Shima-uta (also spelled shimauta) is Japanese, and literally translates to 'island song'. Generally shima-uta refers to folk songs from the Okinawa and Amami (part of the Kagoshima prefecture) groups of islands. Although it should be noted that shima-uta of Okinawa and Amami differ in style, but both are usually sung in falsetto and tends to have a very somber mood.
Although shima-uta describes an entire genre of music, the word shima-uta has become synonymous with one particular shima-uta song. The song, titled "Shima-uta", is sung from the perspective of a person who has sent a loved one abroad to fight in a war. The singer reminisces of their farewell among the uji (Okinawan word for sugarcane). The chorus implores the shima-uta to ride the wind and carry their love across the sea. The song is very vague on the particulars of the relationship between the singer and the soldier (boyfriend/girlfriend, mother/son, etc.) In fact the song doesn't even mention a war or a soldier, although the older Japanese used seems to indicate that the song was in fact sung during wartime. However because of this vagueness the song can simply be interpreted as a very dramatic "I miss you" song.
The song first gained major public attention in 1993 when the Okinawa loving band, The Boom, released "Shima-uta" as a single in June 1993. The song was written by Kazufumi Miyazawa, the lead singer of the Boom (thank you tongpoo for the info). Miyazawa is heavily inspired by shima-uta and many of the Booms albums include shima-uta inspired tracks. The song proceeded to sell over 1.5 million copies in Japan. The song has been covered by numerous artists from across the world. The most successful cover of "Shima-uta" was released in Argentina, by Alfredo Casero. Casero, a major star in Argentina, first heard the song at a sushi restaurant and immediately fell in love with it. He listened to the recorded version to practice the Japanese, and released his version in December 2001. Despite the fact it was sung entirely in a foreign language, "Shima-uta" eventually reached the top of the Argentinian charts on April 2002. At the same time "Shima-uta" picked up three awards at the Premios Gardel, the Argentinian equivalent of the Grammy Awards. After seeing its success in Argentina, FIFA proceeded to add "Shima-uta" to the Argentinian version of the 2002 FIFA World Cup official album. "Shima-uta" was added to the official album of numerous Latin American countries that participated in the World Cup. The Boom and Casero have performed "Shima-uta" together on numerous occasions including the 2002 Kouhaku Uta Gassen. The Boom had performed Shima-uta at the 1993 Kouhaku, making them the first group to play the same song at two separate Kohaku. I also believe Casero was the first Latin American perfomer to sing at Kohaku.
On a personal note:
This song has significance to the people of Okinawa and I find it very heart warming that it is being shared internationally. Personally I prefer a choral arrangement of "Shima-uta" to those popularized by the Boom and Alfredo Cesero. But regardless of taste I recommend people find one of the numerous versions of Shima-uta and enjoy it for themselves.
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