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Rinken Band Returns to Roots

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2001-03-30

One of Okinawa’s best known performers is Teruya Rinken whose Rinken Band has been performing a blend of traditional Okinawan music and up-tempo pop for 24 years. A relaxed looking man who looks younger than his 51 years. Rinken likens the progress of the group to a long ship’s voyage. “I’m the captain but the crew sometimes leave when we drop anchor at various islands and others come aboard. There’s a long distance still to sail.”

Since the band was founded technology has advanced and Rinken has a 48 track studio, the only one on the island in his office/live venue/ restaurant complex in Mihama. But the formula for the band has stayed the same: vocals in the Okinawan language and a mix of traditional and modern instruments.

Rinken had a deal with Sony until last year to do 15 albums. “I thought at the beginning that the music would not become what I fully wanted it to be until the sixteenth” he says. Rinken feels liberated by no longer being under contract to a large corporation. “When you’re tied to a large company, they decide your schedule and when it’s worth promoting you. It’s like waiting for the lottery.”

Now he has formed his own record label, Rinken Records, and relishes the freedom that lets him “decide when, how and what to do” but he feels he has not burnt his bridges with Sony. “I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the corporate types” he declares. “When I was under contract I had a problem always trying to break through the next layer of middle management. Now I don’t have any obstacle that prevents me reaching the president, if I want to.”

When asked whether he completed the 15 albums for Sony, Rinken says that combined with solo albums by his wife Tomoko, who does female vocals for the band, the target was attained. There have also been special projects such as the album with a Chinese orchestra, recorded last November. As for purely Rinken albums, the band is now on its twelfth.

Rinken would like to spend more time playing live but his busy studio schedule at the moment prevents this. He produces about 100 songs a year. These include jingles, tunes for TV commercials, music for theater productions and Tomoko’s albums. He is also producing local female group Tink Tink, whom he directed and wrote the music for in a 1994 film, funded by Sony.

Other types of writing are also within Rinken’s scope. He has a Japanese language book out at the moment which covers philosophical themes. He also writes for local magazine Uruma and as a hobby, writes monthly columns for his own web page.

He once wrote an Okinawan language poem, Haru Demu, about the coming of spring, which was later turned into a song. He was greatly surprised when a school textbook publisher contacted him and asked him for permission to use the poem in one of its books. He agreed and now the poem appears, with a Japanese translation, in a standard Eighth Grade textbook. “It’s a small thing but a great pleasure” he says.


The Rinken band has toured South America, Africa and Europe. Before the last Olympics they played in the USA, France, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Travel away from Okinawa for concerts, recording sessions and mainland TV shows cut into potential live local performing time. The band has not performed much in Okinawa since the 1992 Sony signing.

Although Rinken is determined to change this, there are still travel commitments to fulfill. Next month he is going to China with NHK which wants to make a TV program on roots music. In May there are two dates in the U.K.

This year Rinken’s ambition is to do 35 dates in his own live house, Karahai, and 20 other local dates.

If you want to catch the Rinken Band live on their home turf, they are performing at Karahai this Saturday March 31. Doors open at 8.30 pm and the concert starts at 10 pm. Karahai is just around the corner from the Poona Poona restaurant in the American Village at Mihama. Phone 982-7077.

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