At the beginning of her solo concerts, Aragaki Mutsumi, invites her audience to journey with her into another world of Okinawan music. It’s a trip to her Okinawa, evoked by the sound of her expert sanshin playing, the broad expression of her voice and mesmerising atmosphere, created by natural and electronic soundscapes with visual enhancement from films, photos and paintings, integrating these elements into a unique avant-garde performance.
Mutsumi studied sanshin and the island’s classical art of singing under the school of two great masters of Okinawan traditions, Fukuhara Chouki and Fukuhara Kyouko.
Her mission now is to integrate the deep soul of Okinawan music into a contemporary setting without, as she says, ‘losing its scent’. Aragaki Mutsumi is a guardian of her roots and a bold experimenter in one.
She progressively integrates the deep groove and soul of Okinawan traditional music with contemporary sounds and visuals, and to create a unique avant-garde music. She was selected as WOMEX2021 Official Showcase Artist, the 6th from Japan, and the 1st solo artist from Okinawa. She released her first solo album “Another World Of Okinawan Music”, which garnered positive reviews from around the world. It was selected by BBC Music Magazine as “The best world music recording released in 2021 so far”. She performs in a solo setting, traditional music with electronics, as well as performing collaboratively with Jazz musicians.
Media: Songlines Magazine, fRoots Magazine, BBC Music Magazine, WIRE Radio, Far Side Radio (UK), NHK World J-MELO (Japan)
Festivals: Hidden Kingdom World Music Festival 2021(online, Bhutan), Camera Japan 2019 Japanese Film Festival (Netherlands), Nippon Connection 2019 Japanese Film Festival (Germany), Earth Day Tokyo 2019, Bangkok Theater Festival 2018 (Thailand), New Narratives Film Festival 2016 (Taiwan), Jazz in Nanjo 2020 (Okinawa), Trans Asia Music Meeting (Okinawa). She participated in Asia Music Summit 2020 (online, Canada) as one of the musician panelists.
One of the things Japanese music is known for is mixtures. Crazy mixtures. Emiko & KiriSute Gomen are the latest to contribute to a pantheon of extraordinary concoctions. Into the E&KSG music blender are added, in roughly equal quantities, minyo (Japanese folk), 60s psychedelic and surf. Stir in a dash each of jazz and swing, and a pinch of j-pop and punk. Now, blend on full power, and out comes something, quite unlike anything you’ve heard before. Or will in the future. Yet somehow manages to sound as if these diverse musical ingredients were made for each other. No mean feat.
Emiko & KiriSute Gomen are based in France, long a melting pot for creative musicians from the African diaspora, even from Vietnam, but never before from Japan.
Leader of the band, singer, taiko drummer and percussionist is Emiko Ota, who has been living in France for 10 years, initially to join a class in classical percussion. She soon morphed into a creative, multifaceted tour-de-force in the Parisian underground scene, playing with bands such as Fantazio, Les Elles, Urban Sax, Rihanna and Brain Damage, traditional group Ensemble Sakura and visiting Japanese musicians such as Otomo Yoshihide.
Electronic, classical, blues, dub, experimental, and Japanese minyo all came under her radar, as she performed in France and around the world in various guises at venues and festivals including Théâtre d’Arras, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques (Musée Guimet), Musée Jacques Chirac, La Cigale (Paris), French Embassies in Rome, Luxembourg and Paris for the ambassadors of Japan, at the Institut Franco-Japonais in Tokyo, Celtic Festival in Chicago (US), Festival de Gand (Belgium), Festival de Bourges (France), Festival International de Musique Sacrée in Sylvanes, Festival de Musique Classique in Saint- Jacques-de-Compostelle (Spain), Festival International des Emirats Arabes Unis, Festival International de Théâtre in Moscow, Pori Jazz Festival (Finland), and Glastonbury Festival (UK).
In 2011 she formed Emiko & KiriSute Gomen, focusing herself mainly on vocals to create music primarily based around minyo and other Japanese popular songs, but with extraneous influences she had encountered in France. Joining her are French musicians playing guitar, bass, shamisen (Japanese three stringed lute) and drums.
The backing band provides Emiko with the vehicle to express her chameleon musical abilities. Each song, traditional or contemporary is arranged by the band in a unique way, yet still pays respect to the original.
Folk music in Japan has always been in a process of constant evolution. Fittingly, in France, in the hands of the Emiko & KiriSute Gomen, minyo is undergoing more of a revolution.
Emiko & KiriSute Gomen’s first album Shyohatto was released in 2013.
Emiko Ota : lead vocals, taiko (Japanese percussion), drums
Julien Omeyer : guitar, bass, backing vocals
Sylvain Diony : shamisen (Japanese banjo), backing vocals
Simon Poncet: drums, backing vocals
Kuricorder Quartet is a quite brilliant, rather eccentric multi-instrumental group from Japan. Never in the history of music has the humble recorder, (kuri by the way is the Japanese for ‘chestnut’, the corder bit comes from recorder) sounded this fresh and exciting. And never would you have thought the recorder, from the small soprano, to the giant great bass, via alto and tenor, this capable of playing the most innovative of music.
Kuricorder are not just about recorders though. Each member is a virtuoso on at least one other instrument, and together they create a rich, warm, polyphonic tapestry of sounds. Delightfully unclassifiable, encompassing jazz, folk, blues, classical, medieval, funk among others, their choice of material ranges from a variety of styles on original tunes to Imperial March from Star Wars, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to Japanese children’s songs.
Originally formed in 1994, Kuricorder Quartet have gradually built an ever expanding fan base in Japan. They’ve released six albums to date, plus a couple of greatest hits, and 2 live DVDs and CDs. They have become known to a wider public through writing and performing film soundtracks (Near Equal Yayoi Kusama, Quill, Yamagata Scream) TV drama themes, (Pythagora-Switch) TV commercials and collaborating with pop artists such as UA, Chemistry and Morio Agata. Their 2006 album ‘Ukulele Kuricorder’ made it into the mainstream pop charts.
Their roots, however, lie in the vibrant Tokyo underground scene and each member brings a wealth of experience and unique talent to the quartet. Saxophonist Yoshiyuki Kawaguchi, has played with a multitude of bands including Shibusashirazu, with whom he has toured the world, Cicala Mvta and many others. He plays an array of other instruments such as bodhran, harmonica and ukulele. Guitarist and ukulele player Kenji Kondo composed the music for the 2009 Oscar-winning short animation, ‘La Maison en Petit Cubes.’ Masaki Kurihara is playing melodica, among others and is a composer for various Anime films and over 500 TV commercials . Sometimes he plays Electric Bass Ex.DATE COURSE PENTAGON ROYAL GARDEN led by Naruyoshi Kikuchi and other bands.Tuba player Takero Sekizima’s career CV reads like a who’s who of Japan’s most pioneering artists of the last 20 years, as a member of the legendary avant garde jazz /chindon group Compostella, to Komacha Klezmer and participating in numerous projects such as the groundbreaking albums by Okinawan musician Tetsuhiro Daiku.
Unclassifiable maybe, but if Kuricorder Quartet make a particular brand of music, it might be called joyous. Totally unpretentious, laid back, brilliantly played, laced with a sense of humour and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Debashish Bhattacharya is routinely referred to as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. The BBC Award for World Music winner, and Grammy nominated artist is presenting his latest project, Calcutta Chronicles, following on from his album Beyond the Ragasphere.
The core members of Calcutta Chronicles are Pt. Debashish Bhattacharya on the trinity of slide guitars, Subhasis Bhattacharjee on tabla and percussion, Nishad Pandey on electric guitar, and Anandi Bhattacharya on vocals. For their 11 date Making Tracks UK tour in 2014, the band was joined by Antoine Morineau on Iranian percussion and Colin Bass on electric bass.
from L-R, Colin Bass, Subhasis Bhattacharya, Debashish Bhattacharya, Anandi Bhattacharya, Antoine Morineau, Nishad Pandey
Featuring elements of samba, funk, flamenco and other styles, Debashish is at his experimental best, while still drawing on a thousand years of history and tradition of raga. Calcutta Chronicles also introduces Debashish’s daughter, Anandi on vocals. In the words of her father, Anandi is a ‘born musician’ who has long aspired to become a professional singer. She delivers sublime vocals that have entranced audiences whenever the group have performed, leaving a lasting impression on those lucky enough to have witnessed her. Debashish’s brother, Subhasis contributes tabla, the incredible interplay between the pair, the type of intuition and understanding only possible between siblings is another highlight of a live performance. Nishad Pandey is a protégé of Debashish. With a technique inspired by his guru, he plays a raga infused version of jazz that compliments his master, but also takes centre stage at times, amazing audiences with his fluidity on electric guitar.
Debashish’s unique take on Indian classical music has cemented his international career for over thirty years, modernising classical melodies and rhythms with multiple levels of percussion and lightning fast solos. With Calcutta Chronicles Debashish explores the transformation of raga, taking it entirely in new directions. A spellbinding show that is spiritual, profound, uplifting and joyous. Wonder at his astounding, dazzling three finger picking technique while a subliminal, mesmerising cascade of emotions penetrate the soul of the listener.
Debashish has spent a lifetime in intensive study, performance and innovation of the guitars that he plays. All the guitars are unique instruments designed by Debashish himself, that he calls a Trinity of Guitars; Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi- representing three generations of instruments. Born into a musical family on 12 January 1963 In Kolkata (Calcutta), Debashish Bhattacharya learnt to sing before he could talk. At the age of 3 he started playing the Hawaiian lap steel guitar, giving his first major concert on All India Radio at 4. The first slide guitarist to receive the President of India Award in 1984, he was made a Pandit (master) at 40. Since then he has established himself as one of the world’s outstanding slide guitarists through tours of inspirational live concerts and best selling albums including collaborations with other world famous guitarists such as John McLaughlin and Shakti and Martin Simpson.
First of his invention is the Chaturangui, a 24 string hollow neck guitar, followed by the 14 string Ghandharvi, which holds the longest glissando and finally the Anandi, a 4 string slide ukulele played at the end of a performance. All three combine aspects of the western guitar with elements of traditional Indian instruments.
This extremely personable and gifted artist takes the audience on a timeless journey through the history of Indian classical music, bringing it into the 21st century with unexpected detours. Deeply rooted in Indian spirituality, continuing the tradition of thousands of years, yet a perilous innovator and the product of years of international travel, soaking up worldwide influences. The extraordinary Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya.
Debashish Bhattacharya & Calcutta Chronicles (total 6 musicians) available in Europe 2015. For more information or to book contact us via the Far Side Music web site.
Press on Beyond the Ragasphere album and Calcutta Chronicles UK Tour 2014
‘a boldly original fusion experiment’ 4****stars The Guardian (2013)
Top Of The World, 4****stars, Songlines (2013)
‘The Indian slide guitar maestro Debashish Bhattacharya together with Calcutta Chronicles…took an expectant Cambridge audience on a celestial musical journey.’ localsecrets.com (May 2014)
‘Bhattacharya’s greatest asset is soul, to the extent that if Robert Johnson were alive today, a collaboration would seem pretty much inevitable.’ Time Out London (May 2014)
‘There is much to admire in the virtuosity of these musicians but it is the way they interact with each other that generates the response on an emotional level.’ In Suffolk (May 2014)
Tsukudanaka Sanpachi is the duo of shamisen/multi instrumentalist Tsutomu Tanaka and shakuhachi player Koushi Tsukuda. Both masters of their tradition, together they play minyo (folk songs) from throughout Japan, but with their own twist. Their take on minyo is a sometimes wild, sometimes beautiful, mix of traditional Japanese sounds and rhythms, with rock, jazz, Latin, African, and other elements.
They have visited villages where minyo songs were born, exchanged ideas with local musicians, and conducted field research, always conscious to show respect for the origin of minyo Their blend of minyo is therefore based on the original concept of each song, with standard and classic minyo given a contemporary and pulsating groove yet rooted in tradition.
With fresh ideas and innovative arrangements they are at the forefront of a new movement, sometimes called neo-minyo. They’ve been asked to contribute theme songs to big festivals like Yosakoi Soran Matsuri, getting the audience into a collective dance, enabling minyo to get back to its original inherent energy. They also have taken part in educational programs and given workshops at various school events.
Their ultimate aim is the reinstatement of minyo in the field of music and culture to the mainstream in Japan.
Tsukudanaka Sanpachi performed to great acclaim at TFF Rudolstadt, Germany in 2013
The larger, six piece group, Chanchiki featuring the two members of Tsukudanaka Sanpachi plus four others is also available. In addition to shamisen and shakuhachi are other percussion (including the metalic chachinki instrument used in chindon, from which the group takes its name) hayashi backing chanting, great female vocals from Makiko Ikeda, augmented by electric bass, guitar, tuba and other brass instruments. Watch a video of Chanchiki.
Tsutomu Tanaka began playing taiko drums aged three. As a teenager he played guitar and drums in a band that played American blues and R&B. Aged 19 he started to play Tsugaru-shamisen, which he studied under the master Shuichiro Takahashi. He soon began to challenge the status quo of the conservative minyo world, and formed the band Chanchiki in 1998 with other like minded musicians. Chanchiki rapidly gained a following for their radical new take on minyo. Aside to playing taiko, drums and shamisen he also writes and arranges much of the duo’s material, including the pulsating rhythm tracks that the duo sometimes play along to. He is an exceptional performer, combining musical dexterity with a wicked sense of humour.
Koushi Tsukuda learned shakuhachi from his own father, who is a well known player. He performs with the highly regarded Tsugaru Shamisen association Toshukai, supporting Kabuki performances by top actors such as Kantaro Nakamura and Shichinosuke Nakamura. He has played with many minyo musicians and has performed around the world. Tsukuba was also an original member of Chanchiki. He writes some compositions for Tsukudanaka Sanpachi, which have a beautiful, lyrical quality to them. The sound of his shakuhachi has been likened to the human voice in the emotion that he conveys.
Minyo, is Japanese local folk music, songs which were naturally born from people’s everyday lives that have been handed down through the generations. They convey various emotions and represent regional characteristics.
In the form of working songs for rice planting or fishing, celebrating marriages or festivals, to dance or play, for banquets, the lyrics include each regional folk custom and dialect, and the songs have developed with various aspects of ancient life. Tsugaru-Shamisen and Okinawan music derived from these regional characteristics as well. Minyo is mainly sung to shamisen (3 stringed lute) and fue ( Japanese flute ) while shakuhachi ( Japanese vertical bamboo flute ), kokyu ( Oriental fiddle ), and wadaiko ( Japanese drum ) occasionally join in.
Until the 1960s, minyo was popular among people of all ages and had an influence on Japanese popular music, and many new songs were composed. But with the change of time, because of the concentration of the population in large cities and the penetration of western lifestyle and culture including music, lyrical content and the sound of minyo became estranged from everyday life. Nowadays except in Okinawa and a few places, minyo is performed only at local and traditional festivals, so the master-and-pupil system is the main way to maintain the skill of singing and playing in the old form.
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.
Rikki with her fans in Poland
In recent years she has performed at the Masala Weltbeat Festival in Hannover, Germany and the City of London Festival in the UK
At the City of London Festival
At the Masala Weltbeat Festival in Hannover
On stage in Hannover
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
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.