A brief introduction: On the HMV website, there is a list of what they consider to be the 100 top artists in Japanese music. I want to translate them all because I’m crazy mad about Japanese music….and I really want to know what some of these bands did to be regarded so highly. Through this, I’m hoping to learn about music I didn’t previously know about as well as spread that knowledge to people who would not otherwise have been exposed to it. I hope everyone enjoys this list. I was originally going to be translating this in the order it was posted…but motivation is, as always, in short supply. I started at the beginning, but…I’m going to skip around after this.
In Okinawa, there exists a genre of folk music called “Shima Uta” which has firmly taken root. When speaking of Okinawan music, the unique timbre of the sanshin and the Ryukyuan Pentatonic Scale and taking the strong sound of Okinawa’s ethnic color creates a treasure house of folk songs even in Japan, in which even now, it is said that a new Shima Uta song is born on a daily basis.
Okinawan pop received a boom in the early part of 1990, in which Rinken Band and Nenes were active, and in 1992, The Boom (though not actually from Okinawa) released “Shima Uta,” which was a record hit. Ryuuichi Sakamoto and Southern All Stars both released their own works of Okinawan melody, mixing traditional Okinawan music with electric instruments to create a new style termed “Okinawan Pop.” The Okinawan pop that began with Riken Band became famous with the huge hit, Hana, by Ishimine Satoko; another artist from Okinawa, Cocco; and then attention was brought to Begin with their cover of Ryoko Moriyama’s “Nada Sousou,” which also brought individual artists like Natsukawa Rimi to the stage, one by one. Incidentally, Begin formed a personal connection to Nada Sousou of “I want to sing, too” after hearing it live and falling in love with it; this was, among other reasons, the impetus for their releasing it to become a huge hit.
Younger artists such as Mongol 800, HY, and Orange Range have emerged to take the lead in the Okinawan music scene. Making use of the Shimauta musical scale, mixing rock, Latin, blues and other western musical styles as they see fit, Okinawan Pop has flown beyond just Okinawa to the Japanese mainland and throughout the world. For Okinawans, making music is a natural thing in their lives, and from this, a magnificient character is born into their work. There are many artists that represent Okinawa, but among these artists, Begin has constantly continued to be a cut above the rest.
Eisho Higa – Vo
Masaru Shimabukuro – G, Cho
Hitoshi Uechi – Key, Ch
This three member group hails from Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island. Childhood friends since Elementary school, the three respectively headed to the capital.
In 1988, the group first performed as Begin at a friend’s wedding party. A livehouse master seeing that performance invited them to perform periodically on stage.
In 1989, they performed on the TBS show “Heisei Meibutsu TV Ikasu Bando Tengoku” (aka Ikaten), shining as the Ikaten King.
In 1990, Eishou’s popularity shot up singing an image song for a Nissan Motors commercial, debuting the single “Koishikute.”
In 2000, celebrating the band’s 10 year anniversary, they performed on NHK morning serial drama “Churasan,” being introduced as a famous actor, performed an original song which brought Shimauta to new heights of popularity.
In 2002, “Shimanchu nu Takara” debuted at the end of the year as NHK Okinawa’s entry in Kokuhaku Uta Gassen as the “Okinawa Mainland Comeback 30 Year Anniversary Image Song.”
Their debut single, Koishikute, should be commemorated. The characteristically heart warming music and vocals are fascinating, and it was the song that allowed for their name to begin to spread. After the release of their famous, early recording, Ongaku Ryodan (Music Brigade), though they continued to release singles constantly after Koishikute, their state of relative popularity had little change. Then came their 10 year anniversary in 2000, and in an effort to show their gratitude to their home, they made an original Shimauta album. Begin No Shimauta Omoto Takeo was released. (“Omoto Takeo” seems to be the inhabitant of the heart that only appears when Begin make Shimauta.)
Two years later, with continuous interest of Begin No Shimauta Omoto Takeo, the second, Begin No Shimauta Omoto Takeo 2, was released. Recorded on Ishigaki Island, featuring countless musicians from the Yaeyama Island chain, surpassing their previous works, an original Shimauta album, that could not have been made without Begin, was completed.
In 2003, Begin discovered (began to use) a new 4 stringed instrument, the Ichigo Ichie, and used it throughout the making of “Ichigo Ichie,” their first self-cover album, releasing Begin’s Ichigo Ichie traditional Japanese music cover compilation and Western music cover compilation. A new, completely relaxed listening album of country western arrangements, from start to finish, of famous songs like Shimanchu nu Takara, Nada Sousou, and Koishikute was released.
Many people experienced tranquility in Begin’s gentle vocals and musical composition.
Even now, Okinawa locals seem to do things at their own pace, which has its charm. Going to concerts, or what can be considered going to concerts, Begin’s releases conjure up feelings of thanks in Okinawans. Going to concerts, or what can be considered going to concerts, Begin’s releases conjure up feelings of thanks in Okinawans with the Okinawa only release of Oji Jiman no Orion Beer (Eisa Version), and things like contributing to beer sales (?*), one cannot help but feel the warmth in their strong ties to their hometown. No one else can compare to this aloha-shirted group of three. With their live concerts, they share an atmosphere of courage and energy, the source of their kindness.
Okinawan music is a clear foundation for them, since their debut, almost unknowingly harkening back to those roots, and one could even say that their music carries the indiginous thoughts and emotions carved by all those of Okinawa and Yaeyama, and brings them to the wider view Japanese attention. Begin’s music is naturally born from the Okinawan Shimauta culture it is suffused with. Therefore, when we listen to such music, even we are enveloped in the aroma of Okinawa.
When discussing Okinawan music, so much research is disregarded–such as history, life, and culture– considered to be unexplainable, or far too profound, or too spread out, and so they were untouchable, but for those who are interested, you can certainly experience this rich culture here.
Those of us, living in the city, who have forgotten our hearts. For those, I think Okinawan music, with its long history, can be a tool for us to regain those memories.
* This question mark is actually part of the article.
Wow, this article reads like this guy moved from Okinawa to the big city and is feeling regretful. He’s certainly got a lot of passion for Begin. Go him!