Archive for Japan

Shamisen vs Taiko

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 14, 2009 by Jack

As part of my ongoing effort to bring you things found by random youtube searching that I think are great, check this out:

I found this a while ago, and I’ve been trying to find out more about the performers so I wasn’t just posting them blind and out of context.

The shamisen is a traditional three stringed Japanese instrument. The specific form of the one in this video is tsugara-shamisen, which originally came to Japan as an import from China 500 years ago, at which time it was considered a poor man’s version of the more traditional instrument. It was often used by blind minstrels travelling door to door to beg for alms.

Shinichi Kinoshita

Shinichi Kinoshita

The guy playing it is Shinichi Kinoshita*, who is a leading modern interpreter of the instrument. He’s known for really experimenting and collaborating with others, including DJs and electronic artists.

Hiroshi Motofuji

Hiroshi Motofuji

In this case it’s a collaboration with Hiroshi Motofuji, a master of taiko drumming. I’m sure many readers will be familiar with taiko, I’ve been lucky enough to see an ensemble perform myself.

What I didn’t know until I started writing this article is that, although it does have much older roots in traditional court music, what we in the rest of the world now know as taiko started in 1951. In Japanese (apparently, I can’t speak or read it) taiko only means “drum”. In the 50s a drummer called Daihachi Oguchi, who had a background in jazz basically took traditional forms and created the first large taiko performance ensemble of the kind that is now familiar around the world.

Hiroshi Motofuji has been playing taiko since he was 10, and has studied and performed percussion around the world. In the late 80s he also helped form Musashi, the first rock band using traditional Japanese instruments. Today he’s in what’s described as “a cutting-edge and urban taiko group”, daKT. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a site for them (yet) to link to.

The name of this song is ‘thunder light’-Rai no Hikaru, and it was composed by Shinichi Kinoshita. The taiko part is meant to evoke thunder and storms.

I had originally just intended to post the video as an example of a cool wee tune, but in fact looking into it both these performers fit a lot of the themes I’ve tried to explore on the blog. The fact that what most of the world would consider straight up traditional Japanese music is actually modern fusions influenced by jazz and DJ culture I think is very interesting. And both these artists are clearly very open to collaboration and experimentation. Here’s some more videos of Shinichi Kinoshita doing just that:


Shinichi Kinoshita collaborating with former DMC World DJ champion DJ Kentaro.


. . .And with DJ Krush.

*This is the best site for him I could find for him in English. If you’re lucky enough to be able to read Japanese, his own site is here.

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