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Okinawan Music

I suspect there are very few places in the world where the traditional music of, say, 500 years ago is almost seamlessly blended with the pop music of today.
Ireland would probably be one such place.
Okinawa is another.

You can't possibly experience Okinawa without experiencing the music of Okinawa, because the soul of Okinawa is her music..

Shoukichi Kina

The Senior Kina & his Shamisen

So strong is the backbone of Okinawan music, in fact, that many of the most popular and admired performers in the Japanese pop scene - such as Namie Amuro, Rina Chinen, and Cocco - come from Okinawa.

But we see and hear plenty of pop in Tokyo. We were here for the shamisen-based music. And, fortunately for us, Shoukichi Kina - the biggest star of the Okinawan music scene - was performing at his club.

Kina is highly regarded in world music circles. He's played with Ry Cooder. His band performed at the Atlanta Olympics. And he's the author of "Hana", a truly great Japanese song that has been a hit in many countries around the world.

At the club, we got to see Kina-sans' dad, a highly respected shamisen player, perform a selection of traditional tunes.

Then there was a performance of the classical Ryukuan court dance.
Finally, Kina-san and his band took the stage. I have to say, I've never witnessed a bigger gap between the recorded works of an artist, and his live performance.
Shoukichi Kina's recordings are fun, well played, occasionally moving, and worth buying.

His live performance, however, reminded me of The Who.
From the first notes, this was a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners approach to music and the audience.
People danced. People sang. People cried.
One moment, Kina would be as still as a Zen monk. The next moment, he would be playing like a man possessed - flinching, twitching, and violently plucking his shamisen.

And then, when it was over, he sat quietly in the lobby, signing autographs, while surrounded by books and posters promoting world peace .

Traditional Dance

The next day, he would be heading for Tokyo to speak at a conference about Ghandi. Coming from this little island that was devastated by World War 2, and that still coexists uneasily with the heavy presence of a military force, world peace is something that he has a strong personal interest in.

As seems fitting for this musical island, Kina sums up his beliefs with one simple motto:
"Put down your arms, Pick up your musical instruments".