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Ryukyu Underground
[riverboat]   review from vijay choksi   


There is no doubt that the globe-electro scene is surfing up the exponential curve these days. Music is being pumped out from every corner of the world followed by an electronified refix, if not already done twice. The best current example would be the Earth 'n Bass compilation by Sultan32, netting almost half the world, from South America to Africa to the Arabian kingdoms to the Indian Subcontinent. And a warm niche is forming to accommodate the quantities of these electro tunes.

But what are we missing?

There is the other half of the world, commonly called the East with centuries upon centuries of fascinating culture and history (not to mention inventions that run half of civilization). It's too bad that the very scene thriving in the west and south Asia has little, if not any inclusion of far-east musical roots.

Until now.
To remedy this comes a production by Ryukyu Underground, an American and British duo, working with sounds and vocals from the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Japan, a.k.a. the Okinawan Islands, and fusing them with modern ambient, dub and drum + bass schemes.

Okinawan minyo (folk music) is exceptionally unique, with distinguished vocals and colloquial vocabulary, much different from mainland Japanese. Okinawan minyo is known for its simplicity, often accompanied by a three-stringed lute called the sanshin and a simple drum. Its simplicity allows for us listeners to take the music into our own dimension with ease. Keith Gordon and Jonathan Taylor cleverly work their way into incorporating often complex drum + bass designs, yet retaining the music's simple, delicate elegance. The plucks of the sanshin strings remain clear and adamant; the vocals, sweet.

Alongside hardcore d+b in "Yanbaru Birdcall" and "Kokusai Dori Dub," tracks like "Tinsagu nu Hana" or "Ashibi Shongane" explore the chill side of their musical excursion. In fact, with their skillful alchemy of equal representation, most tracks are fit for both the dancefloor and your wooden hut in front of the beach on a warm, quiet, breezy summer day.

Surprisingly, a catchy influence in some of the tracks such as "Soi Soi" and "Ashibi Shongane" is the familiar dah-dhin of the tabla and the Indian flute. Why? "It just goes well with the music for some reason," wrote Taylor. So now it has come to it just sounding good. Sometimes I wonder if globalization has any limits.

Hopefully this album can inspire further musical excursions of the far east.



ethnotechno rating: 4 out of 5
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