What a Wonderful Day
I hope I didn’t lose all of you to this new column by first off calling everyone a weaboo, and secondly featuring a raucous early hardcore band for my first installment. But I just wanted to show everyone that this is SERIOUS BUSINESS. There are way bigger anime nerds out there, but by the time I die I will be Music Nerd Ichiban! So… Shoukichi Kina.
Born June 10, 1948 and still going strong today, Shoukichi Kina (or, I suppose, more properly Kina Shoukichi) is a shamisen player, singer, and songwriter from Okinawa. As with many aspects of Okinawan culture, the music can be far different from the traditional tunes of the rest of Japan. Not to mention, Okinawa has spent most of its postwar life occupied by an American military force it doesn’t agree with. Combine these factors with the charged energy of the 1960s, when the entire world seemed to become aware of counter-opinions, and you get Kina-san’s band Champloose — the politically charged group of folk-rockers known as “Okinawa’s only garage rock band.”
Now, being led by a shamisen player, you won’t find a trace of American-style garage rock in here — in fact, it’s very much a pleasant folk-rock sound, but the punk energy and raw rocking feel make it a truly unique experience.
- Genre: Folk/Pop
- Location: Okinawa
- Active: 1967-current
- Album to get: Peppermint Tea House (Luaka Bop)
The songs are really what make Kina a legend. He wrote one of his best known songs, “Hasai Oji-san” (in which an upstart youth gets schooled by an elder in the ways of getting women) when he was only 16 and locked up on pot charges. Here’s one of Champloose’s classic singles, Shimaguwa Song.
Kina kept trucking through the 1970s and 80s, and by far his best-known (and possibly best) recording hit in 1989. It’s called Blood Line, and it’s probably best known to Westerners because of the inclusion of guitarist Ry Cooder. One of my favorite tunes off here is this combo, “Mimichiri Bozu/Danju Kariyushi” (“Ear Cutting Samurai Monks/ What a Wonderful Day”).
Get together, y’all
There are a few threads that run throughout his music. One is of course, the shamisen, his instrument of choice. Another is the chorus of squeaky-voiced girls who trade vocals with him. Along with his amazing gift for melody, they add a lot to the main trait of his tunes: A sense of overwhelming joy and love. He’s often compared to Bob Marley, probably because the two were friends later in Marley’s life, but also because of the power of each’s music to inspire people. Rather than force politics angrily into his music, Kina choose instead to fill listeners’ hearts with a sense of togetherness and happiness.
The rock continues
Kina is now a member of Japan’s House of Councillors, and it’s been a while since he released a record of all-new material.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to come across a best-of compilation on this side of the Pacific, thanks to Talking Heads’ David Byrne, whose record label Luaka Bop released the mouthful Asia Classics 2: Peppermint Tea House — The Best of Shoukichi Kina. It’s available in stores and as downloads from Emusic, Amazon (higher quality cheaper, and DRM-free) and music overlord iTunes. Note: That’s not an affiliate link, just convenience. I urge everyone to try this stuff out; I feel like such a cheeseball that it makes me so happy, but that’s its power.
There’s a lot more to read at Champloose’s official site, that is if you can read Japanese.