Island Voices: Masao Teruya

Masao Teruya is an Okinawan singer and sanshin player who has been around for a long time. While never achieving the fame of some other singers of his generation he has become very familiar through his many radio and television appearances. Born in 1939 in Yomitan on the main island of Okinawa, he studied minyo from Rinzan Teruya the grandfather of Rinken Band’s Rinken Teruya. (The family name is a common one in Okinawa and Masao is not related to these Teruyas). Later, he played sanshin regularly with Seijin Noborikawa, and he also studied to become a teacher of the Nomura school of Ryukyu classical music.

Teruya is quite different from other minyo singers as he has always concentrated on uptempo songs with a strong sense of humour and playfulness. In this respect there is some similarity with his namesake Rinsuke Teruya. He soon began writing his own songs and had big hits in Okinawa with two of them. The first was ‘Tururunten’ and then another song, ‘Chon Chon Kijimuna’, became widely popular.  Teruya also has a career as both a sanshin maker and teacher and has taught sanshin to several Japanese musicians, including the late singer Donto. His own radio show ‘Minyo no Hanataba’, on local Radio Okinawa, has run for over 30 years.

Numerous appearances on stage and television culminated in a leading role in the 2003 movie ‘Hotel Hibiscus’ which was directed by Yuji Nakae. Following his success in ‘Hotel Hibiscus’, Teruya went on to record a solo album called Chon Chon Kijimuna for Campus Records – Nakae wrote the liner notes for the album. The album contains 15 tracks – some traditional but most of them originals – and is an excellent introduction to his musical style. He sings some songs with just sanshin accompaniment and others with a local shimauta backing group including bass and drums.

There is a more serious side to Masao Teruya too and he has involved himself with the annual Peace Music Festa which aims to focus attention on the problem of the American military bases and in particular on the proposed move of the massive Futenma air base to the northern coastal village of Henoko. He appeared at the first two festivals on Henoko beach in 2006 and 2007 and also opened proceedings for the 2009 event in Ginowan.

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