Okinawan Music from South Japan

From Portugal, we fly off to Southern Islands of Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawa is the where the sun is, where the beaches are, and where the people are distinct from everywhere else. They are known for their warmth and sweetness. Okinawa islands have their own special dialect which is quite different from other parts of Japan. The group of islands that lie southmost is called Ryukyu. Folk music of the Ainu tribes of Japan and of Okinawa clearly go a long way into history.

A lot of traditional Japanese music is pentatonic. The notes used are either: Do Re Mi So La. In Okinawa and Ryukyuan Music, an altered scale of Do Mi Fa So Ti; or a hexatonic scale of Do Re Mi Fa So Ti (Eliminating La) is often used. Okinawa music is very sentimental in nature, but is also very optimistic. Often, old memories are recounted and talked about. Towns where parents are, nature and natural beauty is described with great fondness.

The vocalisation is very distinct. Vocal breaks are used to highly emphasize and underline the happenings in the text. The small intricate vocalisation is done with them help of these breaks. An instrument by the name of Sanshin is used as an accompanying instrument to most Okinawa songs. The Sanshin is a kind of a predecessor to the Shamisen, which is more widely known. The Sanshin has 3 strings and the sounding box is covered with snake skin. It is a blind instrument and does not have frets. It is played with a plectrum attached to the forefinger, and its sound is quite twangy and characteristic.

Since Japan has very clear seasonal variations, these are often visible through the song descriptions. Most songs talk about winter, summer, autumn, spring in different contexts. A bright blue sea, pink flowers of sakura, happiness.

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