Interview with Japanese Folk Music Group Ryuz, Performer at Rainforest World Music Festival



Ryuz was formed in 2011 under the name of “Hidden Dragon,” and made its debut at the International Sharq Taronalari Music Festival in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in August 2011. There, the group received the Special Award for its receiving the biggest support from the audience. Since then, the group has performed in and out of Japan. The group changed its name to “Ryuz” in 2013.

The Japanese art of music and singing is in a completely different realm from typical Western art forms – it is often governed by the nature of human breaths rather than a metrical pulse. Min’yō, the traditional folk music reflected everyday life: working songs, religious songs, children songs, songs of birth, death, weddings.

Ryuz is scheduled to perform on Sunday, June 22nd at 3.30 pm at the Theatre Stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysian Borneo.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

The members are three top Japanese musicians: Shigeri Kitsu who is well known for her original style of folk singing while accompanying herself on folk drum; Kazuki Kunihiro, a highly creative composer and vocalist; and superb tsugaru-shamisen (traditional string instrument) player, Nobuto Yamanaka.


Shigeri Kitsu
Shigeri Kitsu


The group is exploring music transcending musical borders, and the repertoire consists of Japanese folk music in an original Ryuz style, as well as new compositions by Kunihiro. The most essential point is that not only Kunihiro, but also two other traditional musicians have unusual ability and sense to pursue the policy.


Kazuki Kunihiro
Kazuki Kunihiro


Kitsu’s powerful singing and high level drumming skills combined with attitude toward disseminating folk song as Japanese soul music has allowed her to collaborate with many big-name musicians in the Japanese Western music scene including Haruomi Hosono (a former member of Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto), jazz saxophonist Akira Sakata, jazz guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, etc. Nobuto Yamanaka is also one of the most powerful tsugaru-shamisen players, who has won many major competitions, and his rich musicality is yet beyond genre. Kunihiro is super original and creative composer and vocalist who is active also in the theater scene.


Nobuto Yamanaka
Nobuto Yamanaka

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

We are pursuing a very original method, in the sense that we anatomize folk song as contemporary music and extract something fresh to develop it into a new piece. So, we have no special influences.

Tell us about your first recording.

We are in the process of making the first CD.

Can you share some information about the program you’ll present at the Rainforest World Music Festival?

The program will consist of Japanese folk song in an original Ryuz style, as well as new compositions by Kazuki Kunihiro inspired by folk music. The program will also include “tsugaru-shamisen kyokubiki,” a special technique of tsugaru-shamisen to show player’s high technique in an improvisational way.

How’s the current traditional and roots music scene in Japan?

There are uncountable genres in the traditional Japanese music, so it’s not possible to answer the question briefly. If I say something in connection with our members, the tsugaru-shamisen used to be an accompanying instrument, but is now often used for solo performance because of its percussive and spectacular playing technique.

There are some very popular solo tsugaru-shamisen players, which is a special phenomenon in the folk music scene. The reason why Kitus is well received will also be because her attitude toward disseminating folk song as soul music will be fresh for the audience, although her style itself is very traditional. Thus, I feel the folk music scene has reached some turning point to seek what the tradition or the folk will be for us today (although there are too many terrible and meaningless “collaborations” recently though).

What musical instruments do you use?

As stated earlier, Shigeri Kistu will sing while accompanying herself on folk drum (called “minyo taiko” in Japanese). Nobuto Yamanaka will play the tsugaru-shamisen (three-stringed instrument). Kazuki Kunihiro will sing, and play the drum and guitar.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

We will enjoy any musicians who have powerful performing skill, strong originality and rich musicality, and a strong interest in challenging something new with other musicians.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

We will have a concert in the autumn in Japan.

The official website is

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eleven − nine =