To get a feel for what it means to be Okinawan, turn to their folk music, or Okinawa minyo. For me, a sansei in the U.S. with Okinawan roots, Uema’s performance provided the first real connection to Okinawa minyo. (See the YouTube videos below for examples of her music, especially 県道節 Kendoobusi.) Until I heard her sing, I couldn’t relate to the folk songs of my forefathers. They sounded strange and alien to ears that nursed on Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Gabby Pahinui. Through Uema’s artistry, I began to feel the power and energy, the vibrancy, of the Okinawan soul as it reverberated through minyo. It sounded fresh and current, happening — not dead and long gone. With this introduction, I began to explore other Okinawan artists, and I’ll share what I’m learning in future posts. For background information about Uema, especially her albums, see “Ayano Uema: Uta-sha” (Power of Okinawa, 5.31.12).
“かりゆし音楽祭／ヒヤミカチ節 上間綾乃” (Kariyushi Music Festival Uema Ayanao “Hiyamikachi Bushi” ヒヤミカチ節) uploaded by まじゅんプロジェクト on 2/24/12.
Uema talks about her roots, about how she got into Okinawa minyo, or Okinawan folk music.
[Update 6.25.13: As much as we may enjoy Uema’s traditional minyo, we have to acknowledge that much of her success is also due to her integration of Western features such as guitar for rhythm and drums for a bass beat. For example, see the first video.]
Amazing Grace (Taiyou Tsukinu Hikari 太陽 月ぬ光 ～アメイジング・グレイス)
上間綾乃「ハリクヤマク」 (uploaded 12/25/11)
Ayano’s Orion beer commercial, 10/1/14
Ayano interview with Bakabon Onizuka on “TheNuttyRadioShow Onitamashi” (NACK5 79.5 Mon 9/29/14, 21:45-22:00), added to YouTube on 9/30/14. REMOVED BY YOUTUBE.
Uema Ayano Hanakotoba (上間綾乃 – 花言葉), rel. 7/24/14
Watch the MV at http://en.musicplayon.com/play?v=989832 or http://www.jpopsuki.tv/video/Ayano-Uema—Hanakotoba/b823f8058fdb6aed248c3ef8ac8254fd
Added 6/5/15: “池田卓＆上間綾乃 二見情話 琉球もーあしびー沖縄・島唄ライブ2010” uploaded by tomo830 on 7/20/10.
Added 6/5/15: “上間綾乃 Ayano Uema 沖縄民謡 デンサー節 Okinawan folk song Densa-bushi” uploaded by 上間綾乃専用 on 7/28/13. REMOVED BY YOUTUBE. Update 1/3/16: 三線の起源、上間綾乃さん (Origins of the Sanshin: Uema Ayano-san) uploaded to YouTube by Yoshioba 2 on 8 Nov. 2015. Ayano appears at the 3:40 mark. Her “Tinsagu Nu Hana” at the 7:17 mark is breathtakingly beautiful. For more on this song, click here. [REMOVED BY YOUTUBE]