Hajime Chitose unplugged

Visit any number of commercial sites — from Hajime Chitose’s official page to Amazon Japan — and it’s tough to find much evidence Hajime was an award-winning Japanese folk singer.

In fact, the regional label Central Gakki, which reissued Hajime’s Shima • Kyora • Umui, barely has distribution outside its area.

So, it’s to the evil file sharing networks to find the young Hajime at her roots.

There isn’t much to describe about Shima • Kyora • Umui, a “best collection” of her two traditional albums. No grandiose arrangements, no backing band, no hit singles.

Just Hajime, a singing partner and a shamisen.

Even if the 22 songs on the album blend together after a while, it’s stunning to hear Hajime standing on her own as a vocalist.

The voice you hear on her commercial work is no fluke — Hajime can navigate musical leaps and bounds her pop work would seldom demand from her.

If anything, Hajime’s traditional work is perhaps better than her pop albums. The expressiveness of her voice gives this music an apparent appeal.

You may never own an album of shimauta in your entire life, but if you made an exception, Shima • Kyora • Umui would be it.

It’s too bad, though, Hajime’s handlers don’t play up this fact. If the Yoshida Brothers can get younger audiences into Tsugaru shamisen music, what’s stopping Hajime from doing the same for shimauta?