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Yoshihiro Higa keeping Japanese folk music alive and well

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-07-30

Playing form bar to bar after so many years, many musicians loose their feeling for music and simply go through the motions. It can be a tiring lifestyle of broken dreams and endless nights, intertwined with a few waking hours of sunlight.

Keeping his dream alive, and playing every song as if it was his first "big break" is Japanese "folk" and "blues" singer Yoshihiro Higa, who has been playing live music for over twenty years. Sitting at the live house "Modds" in Koza, I watched from the bar as Higa took the stage to play a few solo songs before his band joined him. Wearing a pair of dark shades with hair parted in the middle, he looked like someone from the late 70's. Acoustic guitar in hand and a harmonica around his neck, he began to play and sing. His voice is raspy and riveting, and his lyrics are incredible. Even if you don't understand Japanese, you soon forget what language he is singing, because his feelings are not only in the words he sings, but in the way he performs. Higa plays with much intensity. He is great on stage, and his energy spreads through the crowd. Higa admits however, "My feelings go directly into the song. Sometimes I forget that there are customers even there. I go into my own world".

After playing solo, his band joins him and they immediately go into a very tight connection. Takashi Ishihara plays an awesome base, and stands cooly in the back sometimes singing backup vocals. Tetsuya Kubota is Higa's solid drum player, and Moritada Yonashiro provides the lead sounds on his red acoustic guitar. Like Higa, the band knows why they are there. There are no elaborate costumes or stage lighting, just musicians playing some great sounding music together. They rarely look up at the audience, but are instead concerned with the music they are creating together as a band. Higa approaches the microphone with each note coming from his gut, and the combination produces an upbeat blues type of folk sound. From listeing to them play, you know that they are veteran musicians.

The 38 year old Okinawan grew up in Okinawa city, surrounded by the music scene there during the 1970's. As a child he was heavily influenced by the sounds of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, B.B. King, and Stevie Wonder, but his biggest hero was local folk singer Yokichi Chinen.

Living and working as a musician in Tokyo for five years taught Higa much about life and the music world. He gained valuable experience playing in front of large audiences, as well as being humbled by the thousands of talented artists all going after the same dream - to make it big. Higa however, soon found out that life in the big city was not for him. "When I was in Tokyo it was so crazy. I wanted to come back to the slow pace life of Okinawa". Higa has also seen many bands come and go over the years, watching young people fall into copying the styles and images that many of the new young "pop" stars create. "Young people today do not know themselves or what they want. The future for them would become much clearer if they focused more on what they want out of life," mentioned Higa.

All of Higa's songs are original. He definitely has a local following, but his plans for his first CD release sometime next year has him hoping his music will spread. He also hopes more Americans will come to watch him play. Higa started to become understanding of Americans when he started to work on base as a commercial artist. "I believe communication between everyone is very important. With communication comes better understanding of each other," said Higa. His music definitely breaks through cultural barriers.

You can catch Higa playing every fourth Friday night of the month at "Modds". It is located in Okinawa city on Route 329. From Gate 2 Street turn right at the Koza intersection. Head down 329 and go passed the 'Sane" supermarket. Look for Okinawa Bank on your left. Modds is located next door above the ramen shop. Higa also performs at several other places around the island. He is scheduled to play at "North Valley" in Chatan on July 17, and again at Modds on July 24.

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