Overall, not the greatest year for music, but not the worst either. Good to know there’s a lot of new good music being made throughout the region. Korean artists have become fairly popular at festivals, but less so on CD, indeed even the artists who are touring don’t always have any album that we can actually sell. Most of this list are CDs (and some 7 inch vinyl!) released in Asia, particularly Japan. Noteworthy as European releases this year, but not included on our list (we prefer to highlight stuff you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere) was Thai morlam music from the 70s on the Sounds of Siam Vol.2 compilation, music we’ve been banging on about for about 20 years, but only just now being ‘discovered’, and Cambodian music, with the release of the Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cambodia. This list is a mixture of bigger selling albums and singles, personal favourites and the critically acclaimed. They are in some kind of order, but quite frankly that order would probably be different tomorrow, or even in the next hour! You can have a look at all albums and take a listen to sound samples here, and listen to them all, as broadcast on 10th December on Far Side Radio, Resonance 104.4fm here. So, without further ado, in descending order,the Far Side Top 10 of 2014 is:
10. Shizuko Oshiro – Washita Shimauta
There’s nothing new or particularly different about this album, but what it is, is a beautifully recorded, and performed, album of Okinawan traditional music, which I am a bit of a sucker for. Shizuko has been around for a long time, but hasn’t got the same profile as her namesake, Misako, for example. Hopefully this album helps to redress the balance a little. Shizuko had a lot of success early in her career, and then kept a reasonably low profile, playing in a shima uta bar and teaching. Aged 67, this is something of a welcome return and recognition.
9. Yasuaki Shimizu, Hideo Yamaki, Gen Ogimi – Syo
I first heard of saxophone player Yasuaki Shimizu when I was working with JVC/Victor in Tokyo, who he recorded for. The person who really got me, and indeed a lot of other people, to pay more attention was the late BBC broadcaster Charlie Gillett. When Charlie played tracks from Shimizu’s Bach Cello Suites on his BBC World Service, it would usually be followed by many enquiries to us as to who this musician was. Ever since, I’ve followed him closely and this year’s album, along with two other musicians is one of his best. A real mix of sounds; acoustic, electronic, modern, traditional, improvised and quirky.
If you’ve never heard Yasuaki Shimizu and Saxophonettes take a look at the video and his Far Side page here
8. Siti Nurhaliza – Konsert Lentera Timur
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Siti Nurhaliza. I love her traditional (or as they say in Malaysia ‘tradisional’) stuff, going back to her early hit Cindai, but am not much of a fan of her pop stuff. It was interesting to hear this live album. She’s backed by a 40 piece tradisional orchestra, the crowd are screaming like they’re at a pop concert, it all sounds a bit extravagant and over the top, and somehow those traditional tunes sound a bit more poppy than on the original albums. Not sure if that’s the effect of the crowd. Still, Siti has a great voice which shines through in the end.
7. Krom – Neon Dark
Based in Phnom Penh, Krom is female vocalist Sophea Chamroeun and guitarist/composer Christopher Minko. I love the blend of blues guitar and Khmer vocals. Other tracks on the album feature traditional musicians, and other vocalists including the deep growling in English from Christopher. This album actually came out in 2013 I think, but we only discovered it this year.
6. Oki Dub Ainu Band – Sumar Mukar + Sakhalin Rock EP
I’ve enjoyed Oki’s music for many years, and have had the pleasure of touring him in Europe a few times. I loved this new track, Sumar Mukar (Sakhalin Rock is an old one) which only came out on a 7 inch single. Oki’s vocal sounds more gruff than ever before, but that seems to add to the power and tension of the track.
5. Various – Tokyo no Oto
Strangely enough we sell more and more Japanese music from the 1940s-60s than ever before. A lot of it is the old enka, minyo and jazz, where Japanese traditional and western elements were brilliantly combined. This album is a kind of snapshot of field, or more like street recordings made in Tokyo in 1959. There’s train stations, markets, festivals, even a fire in Ginza. There’s also some music recorded on the street or sometimes in a studio. Geisha, Komuso shakuhachi, chindonya, and street shamisen music. Fascinating.
4. Emiko & Kirisute Gomen- Shyohatto
Based in France, Emiko & Kirisute Gomen play a kind of mix of Japanese minyo and Psychedelic surf guitar. A little bit wacky, and love the different images within one band. Would like to see them live. In fact hope to book them to play myself.
3. Shoukichi Kina – Pascal Plantinga – Washinnayo
I think I first heard from Dutch musician Pascal Plantinga when he sent me a beautifully packaged 12 inch single of him and Keiko Kina, sister of Shoukichi. It sounded great, and the attention to detail in the overall packaging was very impressive. Getting Shoukichi Kina, a legend of Okinawan music (but more into politics than music these days) into the studio a couple of years later, and making him sound this great is no mean feat. Once again, beautifully packaged, a record I genuinely treasure. This is a video of Shoukichi Kina together with Ry Cooder, The Chieftains and others from 1994 at the Great Music Experience outside the huge Todai-ji temple in Nara in 1994. A spectacular setting. I remember vividly watching this live, unbelievably exciting.
2. Yukihiro Takahashi & Meta Five – Techno Recital
We sell a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra and related albums by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono and others from the YMO family. This was probably the biggest selling such item this year. A live album from a great band, turning back the clock with mostly covers of YMO hits. Brilliant.
1. Shigeri Kitsu – Shigeri Bushi
I first heard of Shigeri Kitsu from a producer/musician in Tokyo about 20 years ago when I was working with Celtic music. She sang at a party for the Irish group Altan, as a kind of example of Japanese folk music, and completely wowed the audience. Over the next few years she recorded as part of a duo called Tsuru to Kame, with Haruomi Hosono becoming involved on their third album. Shigeri came to London for a concert we arranged about 10 years ago, and I interviewed her for a BBC radio programme in Tokyo. Although I noticed she was playing concerts regularly there hadn’t been anything new recorded for a while. It was a pleasant surprise to hear this album, where she is really given a chance to shine. What’s nice about this album, is it’s not just traditional, but has a modern edge, produced by Aoyagi Takuji, featuring Haruomi Hosono, Okinawans Yasukatsu Oshima and Yukito Ara and mastered by Makoto Kubota. Keeping a Japanese flavour throughout it manages to sound contemporary at the same time.