Chiyomi Yamada, My Land Review


Chiyomi Yamada, My Land Review

by J. Pepper

Chiyomi-Yamada-All-About-Vocals-CDChiyomi Yamada and the Japanese folk band Baobab have masterfully woven together the threads of traditional Japanese folklore and European musical sensibilities in the album My Land. Yamada, a native of Fukuoka, Japan, has traversed the realms of classical, Baroque, and polyphonic music, imprinting her vocal style with a rich, multicultural flavor. The album serves as a conduit, uniting her extensive European musical experiences with her Japanese heritage in a captivating way.

My Land is a cultural journey through the melodies of ancient Japanese folk songs with modernistic touches of European folk-pop, particularly with a distinct Celtic influence that can be unexpectedly harmonious. The album engages the listener with its innovative fusion, reflecting Yamada’s lifelong exploration and synthesis of disparate musical traditions. The vocals, primarily led by Yamada with contributions from Baobab’s Maika and Mirai Matsumoto, are a highlight of the album, showcasing a range of expressions from the robust and melodic to the ethereal and subdued.

Historically, the Japanese vocal tradition is markedly different from the Western approach, often characterized by a nasal tone and a pentatonic scale, which contrasts sharply with the Western chromatic and diatonic scales. However, Yamada utilizes her classically trained soprano voice to blend these traditions, sparingly melisma, and vibrato, to accentuate the emotional depth without overshadowing the intrinsic qualities of the folk melodies. Her technique of maintaining a consistent vocal style, whether singing European classical music or Japanese min’yō, demonstrates her mastery and deep respect for both traditions.

The use of traditional Japanese instruments like the shinobue and taiko, in tandem with Western string instruments, creates a captivating soundscape. The Matsumoto siblings, through their adept play on the fiddles, viola, and guitars, significantly contribute to the album’s dynamic range, from delicate string arrangements to robust, rhythmic patterns that underpin Yamada’s vocal explorations, adding a layer of musical diversity and richness.

A standout piece, “Akita Obako,” commences with a poignant solo by the shinobue flute, setting a contemplative atmosphere that allows Yamada’s voice to soar and delve into the song’s narrative. This track epitomizes the album’s thematic emphasis on nature and spirituality, elements deeply ingrained in Shinto practices where music serves as a conduit for communion with the natural and divine.

The production, led by Jonas Niederstadt, is meticulous, capturing the essence of the live instruments and vocals in a way that feels both expansive and intimate. His approach to recording—choosing unconventional locations like a forest for the taiko drums—adds a layer of authenticity and acoustic richness that is seldom heard in studio-produced albums.

My Land is an auditory journey through the landscapes of Japan’s music, guided by Chiyomi Yamada’s vocal skill and Baobab’s instrumental agility. It is a reflection on the fusion of cultures, an homage to the past, and a bold step into the future of world music. Yamada’s return to her roots has not only revived traditional Japanese music but has also redefined it, presenting it through a lens that is both reverential and revolutionary.

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