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
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.