Island Voices: Tetsuhiro Daiku

Tetsuhiro Daiku was born on the Yaeyama island of Ishigaki in 1948. For many years he has been one of the greatest interpreters of songs from these islands in the far south of the Ryukyus. At various times his music has also incorporated elements of rock and jazz, as well as songs from mainland Japan, and from many of the other Ryukyu islands.

Daiku moved from Ishigaki to Naha in Okinawa at the age of 19. In 1970 he won the NHK national radio and television minyo contest and went on to make several albums for local island labels as well as appearing on mainland Japan at some of the early Ryukyu Festivals. In the 1990s he found the opportunity to develop his musical career further by playing with many different musicians. A crucial meeting occurred when he met the Japanese musician Kazutoki Umezu, who played saxophone and clarinet and had a background in jazz.  Umezu added some startling new arrangements to a collection of Yaeyama songs which Daiku eventually released on Off Note in 1993 as Yunta and Jiraba.

Tetsuhiro Daiku

This remarkable album led to a follow-up, Okinawa Jinta, in which some Japanese songs were included. These were old songs that Daiku had been forced to learn as a schoolchild when Okinawan songs were discouraged or banned at school. He had liked some of them and they were eventually to turn up again done in his own way on this album. The 1996 album Jinta Internationale took the experiments further still and many of the songs were performed with a strong influence from the klezmer-like Japanese chindon style. He released Agarooza in 1998 which had a rock flavour and also featured synthesizer and sampling. In contrast he had made the austere but brilliant Daiku Tetsuhiro album in 1995 with just sanshin accompaniment and his wife Naeko’s backing vocals. He has also made a series of four albums of traditional songs played very simply, for the Disc Akabana label.

Most interestingly, his 2003 release on Off Note was an ambitious double album running to almost two hours of music and entitled Exo-Pai Patirohma. On this Daiku performs many different styles including Okinawan and Japanese songs, a jazz instrumental, and songs from Taiwan and Hawaii. Nearly everything works and this is a truly ‘world music’ album. Three years later he made the strongly chindon influenced Jinta Wonderland together with the band Chindon Tsushinsha, which contained comparatively little Okinawan music. His latest release finds him experimenting again, this time with Indonesian musicians in Bali, on the very basically recorded Gamelan Yunta. Daiku continues to perform regularly and is also a teacher of the sanshin. One of his most recent appearances was at the ‘Sanshin no hi’ event in Yomitan in March this year.

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