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Umekichi


Okame Phone

You've heard it in soba shops and on NHK radio, but the antique image conjured by the plaintive naguata traditional singing style accompanied by the piquant sounds of the shamisen - a style known together as hayashi - couldn't be farther from Umekichi's youthfully coquettish beauty.

In a world populated by graying obasan and ojisan, Umekichi is indeed an ume (plum blossom) breathing life into the long-lost world of Edo-era minyo folk songs that has been ignored by the record industry since WWII. And now the singer, who became the youngest professional hayashi when she graduated in 1993 from the National Theatre in Tokyo has just released her debut album, Okunimeguri (the record label suggests the following translation: "Edo style samisen entertainment. Hometown tour-tatami room folk songs").

Issued on the newly formed Okame Phone independent label, which is dedicated to "the new wave in traditional Japanese music," the album's five brief songs recall a time when men were samurai and women were geisha (or at least it's nice to imagine this was the case). And - as the title implies - Umekichi provides a taste of the diverse folk music traditions of various parts of Japan.

Umekichi is unlikely to unseat Ayumi Hamasaki and her ilk from the top of the charts, but for Japanophiles the singer provides a welcome reminder that there are still in fact young Japanese interested in the traditions of their country.

Okunimeguri was released July 14 on Okame Phone.


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