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Rough Guide

Rough Guide To The Best Japanese Music You've Never Heard



Released 28 May 2021

A wonderfully diverse collection exploring some of Japan’s lesser-known contemporary styles by artists rooted in tradition. From the female divas of the southern Ryukyu islands to the minyo revivalists Boomdigi, Aragehonzi and Tsukudanaka Sanpachi, this is an album full of intrigue and surprises.



                               Aragehonzi: Detarame Kagura

In an ever-shrinking online world, you might think it’s easier than ever to find Japanese music you’ve never heard, however, both within the mainstream and outer fringes, a certain Japanese aesthetic remains stubbornly intact - an appreciation of a physical product, an artefact, something to hold in your hands and listen to at leisure. Many of the tracks on this album fall into this category, of being rather ‘undiscoverable’. All have another thing in common too, a discernible Japanese aesthetic, and in the case of Okinawa and the Amami islands in the deep south and Ainu in the far north, their own traditions.

Some of the artists grew up within a traditional music world, only later combining their music with other styles. These include several wonderful female singers, such as ohyashi artist Utsumi Eika and her group who joined forces with a jazz band to perform a traditional minyo (local folk) song. Shigeri Kitsu grew up within the minyo music world but on this original track performs with musicians including Aoyagi Takuji (Little Creatures) and the legendary Haruomi Hosono. From the southern Ryukyu islands are four more female singers including Rikki, who sings in the unique Amami Island falsetto style, halfway geographically and musically between Okinawa and Japan. From the main island of Okinawa, Kanako Horiuchi, Lucy and Mutsumi Aragaki are three singers who have not only mastered their tradition but have also taken Okinawan roots music in new and varying directions.

Traditionally, there are minyo songs for work, dance, drinking, weddings, praying for rain and for spirits, to name just a few. Just about every song is associated with a particular district, town, or community throughout the islands. Minyo has been updated with all kinds of music from around the world for so long it’s almost a tradition in itself. Recorded versions date back to the 1920s, with foxtrot, blues, tango and rumba. The featured Boomdigi, Aragehonzi and Tsukudanaka Sanpachi carry on this tradition, with added rap, rock and jazz elements to create some pulsating music.

The biggest Western group in Japan during the 1960s were The Ventures who helped to shape Japanese rock and pop music. The influence of surf guitar has infiltrated roots music too, with tracks featuring the three stringed shamisen and its Okinawan counterpart the sanshin. The wonderful Emiko & Kirisute Gomen highlight this influence on ‘Shoten’ with their surf version of a 1960s TV comedy show. Undoubtedly, the ‘James Bond Theme’ by the Okinawan-based Surf Champlers had more impact than any other track on the first Rough Guide to the Music of Japan released in 1999, ending up as the theme music for TV shows and played by club DJs. With this in mind, we’ve included the previously unreleased ‘Misirlou’, which once again contains some intoxicating, lightning fast, sanshin surf.

At the opposite end of Japan, in Hokkaido, Ainu musician Oki has been almost singlehandedly spearheading a revolution in Ainu music. He is featured with his Oki Dub Ainu Band and as musician and producer on a remarkable project combining Ainu music with that from the southern island of Amami called Amamiaynu. Another musician constantly forging new directions in his music is Tetsuhiro Daiku from the Yaeyama island. Now considered one of the living greats of Okinawan music, this track was produced by another legend, Japanese producer Makoto Kubota.

Closing the album are the shamanistic vocals of Norio Nakagawa and flautist Dogen Kinowaki, together known as Cockroach Eater, combining to produce unclassifiable music blending electronic, acoustic, classical, contemporary, roots and pop. It’s this inherent experimental approach which has helped increase worldwide awareness of Japanese music in recent years, and hopefully this collection can act as a springboard for further explorations into its lesser-known, and amazingly diverse contemporary styles.

For further explorations into Japanese music, visitwww.farsidemusic.com and Paul Fisher’s Far Side Radio show on Resonance 104.4fm.