Last month, I was interested in visiting Cotonoha Art Space to see an exhibition of paintings by Okinawan artist 宮城オサム (Osamu Miyagi) that were on display. I was checking out the Cotonoha website for more info on the exhibition, when I noticed that a live performance event was booked at the gallery. I immediately recognized the musician’s name from the year I spent on Ishigaki island. Yuusuke Maehana and his wife and manager Asako were introduced to me by a mutual friend. While I was living on Ishigaki, they took me around the entire island on a tour and invited me to numerous music events whenever they happened on the island. Yuusuke often performed at a hidden Jazz space. His music is a combination of traditional Yaeyama-Okinawan folk music, complete with sanshin and modern rock with acoustic guitar. He often performs with a band. Because his family is involved in their town’s cultural heritage, Mr. Maehana also speaks Ishigaki Uchinaaguchi, which is increasingly rarely heard anymore. He also sings in this language in some of his original songs. His music is very beautiful and its refreshing to see a young Okinawan artist combining both traditional elements of his culture and updating them to keep them relevant in this era. He also puts his heart and soul into his music, with the subtle elements of Okinawan culture weaved throughout his work. It also appears that he might just be Okinawa’s answer to Dave Matthews. Check out a performance of his that happened on Iriomote Island earlier this year.
His concert on February 22nd was one of his first concerts on mainland Okinawa, and along with his show at Sakurazaka’s Asylum Music Festival the same weekend, it kicked off his tour of “The Mermaid Project.” This project combines both his live music with illustrations by POKKE104 in addition to children on Ishigaki island. Mr. Maehana’s intent with this particular project is to make a connection between the people of Tohoku who suffered from the 2011 tsunami with those people on Ishigaki whose ancestors survived a similar catastrophic tsunami in the 18th century. He believes that Ishigaki’s ability to rebuild itself after complete destruction and decimation of its population may offer hope to those in Tohoku who feel that the region will not recover. He will donate proceeds from this project to help rebuild Tohoku.
His concert at Cotonoha combined both his live music with these illustrations. I’m always interested in artists and musicians who are interacting with other formats to create new forms of performance, so I was drawn to what he and the illustrator are trying to do. I hope they continue to expand on this project and find a way to create a piece that cohesively fuses both the liveness of his musical performance with the stories being portrayed in the drawings.
He’s currently about to kick off the Tokyo leg of his tour, so if you live in Tokyo please check him out.
If you’re interested in his work, you can check out his website: www.youthke.com (Japanese-site) and his Youtube channel to listen to his music.