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Okinawan Minyo
In order to understand the different styles of Okinawan music, you first have to know their origins. The use of the sanshin in traditional Okinawan music is believed to have originated with the Ryukyuan nobility during the reign of Sho Shin (1477-1525), when a significant amount of trade was conducted with the Chinese. These noblemen were so impressed with the sanxian used in traditional Chinese folk music that they adopted it, made a few minor changes and made it their instrument of choice. Traditional Okinawan music, of course, had a long history prior to the coming of the sanshin, but the sanshin helped express the musicians' feeling in a more dramatic fashion.

Sanshin is translated into English as "three strings," or the three-stringed guitar. The sanshin is smaller than a guitar and usually has a snakeskin cover. Some observers refer to it as a banjo because of its small size and the high pitch it releases when traditional Okinawan music is played on it.

Okinawan music can be categorized into four main groups according to its island of origin: Okinawa-honto, Miyako, Yaeyama and Amami. Songs of Okinawa-honto tend to be sophisticated, smooth and rich with the classic tunes of the people. Miyako's music is filled with elegant melodies and tales of the natural disasters that fill the island's history. The music of Yaeyama includes many festive songs, while Amami tends to have music that is somewhere in between Japanese and traditional Okinawan, leaning more towards an Okinawan singing style.

Sooner or later in your search for traditional Okinawan music you will hear the terms "minyo" and "shimauta." Referring to traditional folk music, minyo can be found everywhere in Japan. The majority of Okinawan minyo is based on the lives and experiences of its writers. The term "shimauta" means "island song" and was coined in the past 30 years.

The Okinawans have experimented with the use of various instruments in their music. The typical instruments of choice are the sanshin and taiko (drums), but some artists have used the violin, mandolin, trumpet and even the tambourine. The Okinawan music community is said to produce a new song each day and is one of the few communities as vibrant today as it was 500 years ago. Songs have been written about any and everything, including an onion song, a fish song and even songs about the stars.

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Okinawan Minyo
Okinawan Rock

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