The southwestern Japanese island of Okinawa, a humid and mountainous region situated between the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea, is home to well over a million people. Due in great part to its geographical proximity to Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Japan - as well as its extensive post WWII contact with the United States - Okinawan culture is a unique amalgam in which one sees the influence of many diverse traditions. Of all Okinawan art forms, this unique diversity is perhaps most obviously reflected in the island's music, which draws upon musical sensibilities from Polynesia, Southeast Asia, the U.S., and China. The preeminent Okinawan popular music group the Rinken Band maintains its ties to this unique cultural diversity while updating its sound for today's popular music audiences. Formative roots for the Rinken Band were established in 1977 in the form of a back-up band for Nenes' producer, Sadao China. The members of this early group stuck together, made a band of their own, and eventually gained notoriety across Okinawa in 1985 with their hit song Arigato. Rinken Band has continued to gain both national and international recognition through their many recordings and live performances.
Stylistically speaking, the Rinken Band fuses music from the Okinawan Ei-sa festival (similar to the Japanese Bon Odori), min'yo (a traditional Okinawan style of song with a lengthy tradition), and upbeat pop songs. Vocalist Tomoko Uehara, who has an ethereal voice that smoothly swings in and out of croon-like falsetto melodies, is featured on many of the band's soothing ballads. Along with Tomoko Uehara, who also plays Okinawan drums, sanbas (castinets), and the sanshin (an Okinawan three-stringed plucked lute with a snakeskin head), are the band's six other members: Yosimi Kuwae (vocals and Okinawan drums), Katsunori Inafuku (vocals and Okinawan drums), Toyoharu Ookawa (vocals and Okinawan drums), Kazunari Uechi (drumset, Okinawan drums, and sanshin), Akira Uehara (bass), Kiyohito Yamakawa (keyboards), and Rinken Band leader/founder,Teruya Rinken (electric and acoustic sanshins). With well over 30 years of experience as an ensemble and over a dozen recording out on the market, the Rinken Band stands out as both world-class musical innovators and international ambassadors of Okinawa's unique cultural heritage.