here’s what a Japanese pop music website says about him: 
Shoukichi Kina

Shokichi Kina is to Okinawan music what Bob Marley was to reggae: The Man. Kina, born in Okinawa in 1948, is perhaps best known as the composer of Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo (Blooming Flowers in the Hearts of All), an undisputed Japanese pop-music classic that's best-known simply as Hana. Kina and his backing band, Champloose, first became known in 1972 when they scored a hit with Haisai Ojisan (Hey Man). In 1980 Kina and Champloose released Blood Line, one of the best ethnic/rock fusion albums ever to come out of Japan. That album featured Ry Cooder on four tracks, by the way, including a heartbreakingly beautiful slide-guitar solo on Hana. Like Marley, Kina has tremendous natural charisma and a strong political/spiritual outlook that in Kina's case is expressed in his opposition to the continued U.S. military presence on Okinawa and in his outspoken advocacy of Okinawan independence from Japan. Over the years Kina has continued to work with musicians from other parts of the world, including African and Caribbean musicians, and in 2004 he was elected to the Japanese parliament's House of Councillors under the Minshuto (Democratic Party) banner.  (

Enjoy. I’lll be surprised if you don’t put a couple of these songs (Jing Jing and Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo are my favorites) on your iPod favorites.

         Track Listing:
01 Jing Jing
02 Hana No Kajimaya
03 Celebration
04 Mimichiri Bozu _ Danju Kariyushi
05 Don-Don Bushi
06 Zorba De Buddha
07 Basha-Gua Suncha
08 Crazy Kacharsee
09 Subete No Hito No Kokoro Ni Hanna O
10 Haisai Ojisan
11 Eternally Ecstasy
12 Lyunu-Pri
13 I-Yah Hoy!
14 Track 14 (Bonus Track)
Listen here.

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