Island Voices: Misako Oshiro

Misako Oshiro is one of the greatest singers of Okinawan traditional songs. Born in 1936 in the Taisho-ku district of Osaka, where large numbers of exiled Okinawans live, she moved to Okinawa when still a child and grew up on the north of the main island in the village of Henoko. She took an early interest in music and by the age of nine could already sing a number of songs. When she was 20 she began learning classical Ryukyu music, and later dance, and became a fan of both Shuei Kohama and Rinsho Kadekaru who were two of leading minyo singers and sanshin players of the time. While working in a restaurant in Ginowan she met songwriter and performer Tsuneo Fukuhara and it was he who encouraged her to begin a serious career in music.

Oshiro became a pupil of Teihan China and in 1962 made her debut single with a recording of his song ‘Kataumui’. In 1973 she played with Rinsho Kadekaru in Tokyo and two years later she appeared at the Ryukyu Festivals held in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. In 1997 she had a 40th anniversary concert and the following year she played a leading acting and singing role in the Okinawan film ‘Tsuru-Henry’ by the director Go Takamine. She appeared later in a cameo role in another popular movie, ‘Hotel Hibiscus’.

Rinsho Kadekaru was quoted as saying that Oshiro is the ideal partner for his singing and they also recorded many times together. Several of these recordings are available on CD on the numerous compilations of Kadekaru’s work which were released after his death. An album of Oshiro’s recordings from 1975 is also available on CD under the title Okinawa Urami Bushi which is Volume 3 of the Victor series Okinawa Shimauta. In 1994 she recorded the simple Kataumui (Unrequited Love) for Victor, an album which was dedicated to her mentor Teihan China. Another album Okinawa Sutandado was released on Abaser Records in 1999 and a later solo album Uta Umui came out on Tokyo’s Tuff Beats label in 2007. Last year she made a joint album – Futari Uta ~ Umui Keisho – together with the prolific young singer and musician Toru Yonaha, also on Tuff Beats.

Misako Oshiro runs her own minyo bar, Shima Umui, which is in Naha and she still sings there regularly. At 74, her voice is not quite as strong as it once was but she remains very active as a singer and sanshin player and recently performed both solo and with her own pupil Kanako Horiuchi at a live house in Naha in support of Horiuchi’s band Ska Lovers.

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