Okinawan singer/musician Kanako Horiuchi flew in last week for the Siam Okinawa Music Festival, which was held on Friday at the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel on Sukhumvit 22.
Misako Oshiro and Kanako Horiuchi at Siam Okinawa Music Festival.
Horiuchi made her Bangkok debut back in March 2012 at a small gig at Kinjo, the Okinawan eatery on Sukhumvit 69, and this was her first trip back here since then.
I was lucky enough to see her performance at Kinjo, which was an infectious blend of plaintive ballads and uptempo katcharsee dance songs, powered by her distinctive voice and the sound of the sanshin (Okinawan three-string lute). So I was keen to see her perform again. This time she was accompanied on stage by her teacher and mentor Misako Oshiro and the pair were supported by the Bangkok Paradise Molam International band.
Bangkok-based players from Japan started the proceedings; I recognised several from the Kinjo event, including the owner of that restaurant, who told me that Okinawans, no matter where they are in the world, are always ready to get out their sanshins and play.
Horiuchi and Oshiro then performed a haunting duet that featured soaring, plaintive singing and the catchy, "plunking" sound of two sanshins. This segued into an interview with Horiuchi against a background of Okinawan music, while the stage was set for what I thought was one of the best songs of the evening, a subtle and mesmerising collaboration between two maestros: Oshiro and Sawai Kaewsombat, Bangkok Paradise's khaen player. Sawai softly vamped a delicate, old style of khaen playing around Oshiro's singing. (I spoke with Sawai afterwards and he told me that he was very moved by the collaboration. Amazingly, these two veterans had only had a few minutes to rehearse prior to their duet.)
On came the Bangkok Paradise boys to shake up the house a little with some very tightly performed lam from Isan, without their usual drum kit but featuring percussion on congas and support from Horiuchi on Okinawan drums, samba (Okinawan castanets) and whistles. After their first international tour of Europe this past August, Bangkok Paradise are a much improved band and they rocked the house on this occasion. I particularly liked the way the band is extending the possibilities of molam bass playing and percussion, instead of just playing the set patterns. (Was that a rockabilly walking bass line I heard? Sure was!)
Horiuchi graciously dragged many of us to the front of the stage for an Okinawan-Isan dance, which was easy for everyone since the two traditional dance styles bear so many similarities.
Teacher and pupil, Oshiro and Horiuchi, then entertained us with a set of Okinawan songs and tunes, beautifully presented in their distinctive bingata kimonos. This was wonderful music, music that lingered long in the memory. My only complaint would be to ask why two fine musicians such as these had to play in a venue with very poor acoustics, not to mention the pillars which blocked the view of the stage. One can only hope that the next time Kanako Horiuchi comes to play in Bangkok _ and I hope that we won't have to wait too long for her return _ she will get the chance to play at a venue that does justice to her music.
SKA MASTERS AT WORK
Lots of good music has been piling up on the World Beat desk over the past few weeks, but one release that really stands out is a compilation on the Heartbeat label of ska music by those acknowledged masters and pioneers of the genre, the Skatalites. It's called Foundation Ska.
Some readers may remember that the Skatalites played with Ska Cubano at a ska and reggae festival on Jomtien beach in Pattaya a few years ago. Drummer Lloyd Nibbs and sax player Lester Sterling are the only two members of the original line-up to stick with the band, which was formed back in 1964.
Clement Dodd's legendary Studio One was the venue where the 32 tracks on this double-CD compilation were recorded in 1964-65. Many were written by trombone genius Don Drummond, who died prematurely, but left a legacy of more than 200 ska songs. Listen to the first two tracks on CD 1, Christine Keeler and Fidel Castro (both very topical figures at the time) and then onto Simmer Down (with Bob Marley and the Wailers) and you're hooked. Eastern Standard Time, Black Sunday, Don D Lion, Cleopatra and the list goes on. This is smooth, fun, irresistible party music, played by real masters. One number I hadn't heard before, Addis Ababa, is now one of my favourite ska tracks and I'll be trying to get the vinyl version of that song.
The compilation has detailed liner notes, written by Brian Keyo, that give you an insight into the characters and talents of this legendary band. Highly recommended.
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