Thursday, June 21, 2007

NOBORIKAWA SEIJIN (登川誠仁 aka. 'Seigwa'): The Okinawan Jimi Hendrix!

Ohhh, yeah.... Noborikawa Seijin is an old bad-ass. Because what, I ask you, can be more wicked than a grandpa tearing up a thousand years of Ryukyu island musical traditional with nothing more than a snake skin three string banjo called a 'Sanshin'? I see you nodding your heads in agreement. You're right, nothing.

As I've posted previously, I spent some months in Okinawa over the last year and while I still know [very] little about the people and the culture, I truly fell in love with this unique culture and the little piece of island paradise it inhabits.

To give the penny description of the Okinawan island and people it can be described as a combination of Chinese, Japanese and Polynesian culture. But in truth it is its own unique ethnography that still (proudly) retains a surprisingly large amount of its traditional Ryukyu heritage. Traditional Okinawan music fits into this and the Sanshin is a unique instrument that it strikes me is quite hard to play well.

Sounding similar to but different than the Shamisan, (one of the main differences is that the Sanshin is made out of snake skin and not dog or cat skin like the Shamisan!) it is closer in sound and appearance to the Chinese Sanxian. The player uses a plectrum (or plectra) made out of bone, tusk or bamboo to pluck the three strings as they sing along. In Okinawa, group participation is practically required, and if you have the pleasure of seeing a show at a bar where much Awamori (rice made spirit similar to Shochu) has flowed, the audience members will whistle and sing loudly and occasionally get up, shove aside some tables and use their zai makura (seat cushions) as fans to spin around and pump like a football team standard!!

Noborikawa Seijin (aka. 'Seigwa'), then, is of note because he a) doesn't suck (at least to these ears and if you don't believe me, then you haven't seen how much he is loved and revered in Okinawa) and b) is the head of the Ryukyu Minyo Kyokai (Okinawan Traditional Music Society) and is still regarded as the single most important living musician in the Southern Islands.

I was recently given a copy of 'Seigwa's newly released best of CD entitled "It's only Seigwa- The Best of Seijin Noborikawa 1975-2004" and I love it. I'm sure part of my admiration comes from my associative memories to Okinawa, but there's something else comforting about hearing this piece of unique mingei (folk art) because it isn't pretentious, ironic, over-produced crap that is designed for a cheap cash-in. The music is performed by someone who clearly loves what they do and wants to share the happiness.

It's that simple.

This isn't cynical music; it is something that is made as a gift to the world out of admiration for its beauty. (Now if only I could achieve that level of spiritual tranquility!)

Link to UK sales page at Far Side Music Ltd.
Link to sound sample.
Link to IMDB page.

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