Kanako Horiuchi + London Sanshinkai, Ivy House, London, Wednesday May 18th 2016 (Benefit Concert for Victims of Kumamoto Earthquake)

We are delighted to announce we are putting on a show by the wonderful female sanshin player and singer from Okinawa, Japan, Kanako Horiuchi. Guests will include the fantastic London based Swiss/Japanese musician who sings, plays sanshin and the violin, Mina Mermoud and members of the London Sanshinkai.

It’s at a brilliant venue in Nunhead, South London, called The Ivy House, and it’s happening on Wednesday May 18th.

Tickets cost £7.00 in advance via We Got Tickets or it will cost £8.00 on the door. Doors open at 8.00pm with the show starting at 8.30pm.

You can read an interview with Kanako here

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The music of Okinawa, in the deep south of Japan, has an indefinable island quality. A bit like everywhere but totally unlike anywhere. Okinawan music has developed from a unique set of influences down the centuries, as local traditions have mingled with those of sea faring and trading nations. Music has evolved organically until the present day, and while Japan’s musical traditions have been largely forgotten or ‘preserved’ by societies, Okinawa is the country’s only surviving enclave with a thriving and living local music rooted in a tradition.

Kanako Horiuchi is one of the Ryukyu Island’s (of which Okinawa is the biggest) leading musical ambassadors, travelling the world, spreading the sounds of the islands and sometimes collaborating with local musicians. Originally from Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, she headed south to study under some of the greats of Okinawan music, learning the real tradition from the real masters. At the same time, she developed a creative and experimental edge, joining a ska band in Okinawa, while her latest album was recorded in Senegal, West Africa, with kora player Falaye Sakho.

Kanako became a fully qualified teacher of Ryukyu music in 2007, contributed to a tribute album for YMO legend, Haruomi Hosono, and had a documentary ‘Non-Fiction W’ , made about her by acclaimed filmmaker Yuji Nakae (Nabbie’s Love, Pineapple Tours).

This promises to be a very special evening, with new collaborations and sounds and old traditions.

For all lovers of Japanese and Okinawan music and culture and an interest in roots music from around the world.

This will be a benefit concert for the victims of the recent earthquake in Kumamoto and Aso, Japan.

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Newsletter March 2016

Dear Customer and friend of the Far Side,

We’ve been busy!

It’s been a while so a lot has happened, with quite a lot of new stuff out this month, the latest radio shows and other stuff.

Where to start?..well, how about OKI Dub Ainu Band who have their first album out in five years. And very good it is too. The female Ainu quartet, Marewrew also have a new album out.

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Yukihiro Takahashi has a box set of 80s stuff out with an unreleased DVD, a book and four hard to find remastered albums with mini LP style cardboard sleeves. His band Sadistics have three albums that haven’t been available for a while, re-released onto SHM-CDs.

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Talking of box sets, there’s a very lavish set of American composer Raymond Scott that includes a CD of covers by Haruomi Hosono, Miharu Koshi and others. The two videos give a good idea on what you get.

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There are three albums of live recordings from John Cage’s 1962 Japan tour with various Japanese musicians including Yuji Takahashi and Yoko Ono.

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Also from Japan, is electronic soundscapes from Sugai Ken, Celtic music from Harmonica Creams, extraordinary saxophone avant-garde from Masanori Oishi, and minyo from singer Yoshiko Furuta. You can listen or watch album trailers to most of these.

There are seven Bunraku DVDs in the superb Best Selection series, some with English subtitles, and a DVD of Ryukyu Classical Dance with very information English notes.

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From the rest Asia, are four CDs in the excellent Journey of Sounds series released in the 1990s; Timor, Malaca, Macau and Sumatra. From Thailand, 1970s and 80s morlam and funk music on CDs that include English notes, and a re-released album by Malaysian 1980s pop legend Sudirman.

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Continuing our quest to to source the virtually unobtainable (in recent years North Korea and Burma for example) we’re buying more albums direct from Mongolia. For now there’s just a couple more although we are trying to find cheaper shipping charges, which are very expensive.

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For anyone who ordered Tomita’s new album, the release has been delayed until March 23rd, and we’ll send them out soon after that. At least now, we have the cover.

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There are six new Far Side Radio shows to listen to again since the last newsletter, originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4fm; new releases of Japanese electronic music, Chinese New Year, two shows of my recent trip to Okinawa, new releases and some other crazy stuff, and female instrumentalists for International Women’s Day.

Listen via Mixcloud

or via the Far Side web site

You can listen live on Resonance 104.4fm in London from 12 noon on Wednesdays, via DAB digital radio in London, via Radio Player or through http://www.resonancefm.com. And don’t forget, Far Side Radio is repeated every Sunday on Resonance from 8am.

February was also the fundraising month at Resonance that helps to keep the radio station on air, and pay for things like the Digital Radio platform and studio expenses. You can donate here. It would be much appreciated!

Until next time!

All the best

Paul

Newsletter January/February 2016

Dear Customer and friend of the Far Side,

New releases for a new year just uploaded!

Too late for January, too early for February, so a bit of both..

I receive regular requests from people asking about any forthcoming Tomita re-releases onto SACD. Although it is out in about a month, the record company still haven’t released full details about Okhotsk Genso. We’ve put together all the information we do have, but so far no mention if it is 4.0ch Surround Sound like the ‘Ultimate Edition’ CDs, but it is SACD Hybrid.

The Japanese edition of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack to The Revenant is out next month too.

There are three albums from Cornelius; two soundtracks and a new collection.

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If J.A.K.A.M. (Juzu a.k.a. Moochy) was say British or American, I’m pretty sure he would be a star in the world club/global beats scene. He’s travelled to Senegal, Turkey, Cuba, Egypt among other places to make recordings as well as in Japan, and results are as impressive as anything else I’ve heard in this genre in recent years.

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It’s getting on for six years since the terrible Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This area in northern Japan is rich in minyo (folk) songs. Awaibito have taken these folk songs and given them new arrangements, which work surprisingly well.

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Okinawa’s Nenez, the new version of the original and brilliant female quartet, have a new album out. Good in places, not in others, it’s probably fair to say.

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Talking of Okinawa, I’m looking forward to going there this week to take part in the Trans Asia Music Meeting.

Back end of next week when we will send out orders you might still be waiting for.

There are three Far Side Radio shows to listen to again since the last newsletter, originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4fm. Christmas, New Releases and Asian Blues, and including on this newsletter the two shows of the best of 2015. Japan/Okinawa and Asia.

You can listen live on Resonance 104.4fm in London from 12 noon on Wednesdays, via DAB digital radio in London or via Radio Player or through http://www.resonancefm.com.
Not only that, Far Side Radio is repeated every Sunday from 8am on Resonance.

Until next time!

All the best

Paul

Newsletter November 2015

Dear Customer and friend of the Far Side,

You might have noticed we didn’t send our newsletter out last month. Apologies for that, and reasons why are at the end of this message.

However, we have been uploading a few things in the last couple of months.

We’ll start off in Japan with four albums of ‘New Wave Traditional Music’ from the last four decades- charting this movement of contemporary compositions performed on koto and other traditional instruments in a often minimalist style. Available separately or together as a package.

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Going back to the 1980s, we’ve always enjoyed the Obon festival from Kansai, Kawachi Ondo and it’s various incarnations. Here’s a couple of entertaining Kawachi Ondo meets dub and reggae albums with videos to watch.

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From Amami island in the deep south of Japan is a brilliant album by Takao Morishima, who plays the local harp called a tategoto and sings with a rasping, bluesy voice. Again, check out the video.

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Respect Records is a Japanese label we have worked with for many years, including recording and licensing many titles for them. This year they celebrate their 20 Year Anniversary, and have a compilation out for which I’ve written some liner notes for.

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One of the artists Respect has released is Soul Flower Union and Mononoke Summit, whose Takashi Nakagawa has a new solo album out. Here’s the album trailer.

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From the rest of Asia are two female singers; a nice, evocative album of 60s Indonesian kroncong by Mariati (have a listen here) and 70s Thai morlam/lukthung from Hongthong Dao-Udon that comes with English notes. You can have a listen to this one too.

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There were no Far Side Radio shows either during October, the last show being from end of September with new releases. If you missed it you can listen via the Far Side web site or on Mixcloud below.

I’ll be starting the live shows on Resonance 104.4fm from 12 noon from next week Wednesday on FM in London or streaming via resonancefm.com

Now for the reasons for our relative inactivity over the last couple of months.

Far Side Music has for the last six years or so, been run from our family home. My Dad and I pooled resources together to covert the upstairs with a loft extension (where the office is) and create separate living areas upstairs for myself and family (3 young children) and downstairs for my ageing yet fit father. It has worked brilliantly, just about managing to balance work, family life and looking after my Dad.

However, the last few months my Dad’s health deteriorated and after having numerous tests, he was eventually diagnosed with cancer. After initially looking after him on my own, we got a lot of help from the local hospice, district nurses and carers. However, my time has been spent virtually 24/7 looking after him these last weeks as his health deteriorated rapidly. Early Wednesday morning he finally succumbed.

All of this has meant your orders might have been received later than usual, although fortunately I have help with processing orders. What I haven’t been able to delegate is adding new releases and writing the blurb for them, hence the lack of new releases recently, and responding to email enquiries. I’m still going to be busy in the coming weeks but I hope to have a bit more time. Apologies if you have waited for your order or for a response.

We’ll be along with the next edition of this newsletter in about a month’s time.

Until then,

All the best
Paul

Newsletter September 2015

Dear Customer and friend of the Far Side,

Here’s our monthly newsletter of new releases out in September and a few in October.

We’ll start off in Okinawa. Female quartet Unaigumi, (featuring 3/4 of the original Nenes) have recorded a single with Ryuichi Sakamoto of his track Undercoooled. Female singer and sanshin player Kanako Horiuchi has recorded a wonderful album with Senegalese kora player Falaye Sakho. Perhaps the best of the traditional musicians, Yasukatsu Oshima has a new album out and there’s even a new album out by Nenez, the new incarnation of the aforementioned female quartet.

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Very different, and very good are two compilation albums by Little Masta of Okinawa/Ryukyu alternative music, one with Taiwanese counterparts, the other of Columbian cumbia music.

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There are four new albums of Burmese music that are worth checking out; an album of Burmese slide guitar, piano, traditional ensemble music, and xylophone. From Malaysia is an album that mixes Indonesian kroncong with Malay traditions from singer Jamilah Abu Bakar.

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There’s plenty of videos to watch and tracks to listen to from the new releases.

There would have been more new releases, but more computer / server crashes and spending interminable hours talking to someone somewhere from technical support on a dodgy telephone line rather put paid to our plans. Still, more new releases to come in the next few days and weeks.

Our problems however, pale into insignificance compared to our Japan office run by the always extremely kind and unflappable Naoyuki Iwami. The office is located within the caldera of the volcano, Mount Aso, in Kumamoto Prefecture. This morning, Japan time, Mount Aso erupted. Fortunately local residents haven’t been asked to evacuate, although it must be worrying.

Fortunately they missed the recent typhoon that struck prefectures north of Tokyo causing unbelievable floods, and the typhoon that did hit them the week before wasn’t quite bad enough to cause flooding, as it did two years ago. Fingers crossed for them.

Live editions of Far Side Radio start again this week, from 12 noon on Wednesday on Resonance 104.4fm, with the first programme featuring recent new releases. You’ll be able to listen later on Mixcloud (where you can follow us) or with links to the CDs on the Far Side web site

We have various new videos to upload our You Tube channel, as long as we don’t encounter any more IT problems!

To keep up to date with news, new releases, radio, videos and anything else, best way is to Like us on Facebook

or Follow us on Twitter.

or we’ll be along with the next edition of this newsletter in about a month’s time.

Until then,

All the best
Paul

Yasukatsu Oshima

The crossing at Roppongi is one of Tokyo’s busiest and seediest places. Men in black suits and women in red mini-skirts hand out leaflets for the strip shows, hostess bars and night clubs. On one corner is the Almond coffee shop, famed as a location for any meeting with a dubious agenda. Opposite, tucked away on the eighth floor of a building is “Wonderful Tonight”, a small Eric Clapton tribute bar.

It was here, surrounded by Clapton memorabilia that Yasukatsu Oshima, the man being touted as the young bright hope for traditional Okinawan music, got his professional start in music. Soon after I arrived in Tokyo in 1993, a friend had coerced me down to Wonderful Tonight- this was, after all, during Clapton’s rather annoying “MTV Unplugged” phase. Still, I was going to hear Okinawan music, or sort of. Oshima played acoustic guitar as well as sanshin (the Okinawan lute) and was joined by another acoustic guitarist. Aside to Okinawan tunes, they played what the Japanese call “folk” songs (anything from the 70s that featured an acoustic guitar), and a few western covers, probably Layla or something. Oshima had an infectious appeal; a likeable demeanour, a good voice and some excellent original songs. The gig left a lasting impression that would draw me to him a few years later.

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Almost exactly eight years on, and we’re once again in a slightly dodgy bar, this time attached to a London hotel. Today is Yasukatsu Oshima’s last day of a UK tour and tonight his last gig in London at the Spitz. “Wonderful Tonight was my start in music” muses Oshima. “I hadn’t played live before and didn’t really know what I was doing. In fact, I didn’t know anything.” Nevertheless, his first album was just about to come out, and on a major record company at that. “That was just lucky” he says with an embarrassed laugh. “I’d never played live before I released a record and before I recorded I’d never written a song. I once played at a gig in Tokyo with some friends of mine from back home in a band called Begin. Someone from a record company saw me and offered me a deal, just like that. So I did it. I’d come to Tokyo when I was twenty but only to work as a ‘salary man’ in a computer company, not to play music.”

Even allowing for Oshima’s modesty and self depreciation there has to be more to it to it than this. There is, although he did somewhat stumble upon the choice of music for a living. He grew up immersed in traditional music and his typically laid back Okinawan attitude belies a studious and respectful approach to that tradition and other music too.

Yasukatsu Oshima is from Shiraho on Ishigaki island, the biggest of the Yaeyama chain, the westernmost of the Okinawan islands. “Ever since I can remember I heard the sound of the sanshin. My grandfather and father would play every night in our house and at festivals. They are my biggest influences. From them I got to know all the Okinawan songs. My grandfather made sanshins and he gave one to me when I was about 10 years old. He was a farmer and a carpenter, one of those people who can do anything. Even now the sanshin I use was made by him. I never played it much though. I did try and study once but soon gave it up. I didn’t know much about music, not even the Beatles. I never had any records, never listened to the radio and was more interested in playing around on my bicycle. I wanted to be a hairdresser actually, and would cut my friends hair in return for a cigarette.”

Shiraho is an anonymous sort of village by the sea. It has however gained international attention in recent years, for the unique species of blue coral found off it’s coast. The WWF (the wildlife one) has had a boat moored there, researching the coral and supporting the local campaign against building an airport that would destroy it. Seeing the blue coral for yourself has become one of the main tourist activities in Ishigaki.

Shiraho is becoming equally known as a unique breeding ground for musicians. One of Okinawa’s greatest musicians, Yukichi Yamazato is from here, as is another young artist Yukito Ara, who with his band Parsha Club were once labeled leaders of the “new wave of Okinawan music”, but never quite realised their early promise.

“My friends, such as Ara were all into music” says Oshima. “Ara lived near me, but was one year older. I was in the same class at school as the people in Begin, so I learnt to play guitar a bit and played together with them for fun.”

After leaving school Oshima went to Naha, the biggest city on the main island of Okinawa, where he studied computers. He then got a job in Tokyo. “I worked for two years in a company. My only friends from home who were living in Tokyo were Begin, which is why I played music as well. I got more interested in sanshin at this time and traditional music. I didn’t have a teacher though, I just taught myself from tapes or CDs. I also saw lots of good players and studied from watching. At first I just copied the greats like Rinsho Kadekaru or Seijin Noborikawa. Gradually I developed my own style. The trouble with having a teacher is that it’s possible you end up playing too much like your teacher.”

Japanese traditional music is usually taught within a strict code by certified teachers. Self expression is not usually encouraged. Is Okinawa different? “Yes I think it is” says Oshima. “It’s not strict or laid down. Everyone has their own style. Kadekaru and Noborikawa are really different to each other.”

It was also at this time that Oshima says he began to develop his style of singing. In contrast to the essentially Western style vocals of say Shokichi Kina or Takashi Hirayasu, Oshima’s voice seems to be heavily rooted in the min’yo (original folk) tradition. “I think my voice is quite different from the old singers though” says Oshima. “I’m as much influenced by Kiyoshiro Imawano (a legend from that 70s Japanese “folk” scene). I started off copying everyone and from there developed my own style.”

According to Oshima, the musician I saw at Wonderful Tonight, was still very much in a period of transition. “When I listen to that first album now it’s a bit embarrassing, I’m playing guitar which I don’t do now, my way of singing is totally different. It’s not bad though, I was young and it has a certain power to it.”

That first album was called “Nishi Kaji Hai Kaji”, and given a long winded English translation “After the North Wind Comes the Fall, the Summer Comes after the South Wind”. The album gained a select band of admirers in the UK. One of the standout tracks was one of those first songs that Oshima had ever written, together with his old friend Eisho Higa from Begin, ” Irayoi Tsuki Yo Hama”. This song was admired by the head of a world music label in London, who described it as “one of those ‘We Are Sailing’ type Okinawan ballads.” Any link between Rod Stewart and Okinawan min’yo had escaped me, but he was dead right.

In major record company terms the album bombed. Oshima was eventually dropped and finished his residency at Wonderful Tonight. For the next few years he mostly disappeared from the scene.

Four years later I played that album to another major record company, JVC Victor, when asked to recommend an Okinawan musician to record. They liked what they heard and for a few months I tried contacting him, but all leads lead nowhere. Finally I tracked him down to Osaka, to where he had moved a year before.

I wasn’t the only one searching for him. Coincidentally so too were Off Note, an independent label responsible for some of Japan and Okinawa’s most creative roots releases , including the albums by another Ishigaki musician, Tetsuhiro Daiku. They wanted him to sing with a Japanese brass band, Orquesta Bore. The resulting album, “Ima du Wakari’ with the English title, “Now O Now, I Need Must Part” was a departure for Oshima. He didn’t do much more than just sing and play sanshin, it being fair to say it was the band (some of whom have recorded with Cicala Mvta, Tetsuhiro Daiku and others) and their arrangements that made it an extraordinary album.

Apart from this project, Oshima had been keeping a low profile, playing on the odd occasions, mostly at small bars. When I was to next see him, in front of a dozen or so people in a Tokyo suburb, his music had changed quite considerably. Gone was the guitar, and the ‘folk’ elements with it. Instead he sat alone, playing sanshin, singing mostly traditional songs with a voice to match and telling stories and the history of each song.

Most Okinawan musicians I’d known had started off playing traditional songs by themselves, then later had played with others and expanded their horizons. Oshima had done the opposite. “Yes, that’s because it’s the hardest thing I think to play by yourself, and once you can do it, it’s very satisfying. Once I’ve built that base then I can start playing with others, and it will then sound the better for it. The traditional tunes are the most fantastic music there is. I learn how to write my own songs from knowing those traditional songs. ”

Oshima’s first album for JVC Victor was called Ari Nu Tou. He was joined by three musicians, including Yukito Ara. It was roughly divided between traditional Yaeyama tunes and ones penned by Oshima himself, the two pretty much indistinguishable. Was this somehow his goal, to make what might be called the “traditional” songs of the future? ” That’s my absolute goal, the purpose of what I’m doing. That would make me happier than anything. There are so many songs in Okinawa, but there are only a few songs that everyone knows. Only the best songs become regarded as part of the traditional repertoire.”

Oshima’s latest, “Wagashima nu Uta” or “Songs of My Islands” features just Ohshima’s sanshin and voice and purely Yaeyama traditional tunes. The great elders of Okinawan music such as Seijin Noborikawa or Syoei Kina (Shokichi’s father) are now in their 70s. Shokichi Kina, Sadao China, Teruya Rinken or Takashi Hiraysu are either past or approaching 50. Oshima is just about the only musician in his 30s to be playing traditional Okinawan music. Is he on some kind of crusade to keep the real tradition going?

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“Not really, I don’t have the power to do that but as I’ve studied from those people above me, I would like to pass on the tradition to those below. Years ago there was only traditional music and nothing else which is why it has survived. Nowadays, there’s so many types of music. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and there’s still lots of people who like traditional min’yo, so it will survive.” And does he envisage ever going back to Okinawa one day to teach, as for example Tetsuhiro Daiku does? “Never, I can’t do that. I think it’s great that people do teach, but I didn’t study formally, so I can’t teach formally. Anyway, I’m still studying.”

On returning to Japan, Oshima was to start work on a new album. Earlier in 200I he had performed in Tokyo with a group called Chorro Club, featuring guitar, mandolin, violin, accordion and percussion. It seemed a natural combination, with Oshima totally at ease, and his repertoire given fresh and inspired arrangements. “For me this is the best group to play with.” he says. “Instead of accordion I’ll include a friend from Begin on piano who I’m writing the new songs with. It’s not that I don’t want to play only sanshin, but just that I find playing guitar and sanshin too difficult, especially live. I need to concentrate on just the sanshin, and then have someone else play guitar.”

Oshima is equally happy to perform solo wherever and whenever he can. “Playing live is the most enjoyable thing for me. Whether it’s in Tokyo, Osaka or Okinawa. I want to play abroad again and come back to England. This is the second time I’ve been to England. The first time was the Japanorama tour, with about 12 artists. then I only played about three or four songs for about twenty minutes. This time there’s just two of us, so I can relax. Here people don’t know Okinawan music at all so it’s so interesting gauging their reactions. Now I wish I could only explain the background of the songs. I’d better learn some English as well.” If the apparent speed with which he mastered traditional Okinawan music is anything to go by, expect him to be fluent.

Originally published in fRoots magazine April 2002

Go to the Shopping Page for Yasukatsu Oshima

Newsletter August 2015

Dear Customer and friend of the Far Side,

New releases out in August now on the Far Side web site.

There are two superb albums of Vietnamese music, both loosely of ‘chamber music’, but very different. One a new recording, the other more than 50 years old. Tri Nguyen is a dan tranh (zither) player and an accomplished pianist, whose new album is recorded with a string quartet. Quach Thi Ho, is considered the greatest Ca Tru singer in Vietnam who revitalised the tradition following the revolution in 1945. There’s also a new album of Burmese traditional music, featuring the singer Khine Zin Shwe. You can watch videos or listen to tracks from all three albums.

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Sandii has been one of our favourite Japanese singers for many years, firstly with Sandii and the Sunsetz, then singing Indonesian and Malaysian music and for the last decade or more, Hawaiian music. She hadn’t released anything new for a while, but like a London bus, two albums arrive at once. One is her 8th Volume of Hawaiian music, and the other, her third album of Tahitian music.

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There are two albums of Japanese traditional music, but played in a radical style. Kazue Sawai (now in her mid 70s) continues to push the boundaries of koto music. Her latest album (with DVD), Koto Recital, is a concert from January this year, with various guests playing the music of contemporary composers. Taiko drummer Takuya, meanwhile, sings and combines taiko with rock.

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Finally, a documentary on the last geisha from Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district gets a release with English subtitles.

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There are three Far Side Radio programmes to listen to again on Mixcloud (where you can follow us) or with links to the CDs via the Far Side web site

There’s quite a flavour of 60s/70s music from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong, plus some recent new releases. The latest show is of the songs of Haruomi Hosono, sung by other artists. There are no Far Side radio shows during August as Resonance FM has different programming this month.

To keep up to date with news, new releases, radio, videos and anything else, best way is to Like us on Facebook

or Follow us on Twitter.

or we’ll be along with the next edition of this newsletter in about a month’s time.

Until then, hope there’s something of interest.

All the best
Paul