Rikki’s voice, magical and extraordinary, has performed on some iconic moments on various projects that have attracted worldwide attention beyond any usual musical export from Japan.
She is probably best known as the singer of the theme song Suteki da Ne, to the extraordinarily successful video game Final Fantasy X (re-released in 2014 as Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD) that sold close to 7 million copies worldwide.
She was featured on the image album to the Hayao Miyazaki film Spirited Away, singing Shiroi Ryu, written by Joe Hisaishi. In addition she sang the theme song Tabidachi no Toki at the 1998 Winter Paralympics in Nagano.
She is also a member of Sound Horizon, a ‘fantasy band’ who release music as ‘suites’ including to accompany anime and game software, and perform live concerts and tours.
Producers of these projects have often cited her voice as representing an almost lost Japan; high, soaring, dripping in emotion. A lot of this has to do with where Rikki is from in Japan, Amami island, and her immersion within a folk tradition from an early age.
She has been invited to perform at various events around the world. In 2014 she performed at the Magnificon XII expo in Krakow, Poland, where she met many of her fans.
In recent years she has performed at the Masala Weltbeat Festival in Hannover, Germany and the City of London Festival in the UK
Rikki is available to perform at Japanese culture and entertainment events around the world. She is also a fantastic addition to any World Music Festival or similar event. Get in touch via the Far Side web site
RIKKI a biography
Born in 1975, Rikki (full name Ritsuki Nakano) grew up singing Amami shima uta (island songs). She started when she was four years old, and made her ‘public’ debut at a minyo (local folk) award show in Kagoshima city the following year. The next year, still only six, she won that award and for the following six years until 1988. At the age of 15 she won the National Folk Award title, the youngest winner in history. She signed to BMG Records and released her first album in 1993, titled Mucha Kana. Her 1995 album, simply titled ‘Rikki’ was produced by Makoto Kubota, who has worked with Shoukichi Kina from Okinawa, Japanese singer Sandii and is a collaborator of Haruomi Hosono and YMO. Her 1998 album, Miss You Amami was released worldwide on Rice Records in 2004.
Aside to her solo recordings, Rikki is a member of the highly successful Sound Horizon, a fantasy band who have created music in the form of ‘suites’ including for anime and video games, perform live concerts and tours and have garnered a significant international following.
She continues to sing traditional songs and songs rooted in her tradition, in the Amami island style, that mixes in other influences and elements to create a new Amami island music.
AMAMI ISLAND- History and Music
Rikki is from a place just about as far south in Japan proper as you can get. Amami island is the last drop of Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture of Kyushu, the southern of the four main islands that comprise Japan. Beyond Amami lies Okinawa, although officially part of Japan, unofficially a world of it’s own. The main island of a group of five, Amami Ohshima lies almost exactly half way between the mainland of Japan and the main island of Okinawa. Amami culture and music is a unique hybrid of its two neighbours. Close enough to sound essentially Japanese, but played on instruments more similar to Okinawa. Whereas in Okinawa the music is often bright and breezy, a way for the locals to have a party, in Amami it has an altogether sadder quality. In the deep south of Japan they have the blues. And with good reason.
Amami is particularly vulnerable to typhoons that wreak havoc every year, while poisonous snakes keep islanders on their toes during lulls in the weather. Once a part of the Ryukyu Kingdom of Okinawa, the people were systematically oppressed from the 17th century, its strategic location acting as a convenient launching site for Japanese incursions into Okinawa. In 1609 the Satsuma clan from Kagoshima invaded the Ryukyu islands by way of Amami, turning the local populace into little more than slaves working on the island’s main crop of sugar cane. A large number of traditional folk songs, or shima uta emerged during this period, expressing the distress and hardship of people forced to live under this tyranny,
The term Shima Uta, meaning ‘island songs’ is usually used to describe the traditional folk tunes of Okinawa. In Amami, ‘shima’ refers to a person’s village, and therefore relates more to songs from a specific village, which differ subtly to one another. Amami shima uta probably derived in basic form from Okinawa and are sung in the same 30 syllable structure. The distinctive falsetto singing style of Amami shima uta is just about unique, there being little similar in either Japan or Okinawa. As a song moves in pitch from a low to a higher register, the singer switches to a falsetto range, adding an additional expressive dimension to the song.
As on Okinawa, the main instrument is the three stringed snake skinned banjo, the sanshin. The Amami version has thinner strings and the snake skin thinner. It is tuned to a higher pitch than in Okinawa, and has a sharper tone, and is a played with a bamboo pick, as opposed to the Okinawan horn, which adds to the trebly quality and clarity of the tone. The main difference though between Amami and Okinawa shima uta, is in the scales. Okinawan music is based on a pentatonic major scale, whereas Amami employs a minor scale, the same as throughout mainland Japan. It’s probably this reason that makes Amami shima uta sound essentially Japanese, and why it can be considered the southernmost of Japanese folk styles.