Genji Kuniyoshi

The great Miyako singer and sanshin player Genji Kuniyoshi has died at the age of 90. The iconic performer of the traditional songs of his islands passed away from prostate cancer in hospital in Okinawa this week, on 4th May. His funeral is tomorrow (7th) in Urasoe.

In the same way that singers such as Rinsho Kadekaru and Shouei Kina are inextricably linked with the old Okinawan songs, so Kuniyoshi has long been the foremost representative of the songs of Miyako. Born in 1930, he grew up listening to his grandmother’s folk songs and went on to become the best-known exponent of songs such as ‘Togani Ayagu’ and ‘Nariyama Ayagu’ as well as being renowned for his many performances of the lively ‘Kuicha’ dance song.

I was fortunate to see him perform at the Ryukyu Festival held at Osaka Dome in 1998, and then saw him again ten years ago in Okinawa. There have also been many recordings over the years, but his 18-track album Irabu Togani made for Victor in 2002 contains all the essential songs and was released at a time when he was being rediscovered by a wider audience. He will be sadly missed.

This is his live performance of ‘Togani Ayagu’:

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