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"Ryukyu Magic" shares the beat of Okinawa through taiko

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-04-25

Intensifying is a good way to describe "Ryukyu Magic's" performance of drums, music and singing. Last Tuesday night "Ryukyu Magic" played a special live show at the "Hideaway" on Gate 2 street. It had the audience fixed intently on not just the audio and visual impact of "Ryukyu Magic", but mostly on the strong "taiko" drum vibrations that could be felt dancing their way around the whole room.

Anyone that has ever been to a "taiko" drum show, knows the experience of being mesmerized by the loud rhythmic beat. Some of us almost fall into a hypnotic trance, being totally absorbed by the pounding rhythms. The beat of a drum has been with humans since ancient times. Through music, the drum has been an integral part in expressing culture. The constant beat fills our ears, and reaches deep into our minds and souls. It penetrates forgotten memories and feelings of a time once spent in our mother's womb, where the constant beat of hearts echoed our beginnings.

Early music on Okinawa called "omoro" began with the rhythmic beat of clapping and primitive drums. The "taiko" is a direct linkage to that early period in music. The solo drum show of "Ryukyu Magic" connects those early beginnings with present modern day music. It mixes the traditional beat of drums with music and singing, creating an atmosphere that evokes a proud spirit of the Ryukyu islands.

"Ryukyu Magic" is Eiichi Miyanaga, who seeks to bring to the rest of the world the beautiful culture of Ryukyu through his drum performances. The 46 year old Okinawan has been playing drums since he was 15 years of age, but he is best known for his contributions to rock n roll here in Japan. As a young boy, he grew up in the area of Koza, where he learned to speak English from U.S. soldiers during the 1960's. He began to crave western culture and music, and became a rock icon here in Okinawa as the drummer for the former popular rock band, "Murasaki". Known as "Chiibi" among his friends and fans, Miyanaga played with "Murasaki" through the seventies until their break up. He then played a short time with another well known rock band called "Condition Green", where he got the chance to go to Los Angeles in 1980 for the first time to record an album. "It was the first time that I got to see Americans, who were not soldiers," explained Chiibi. The experience was very important for the drummer, who elaborated by saying "I wanted to be like an American or European rock group. I always followed their music when I was young."

Coming back to Okinawa he formed the rock group Zodiac, but by the early 1990's Chiibi started to feel the need to expand his music beyond rock n roll. "I started to think to myself- what is my original music? I was using American words for a long time in my music, but it wasn't my culture," said Chiibi. "I wanted to show people my origins, so I learned my history. I started with the memories I had of my grandmother, who showed me Okinawan culture when I was a child."

Chiibi began to study traditional and classical Okinawan music. As a drummer, he put these inspirations from his island's culture into songs that combined his own style of music with the traditional background he was learning. "In my mind I have many Okinawan melodies, so I made my own drums to play these songs." The result was "Ryukyu Magic".

"I want to tell people the true Okinawan culture. Okinawa is a small place, but we have good music and many original things to give. And, the people have good hearts," explained Chiibi. "We have to show the world our beautiful ocean, sky, and people." With this new message, Chiibi has been playing and singing at various clubs and festivals on the island as "Ryukyu Magic" since April 1, 1995. Chiibi is also concerned with the social changes occurring among Japanese people. "People change with money and loose the important things. We have to think about what is true, and get back to nature."

As for the future, Chiibi is planning on going back to the U.S., to hopefully play his "Ryukyu Magic" in that part of the world. He also dreams of playing some day with the London Philharmonic Orchestra behind him. He is releasing a new single on April 25, titled "One Summer Dream". You can catch "Ryukyu Magic" at Pescaderia in Naha on April 25. The show starts at midnight, and it is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Chiibi invites everyone interested to attend. "If you see my show, you will find out something," he said. Making connections across the globe is what "Ryukyu Magic" is all about.

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