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Yukito and "Sunday" bring Ryukyu sounds to new generation

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-09-18

In front of a packed audience at Ginowan's outdoor concert stage on September 1, two men began to play the same music they both grew up with on the southern Okinawan island of Ishigaki. There was no electric guitar or bass to be seen, nor were there any back-up vocalists doing fancy dance steps behind them.

They looked too small for the stage they stood upon, but as the familiar sound of the Okinawan sanshin and taiko drum began to fill the air, the audience quickly responded with cheers and rhythmic clapping. A few songs later, everyone was on their feet.

Only a short time before, the audience was listening to Latin pop music and some soulful hip hop. In many cultures traditional music is fighting to avoid extinction, but Yukito and "Sunday" were proving that Okinawa's own music is still very much alive and well. The audience embraced everything the men threw at them, and they actually raised the intensity level a notch during their final song when Yukito started to "jam" on his sanshin, adding flavor and personality to the performance.

The crowd gave them a warm round of applause, whistling and yelling came from all angles. As Yukito and "Sunday" slipped off stage, fans kept screaming words of adoration.

As a duo, Yukito and "Sunday" have been playing traditional Okinawan music together for the past 10 years, but their roots extend much further back. Yukito was practically raised with sanshin music; his grandfather played and his father was a sanshin instructor. "Sunday," who was born in Osaka but raised in Ishigaki, started playing the taiko drum at the request of his friend and future band partner, Yukito, after graduating high school.

Since that time, both musicians have managed to become quite successful and influential within the local music industry. They sometimes perform solo and are also members of the well-known band "Parsha Club," which is scheduled to release a new CD this month. As members of "Parsha Club," they have helped to create a new kind of Okinawan music that has become very popular with young Okinawans and mainland Japanese.

When playing together as a duo, they still manage to capture the ears of a generation exposed mainly to American rap, hip hop, and Japanese pop music with a sound that is mostly associated with a much older generation. The classic style of sanshin play from the Yaeyama islands, which Yukito's father taught him during those early years on Ishigaki, mixed together with island taiko rhythms form the energy from which they draw upon while on stage. The energy is infectious and gets young people to dance. It is the soul of their music and transcends to the audience whenever and wherever they play. Somehow, Yukito and "Sunday" have been able to jump generation barriers and bring to life a form of old music that has given their listeners new power.

Backstage, after their performance at Ginowan, both men are relaxed and talk about their music together. "I personally like to play the traditional songs of Yaeyama," said Yukito, "but I also like to ad-lib on some of the faster songs. Most sanshin players don't ad-lib when they play - I think more should."

Although they have played together as a duo for 10 years, they have only put out one CD. Both said that they are hoping to release a new CD sometime soon.

"Sunday" mentioned that he would like to collaborate with other musicians, but is not thinking too much about the future. "I like to play no matter where it is or who with," he said.

"We hope that if people who have never heard our music before come out to listen to us play, they come not thinking about listening to traditional Okinawan music, but that they come and simply enjoy themselves," said Yukito.

If you have a chance to see the two musicians perform, keep an ear open for upcoming concert dates in the Japan Update. You can catch them performing as part of "Parsha Club" on September 20 at "Club D Set" from 9 p.m.

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