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Enka - Japan's soul music



Enka was Japanese popular music before and following WW2. Nowadays, enka music is most popular among the older generations. Many enka songs deal with topics such as unlucky love and nostalgia. Enka singers, especially women, usually perform wearing a kimono.

Enka has been described as the "nihonjin no kokoro", the soul of the Japanese. It's about lost love, homesickness or simply drowning the sorrows of a broken heart with sake. The songs feature fog or rain, a smouldering cigarette that means loss, the sad, unbearable farewell at a desolate port, somewhere far from home. This is the world of enka.

Enka (from enzetsu, meaning public speech, and ka, meaning a song) is more than 100 years old, and, despite what some younger Japanese say, it is still enormously popular in Japan. Originally it was a form of political dissent, disseminated by song sheets, but it quickly changed in the early twentieth century as it became the first style to truly synthesize Western scales and Japanese modes. Nakayama Shimpei and Koga Masaowere were the trailblazing composers. Koga's first hit in 1931, Kage Wo Shitaite (Longing For Your Memory), remains a much-loved classic.

Enka seems to be everywhere in Japan. Special television programmes like Enka no Hanamichi pump it out, and you'll hear it in restaurants and bars And, of course, it received a major boost with the invention of karaoke, which helped to spread the genre's popularity both with younger Japanese and foreigners. The classic image is of enka queen Hibari Misora decked out in a kimono, tears streaming down her face as she sobs through Koga's Kanashi Sake (Sad Sake), with typically understated backing and single-line guitar. Hibari had the nakibushi (crying melody) technique and a stunning vibrato-like Kobushi which makes the listener's hair stand on end.

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