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American sanshin artist releases debut album

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2001-11-08

Byron Jones, Okinawa’s best-known foreign sanshin player, recently released his debut CD on November 2. “Miyagi Jones Nu Ajigua”, translated as “A taste of Miyagi and Jones”, is a compilation of many traditional folk and classical Japanese songs as well as sanshin versions of the American National Anthem, the ABC song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, You are my Sunshine, and Amazing Grace. Byron Jones is an American who grew up on Okinawa and has taken the culture as his own over the years. When he speaks, he speaks as a local. Even his mannerisms are Okinawan. However, by blood he is American, and with this album, Jones represents both the American and Okinawan cultures he was brought up in. With fellow acclaimed traditional musicians Dento Kyokai, Miyagi Katsutoshi, Kyan Hatsue, and Yogi, this debut album certainly has a musical maturity found on very few debut albums.

“Miyagi Jones Nu Ajigua” is an album with a clear-cut concept and layout of songs. The first song, “Kajade fu” is played at a lot of weddings and can be classified as the Ryukyu National Anthem, and tracks 2 and 22 are the American National Anthem. Tracks three through eight are children’s songs accompanied by sanshin. Byron teaches English at the Kona Gakuen Middle School in Naha City and at three preschools in the Itoman area and uses many of his children’s songs to give his students an easier method to learn the English language. When Byron first decided to learn Sanshin, he did it with hopes of teaching others and preserving local heritage. Byron feels that this album can certainly be used to learn sanshin and play along. Also, the song notation is included in the liner notes of the album to further help prospective sanshin students learn the art.

Byron started learning classical sanshin thirteen years ago at the age of 19 to help preserve and pass on Okinawan culture. Six years ago, he began learning Okinawan folk music, and with this album, he has made a diverse mixture of styles from other genres including classical, folk, gospel, children’s, and even reggae on the last track “Ryukyu Reggae Rhythms.” As far as his original goal of teaching sanshin is concerned, Byron feels that he is finally living his dream.

“Miyagi Jones Nu Ajigua” will be released at several music stores around Okinawa including Sam Goody, Takara Records, Campus Records, and any store should be able to order the CD for you if you ask them. If you enjoy the music, tune into “Ryukyu Soul Music,” a one hour show playing gospel, Okinawan classical, folk, jazz, reggae, and hip hop from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday on FM 79.1. Also, if you would like to see Byron Jones perform live, he regularly performs at Hanna No from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Admission is free and the venue is right across the bypass road from the American Consulate close to Expressway Exit 2. He also performs at Yuratiko on the first, third, and fifth Monday of each month from 9:15 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. Yuratiko is located in Shikina, Naha City, close to Expressway Exit 1.

This self-produced album has high quality sound and great sanshin music, and because the album was self-produced and so many are being initially released, the CD is on sale for only ¥2,000 including tax -- 33% less than most Japanese albums. Whether or not you are a fan of Okinawan traditional music or an avid sanshin fanatic, you will enjoy this album. If you are currently learning the art of sanshin music, this album will help you get off to a good start. “Miyagi Jones Nu Ajigua” is positively a unique blend of Okinawan traditional sanshin and other genres of music from around the world.

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