The music of Okinawa, the largest island in the Ryuku Island chain south of mainland Japan, has been driven by the innovative playing of multi-instrumentalist Takashi Hirayasu. A founding member of Shokichi Kina and Champloose, Hirayasu helped to bring Western rock and electric instruments to Okinawa's traditional music, min'yo. His tight, rhythmic playing was an important in the success of the band's 1977 hit single, "Haisai Oji-San" (Hello Uncle) and Bloodline, the album that Shokichi Kina and Champloose recorded with American guitarist Ry Cooder. A dedication to world music has been a guiding force throughout Hirayasu's career. In addition to the guitar, he plays sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three-stringed snake skin banjo. This desire to explore a variety of musical influences led him to leave Champloose in the mid-'90s. As he explained in an interview with Folk Roots, "I like all kinds of rhythms, such as African, Caribbean, and Southern Rock, but, Kina only liked Okinawan rhythms." A similar global view set the foundation for Hirayasu's debut album, Kariyushi No Tsuki. As he told Folk Roots, "This album is like the culmination of all my experiences and influences -- from the Ventures when I was 16 to James Brown, the Allman Brothers, Indian, and African music."
In 1999, Hirayasu joined forces with American slide guitar wiz Bob Brozeman to record an album, Jin Jin/Firefly, that fused their diverse traditions. The album was recorded, according to the liner notes, in a "small, traditional, wooden house on Taketomi, the most unspoilt of the Ryukyu islands of Okinawa." The album was a major hit in Europe where it reached the number two position on the world music charts. In July 2000, Hirayasu and Brozeman joined with Greek comedian/urban blues musician George Pilali and Hindustani brothers Debashish and Subhasis Bhattachayarya on slide guitar and tabla for Okinawan, American, Indian, and Greek jam sessions at the Winnipeg and Quebec Folk Festivals.
Initially inspired by western music, Hirayasu played blues, R&B and rock in the bars and clubs surrounding American military bases on Okinawa. His introduction to traditional Okinawan songs came through Tsuneo Fukuhara, a musician, producer, and owner of Marafuko Records, Okinawa's oldest record label. His experimentation with such compositions continued on 2001's Nankuru Naisa. ~ Craig Harris