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CD REVIEW

Seijin Noborikawa “Suiko Jizai”

by John Potter

With the death of mentor Rinsho Kadekaru in 1999, Seijin Noborikawa became the outstanding singer and sanshin (three-stringed lute) player from the older generation still active in Okinawan music. While Kadekaru was often reserved and reticent, Seigwa (as he’s known) was never anything of the sort — he was even dubbed the “Jimi Hendrix of the sanshin.” In the last decade, he has appeared in two films, collaborated on an album with the sanshin veteran Sadao China; and last year released a “Best of” compilation. This new release is his first solo album for six years.

Noborikawa’s aim in making “Suiko Jizai” is to preserve the old songs for future generations. Most of the 14 tracks are traditional minyo (folk songs) from Okinawa and the Yaeyama Islands further south. One of these, “Hichimun Kuduchi,” blurs the boundaries between minyo and rap and displays him at his very best. There are also two originals.

Never afraid to work with much younger musicians, among the small group of guests here are two Okinawans — the promising singer Natsuki Nakamura and teenage vocalist/sanshin player Hajime Nakasone. The sound remains uncluttered, focusing on the voice, sanshin and shimadaiko (Okinawan drums), while Seigwa also plays his own six-stringed version of the sanshin (san means three), the rokushin.

“Suiko Jizai” is a masterclass that shows why the 76-year-old is still the boss.