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Goin’ Japanesque!

The World Praised Shamisen Performance of Yoshida Brothers

The Main Theme Music of Naruto Exhibition in 2015

 

Shamisen

三味線

shamisen1
Ukiyoe: Woman Playing Shamisen by Utamaro Kitagawa (1803)

Shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument with a history of about 500 years. Compared to other Japanese instruments such as koto (harp) and shakuhachi (bamboo flute), it appeared later in history.

Related: Japanese Taiko Drum Basics: See the Shape, Know the Name

shamisen2
https://www.flickr.com

It was originally developed as an accompaniment instrument for folk songs and has only three strings of different diameters. The sound variety created by this instrument is impressively rich for the small number of strings, which makes it a unique instrument not comparable to many other instruments around the world. In many of the music that you hear and seems somewhat typical to Japan, you should be able to notice the sound of shamisen in some way or another.

shamisen3
http://www.shamisen-katoh.com/

There are 3 types of shamisen depending on the thickness of neck; thin, middle and thick. Tsugaru Shamisen (Tsugaru is an area in Aomori Prefecture), the sound of which many of you must have heard at least once, mainly belongs in the thick type. The thick type is also known to be used in Bunraku (traditional puppet play).

The neck part of many shamisen is foldable into three parts. It is for better portability and storability for one thing, and for the stability and strength of neck for another. The foldable structure is the product of highly sophisticated Japanese craftsmanship.

 

Yoshida Brothers – Outstanding Brand of Tsugaru Shamisen

yoshida-brothers-shamisen2
http://www.music-lounge.jp/

Shamisen had been on a steady course of decline along with many other Japanese traditional instruments because it could not catch the attention of young people. But a pair of two young men finally put an end to such a situation and triggered an unprecedented boom in the genre of Japanese folk music (minyo). It’s the Yoshida Brothers.

Both of the brothers started playing shamisen at the age of 5. After winning numerous championships and awards, they released a shamisen album titled “Ibuki” in 1999. The debut album saw a huge success and sold over 100 thousand copies, which was exceptional in the genre of Japanese folk music. Another big milestone in their career came when their song “Kodo (Inside the Sun Remix)” was featured in the TV commercial of Nintendo Wii, which was aired nationwide in the US and fueled their international fame as shamisen players.

What was the secret behind their great popularity? The first thing we have to consider is their originality. Their musical style is so unique that you cannot label them simply as one of the best shamisen players but their music almost stands out as a single genre in its own right. Now they have grabbed the souls of many young listeners and kept bringing fresh breeze in the world of shamisen.

 

Blend of Tradition and Modernity

Yoshida Brothers have expanded their activities into the collaboration with various other artists. They are never particular about music genres and work in a wide range of genres from rock, pops, classical to club music. Their shamisen play arranged to suite any modern musical style has totally changed the old preconception of shamisen as an accompaniment to folk music to that of a leading instrument. Their modern style original songs featuring shamisen play throughout in the foreground have also gained great popularity.

 

Shamisen by Yoshida Brothers has crossed the borders of generations, countries and times. Their music has always amazed and inspired audiences around the world. The innovative style of their music will surely keep becoming the subject of renewed attention. If you ever have the chance, make sure to visit their live concert because their style of music can be best enjoyed live and they are regularly touring around the world.

Related: Learn from BABYMETAL, Japan’s First on the Cover of METAL HAMMER

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