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Collaboration: Masashi Hamauzu, Mina Sakai, and the Revival of Ainu Culture

Imeruat's new album, Black Ocean, was released on April 12th in Japan. In many ways video game fans will feel right at home with the album, which was composed by Masashi Hamauzu (Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy X), and features Mitsuto Suzuki (The 3rd Birthday, Final Fantasy XIII-2) and Mina Sakai (Final Fantasy XIII). However, it also represents a significant departure for Hamauzu that fans may not understand without a full appreciation of what he's trying to accomplish with this album.

The Ainu are an ethnic minority in Japan, residing primarily in Hokkaido. There are an estimated 25,000 Ainu left. The Ainu language is endangered, with an estimated 15 to 100 speakers of the language left alive today.

"Traditional Ainu culture was quite different from Japanese culture. Never shaving after a certain age, the men had full beards and moustaches. Men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders at the sides of the head, trimmed semicircularly behind. The women tattooed their mouths, and sometimes the forearms. The mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip, gradually increasing with size. The soot deposited on a pot hung over a fire of birch bark was used for color. Their traditional dress was a robe spun from the inner bark of the elm tree, called attusi or attush. Various styles of were made, and consisted generally of a simple short robe with straight sleeves, which was folded around the body, and tied with a band about the waist. The sleeves ended at the wrist or forearm and the length generally was to the calves. Women also wore an undergarment of Japanese cloth." (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_people)

Group of Ainu People, 1902 (Wikipedia)

Ainu have faced discrimination in Japan and many have sought to hide their Ainu ancestry so they can more fully blend in with Japanese society. However, a new wave of Ainu awareness and acceptance has begun to take shape. Young Ainu have begun to express more pride in their cultural traditions in an attempt to preserve their culture, language, and to express themselves through their native art. One such group is the Ainu Rebels, featuring Mina Sakai.

Ainu's New Identity

The Ainu Rebels are a music group that mixes traditional Ainu instruments and vocals with contemporary styles such as hip-hop and electronica. Masashi Hamauzu became involved a bit later, composing this song for the group, which was arranged by Ryo Yamazaki (Final Fantasy XIII, Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Cross), with some help from Hamauzu's wife, Matsue Hamauzu (Vocals on Dust to Dust - Final Fantasy XIII).

(You're Beautiful) e=katuhu pirka (Ainu Rebels)

Mina Sakai was featured heavily in the Final Fantasy XIII OST as well, with unique and memorable vocals featured in tracks: Battle Results, The Gapra Whitewood, Choose to Fight, and Sulyya Springs. In addition, Mina was featured in the track Taejin's Tower, playing the traditional Ainu mouth harp.

Choose to Fight (Final Fantasy XIII)

The colloboration between Hamauzu and Mina continues in their new band, Imeruat. Their debut album, Black Ocean, is again, a mix of contemporary electronica, traditional Ainu instruments, Hamauzu's focus on classical western piano compositions, and Japanese, English and Ainu vocals.

Imeruat (Imeruat)

01 - Black Ocean
02 - Cirotto
03 - Leave Me Alone
04 - Giant
05 - Haru no Kasumi
06 - Left
07 - 6Muk
08 - Morning Plate
09 - Imeruat
10 - Little Me
11 - Battaki
12 - Yaysama
13 - Springs

The end result is a breath of fresh of air, and an extremely unique album. Some tracks really fall flat, like Morning Plate and Leave Me Alone. In contrast, Giant is a powerhouse composition that will remind you of Hamauzu's masterful piano work on Final Fantasy XIII. Black Ocean, Left, Springs and Imeruat are more electronics focused, modern tracks reminiscent of some of Hamauzu's electronic work on Final Fantasy XIII. Cirotto, Haru no Kasumi, and Yaysama are quiet, minimalist tracks you might hear in a small bar or coffee shop. And 6Muk and Battaki feature strong, prominent Ainu vocals reminiscent of some American Indian vocal rhythms.

Fascinating album, and I can't wait to hear more from this group, and Hamauzu.
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