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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony

Staff writer

When Kazufumi Miyazawa, vocalist of the Japanese rock band The Boom wrote the song titled "Shima-uta" about 15 years ago, no one imagined the path it would take, starting as a huge domestic hit and then gaining a life of its own abroad.

News photo
Artists who have covered "Shima-uta" (from left) Tomek Makowiecki from Poland, Catia from Brazil and Diana Arbenina from Russia join singer Kazufumi Miyazawa at a news conference to promote his latest single.

Shima-uta is a generic term for Okinawan folk songs. Miyazawa took it as the title of his song, which poetically addresses the tragedies suffered on the southern islands during World War II. In 1993, the song recorded more than 1 million singles sales with its memorable chorus:

Uji no mori de anata to deai,

Uji no shita de chiyo ni sayonara.

Shima-uta yo kaze ni nori tori to tomoni umi wo watare,

Shima-uta yo kaze ni nori todokete okure watashi no namida

(I met you in a sugar-cane field,

I bid you farewell forever beneath the sugar-cane field.

Shima-uta, ride the wind and cross the ocean with the birds,

Shima-uta, ride the wind and carry my tears.)

Since then, cover versions of the song have been released in at least 11 countries, including China, Chili, Argentina, Mexico and the United States. The cover by Argentine musician Alfredo Casero in 2001 is notable because he sang the song in Japanese, and it became the supporters' anthem for the country's soccer team during the 2002 World Cup finals. And the song's overseas journey didn't end there. A cover version in Polish was just released in April.

Few people could have predicted that Miyazawa, a rock singer who hails from Yamanashi Prefecture, would have scored such a hit with an Okinawan-style song. The global response, however, has broaden his horizons, the singer said.

"To see audiences at concerts in Poland as well as Bulgaria and Russia proved to me that music is universal," Miyazawa said at a news conference upon his tour from a European tour earlier this year.

He cites its melody as the reason why "Shima-uta" can travel so well, easily making the leap to bossa nova and pop, and become popular anywhere.

"The melody is quite simple. Anybody can hum it easily, even though it's a Japanese song," he said.

The view was shared by singers who covered his song. When asked about the popularity of "Shima-uta," Catia, a bossa nova singer from Brazil who is based in France, said, "Once you hear [the song's melody], you can never forget it."

Catia was in Japan partly to help promote Miyazawa's new single on which he collaborated with singers who have covered "Shima-uta." The new single, "Hitotsu shika nai chikyu (The One and Only Earth)," was released in April, along with "Koshika," which is Miyazawa's cover of a song by Russian rock Diana Arbenina, who has also covered "Shima-uta" in Russian.

"The musicians singing on ['Hitotsu shika nai chikyu'] are very different in terms of the type of music they play, their nationality and their age," Miyazawa said. "But they are all the same as human beings. That is what the song is about."

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