Relatively unknown in the West hitherto, Ichiko Aoba is a folk singer-songwriter from Japan who has been active on the music scene for the last ten years. Blending a personal dreamscape with minimalist classical guitar accompaniment, the singer has released six solo albums to date. It was a visit to the remote small pacific Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Southern Japan that sowed the seeds of her next project. An extraordinary chamber-folk concept album co-written with pianist and composer Taro Umebayashi, Windswept Adan broadens her sound considerably and features a string ensemble, piano, flute, harp, percussions and field recordings.

Originally released in Japan as a double LP on 2 December 2020 on her own Hermine label, Windswept Adan was granted an international release the following year via the Ba Da Bing label (US) and 100% (Europe). Since then, the record has been slowly weaving its magic worldwide.

Ichiko Aoba - Windswept Adan (2020-2021)
Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan (2020-2021)

From an early age, the girl was able to foresee the weather, predict the fate of crops, and even foretell the births and deaths of her fellow villagers. The people grew to fear her, and eventually she was exiled from the village by her own family. She was placed in a small wooden boat and told to sail far away to “Adan Island” and to never return.

Introduced as “a soundtrack for a fictitious movie”, Windswept Adan follows a clear narrative arc which is outlined in Dreams & Visions – A Companion Book published alongside the record (and available in an English translation via 100%). “I started writing the story plot for Windswept Adan before the music” says the singer. Including a synopsis of the story, hand-drawn sketches and diagrams, photographs, some lyrics and even snippets of music notes, Dreams & Visions sets the scene for what is in essence a modern folk tale.

“Dreams & Visions” – A Companion Book

Born on the fictional Kirinaki Island, a young girl is exiled to the neighbouring Adan Island where “language did not exist”. She encounters mythical creatures living on the island who communicate “by giving seashells to one another”. In the midst of a magical world brimming with a lush vegetation and a diverse marine life, the young girl eventually vanishes into thin air to be “reborn into a variety of living things”.

The titular Adan refers to the Adan plants, a species of umbrella trees native to the coastal areas of Asia and Polynesia on which grow bright orange fruits. These are referred to as “the fruits that blossom on the beach” in “Easter Lily”.

On the first track “Prologue”, the grandiose drone of an organ, chiming bells, the sound of softly crashing waves and wordless vocals immediately immerse the listener into an eerie oceanic landscape. Led by the plucked strings of a charango, a quivering flute or slightly saturated guitar strings, “Pilgrimage” and “Porcelain” introduce the movement of the full chamber orchestra.

The flow of the story is punctuated by short minimal interludes such as “Horo” with piano accordion and wordless vocals or “Kirinaki Shima” with layered vocals. Bathed in ambient field recordings, the piano-led “Parfum d’étoiles” (Taro Umebayashi) gorgeously evokes early 20th century classical impressionism.

Introduced by classical guitar, chimes and a string quartet for the chorus, “Easter Lily” and “Hagupit” are superb ethereal folk ballads while “Sagu Palm’s Song” unveils shades of Brazilian bossa nova rhythms. The soundtrack to this enchanting fable seems to culminate and resolve in “Dawn in the Adan”, an exquisite chamber-folk impression of this supernatural universe. Mirroring the “Prologue”, the final “Luminescent Creatures” concludes to the sound of crashing waves.

the coral, a cradle
the shell, a shelter
the sea, a pool of tears
the wind, a song

As a female-led narrative permeated with a mythical sense of wonder and an underlying environmental theme, Windswept Adan evokes at times the otherworldly stories and animism often depicted in fellow Japanese Hayao Miyasaki’s animated fantasy films. With an already existing storyboard and a narrative structure, a future transposition of the project to the stage or the silver screen is a strong possibility.

Ichiko Aoba released digitally a live performance of Windswept Adan in August 2021 last (with two original encores) which was recorded with a full orchestra at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Tokyo two months previously.

Dawn in the Adan / Ohayashi / Luminescent Creatures