This retrospective collection by Okinawa's veteran Rinken Band presents an interesting challenge. To begin with, all notes are in Kanji; transliterations in this review were obtained from the band's English-language web-site. Next, much of the music itself is set to an exuberant yet insouciant martial rhythm, its closest cognate in American musical culture being the pop "bubble gum" music of the seventies. Which raises the central musical question: are these guys serious? Repeated listenings lead me to conclude that, yes, Rinken Band and its leader and founder, Teruya Rinken, are serious indeed, and the pop, bubble-gum cognate is a false one, as "gift" means poison in German, and "poisson" fish in French.
The measured beat, simple synth, and prominent sanshin, a tinny plucked Okinawan string instrument, of the lead-off track, "Nankuru Bushi," illustrate Rinken Band's characteristic sound: male vocal and all instruments solidly on the melody, high spirits reflected in background whistling. "Zan," the second track, introduces one of Qing-Dahmi's greatest oddities and greatest wonders, the otherworldly vocal of Tomoko Uehara, her precise glottal stops and peculiarly thrilling approaches to notes suggestive of opera in an alternate, perhaps backwards, universe. This track also exhibits an uncharacteristic yet pleasant galloping beat and techno production. "Shichigwach-Eisa Machikanti" (track 3) follows a nearly robotically regimented beat, but its vocal energy accords it a detectable sway. Fading in with breaking waves, "Sabani" (track 6) rocks much faster, featuring drum breaks and a simple, upbeat sanshin figure, seemingly interrupted by sporadic vocals. "Chimunikakati" (track 7) is an acoustic treat, featuring Rinken's simple yet articulate sanshin alone in support of Uehara's mesmerizing vocal, aflutter with glottal glissandos. This is followed by "Ishikawa Chin Hinuku," a quick romp featuring tight male harmonies interspersed with Uehara's wails and chirps.
Qing-Dahmi is a challenge, very odd, sometimes humorous music. But its combination of high spirits and improbable beauty ultimately commands attention and appreciation. - Jim Foley
Comment on this music or the web site.
Write a Letter to the Editor