Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Organizers had to clear more space in front of the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand stage to accommodate the throng of fans who turned out to see and hear Rimi Natsukawa perform at the Okinawan Festival, presented by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, on Sept. 3. And the popular singer from Okinawa did not disappoint. From the moment she walked onto the open-air stage, she had the enthusiastic audience in rapt attention, even in the punishing Sunday afternoon heat.
Backed by a small, but accomplished band of musicians, Natsukawa wasted no time in entertaining her audience, which consisted of people of all ages, Hawai‘i residents and visitors alike. When she made small talk between songs, she spoke mostly in Japanese.
She had no trouble communicating her feelings and passion through her music, however. Her distinctive voice evoked emotion with every note and phrase. Her vocal range remains remarkable, confident and pitch-perfect. For some songs, she played the sanshin — the three-stringed snakeskin-covered Okinawan musical instrument, highlighting her Okinawan roots and foundation in minyö, or Okinawan folk music.
Natsukawa mentioned several times how happy she was to be performing again in Hawai‘i. In March of last year, she performed at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in the “Ryuukyuu no Kaze” concert. The Okinawan Festival presented her with a very different venue and she appeared genuinely moved by the affection the audience members showed her throughout her approximately hour-long performance. Many in the audience were familiar with her songs and participated in a group sing-along when invited, which pleased her. “Subarashii!” (“Wonderful!”) she exclaimed.
Dressed in a colorful, flowing long dress that appeared to have both tropical and Asian design influences, Natsukawa knocked off one crowd favorite after another, including “Nada Sou Sou,” “Shima Uta,” “Asadoya Yunta” and “Shimanchu Nu Takara.” She established an easy-going rapport with the audience, many of whom were more than happy to interject an Okinawan “I-ya sa-sa!” heishi accent, collectively, when given the cue, as well as do the kachashi-like (“slide open the window, close the window”) hand movements that accompanied one of her livelier songs.
Natsukawa responded to calls for one last hana hou (encore) before the performance ended. The hands waving to her in the air as she left the stage appeared to be saying not so much “Goodbye,” as “Thank you” and “Please come again!”