Important Names in Classical Okinawan Music

Genealogy of Ryukyuan Musicians

赤犬子 Akainko. Akainko was a well-renowned traveling singer who lived during the reign of King Shō Shin (1477-1527). Born on the island of Tsuken, he later settled on the main island of Okinawa. He is the legendary “father of uta-sanshin” who is said to be the first to couple the plucking of the sanshin with singing. A monument stands in his memory in Yomitan, where he is said to have lived and taught until his death.

湛水親方 Tansui Uwēkata (1623-1683). Tansui Uwēkata, known also as Kōchi Kenchū, is often referred to as the “father of classical music” because he is credited with formalizing uta-sanshin music into a serious art form in the royal court. All subsequent styles of classical uta-sanshin music find their roots in his style. Tansui is also credited with composing the musical pieces “Tsikuten Bushi”, “Janna Bushi”, “Shuyi Bushi”, “Shudun Bushi”, “Akatsichi Bushi”, and “Hai Tsikuten Bushi,” which are all still played in varying forms today. Though only a few songs survived, his original style is today preserved as Tansui Ryū.

屋嘉比朝奇 Yakabi Chōki (1716-1775). Yakabi Chōki was a student of Terukina Mongaku and inherited the music style created by Tansui Uwēkata four generations earlier. Trained in Noh, Yakabi introduced elements of this Japanese art into uta-sanshin music. He is most noted for leaving behind a collection of 117 sanshin transcriptions—the oldest known sanshin scores in existence today. These scores would serve as the basis for later transcriptions, including the ones used by all uta-sanshin players today. Yakabi is also known for composing the songs “Nubui Kuduchi” and “Kudai Kuduchi.”

安富祖正元 Afuso Seigen (1785-1865). One of the two dominant styles of Okinawan classical music, Afuso Ryū, is based on the music style of Afuso Seigen. Afuso studied under Chinen Sekkō alongside Nomura Anchō and is said to have retained his master’s style. One of Afuso’s most noted works is the “Kadō Yōhō”, a primer on the proper conduct and performance of a classical musician.

野村安趙 Nomura Anchō (1805-1871). Nomura Anchō was a student of Chinen Sekkō alongside Afuso Seigen and Ōnaga Peichin. He served as musical director at the investiture ceremony for the last Ryūkyū king, Shō Tai. Under the king’s orders, Nomura worked with his students Matsumura Shinshin and Yamauchi Seiki to compile and edit song scores which would later become the basis for the Nomura Ryū scores. While former scores were written freehand, Nomura introduced a system of blocks to clearly demarcate the rhythm. This is the format that is universal to all sanshin scores today. Nomura also revolutionized classical music by introducing a singing style that was simpler and more natural than the predominant style at the time. Today, Nomura Ryū is the largest school of Okinawan music in the world.

伊佐川世瑞 Isagawa Seizui (1872-1937). Isagawa Seizui inherited the musical style of Nomura through Kuwae Ryōshin. In 1924, Isagawa founded the Nomura Ryū Ongaku Kyō Kai (“The Association for the Nomura Style of Music”) and became its first president. The association has since grown to be the largest Okinawan classical music organization in the world with branches in Hawai‘i and the Americas. Isagawa’s most noted contribution is his co-authorship of the Seigakufū-Tsuki Kunkunshi with Serei Kunio, which was released in 1953 long after his death. These were the first sanshin scores to include vocal notations which were created by Serei and based on Isagawa’s singing. This compilation (and the song style) has become the standard for all Nomura Ryū practitioners since.