The Japan Society: 'Shamisen Sessions 3: A Salute to Tradition' - 20 November 2014

Japanese music, specifically a shamisen performance, can be a hard sell initially, but a Westerner might find some similarities with Appalachian folk music.

Shamisen Sessions 3: A Salute to Tradition

City: New York, NY
Venue: The Japan Society
Date: 2014-11-20

Last year around Thanksgiving time, I was visiting Japan. I didn't attend any kabuki or any noh performances nor did I check out any music (though Paul McCartney played there days before I arrived). I did however check out something that does translate well, giant robots. It's not just that I'm not familiar with many Japanese bands, though few if any cross over into the US market, it's that those theater productions are often lengthy which makes it difficult to approach (which section of the performance should I see?) and, in this case, the instrumental music doesn't have a specific rhythm or catchy chorus for one to grasp onto. So I didn't risk a show in Tokyo, but I was lucky to catch a rare and masterful set of shamisen performances in New York at the Japan Society.

The performance on November 20th was dubbed 'A Salute to Tradition' and it was divided into four segments, excluding an intermission, with three different traditional styles of shamisen performances being featured. The first was titled "Kanjincho", the second "Zangestu" (a solo effort from Hirokazu Fujii), the third "Tamagawa" and the finale, "Komochi Yamamba, Kuruwa-banashi no Dan". I was most excited by the third and fourth pieces. The third was indicated as a piece about the titular river running through Tokyo which had the feeling of tranquility at times and the rush of the water making rapid headway down stream at others. The final work was an entertaining story about a courtesan who comes across her husband at a palace and his deeds and quest to avenge his father. It apparently is the second part of a five part play but the show notes indicate only this part is still performed. The story was recited by one of Japan's Living National Treasures, Komanosuke Taekmoto, whose telling was translated into English over her head on the wall. At a couple of humorous moments, a coy dancer was helping to embellish the story during this section, I could sense the audience repressing laughter in order to not interrupt the performance.

While I didn't understand the language and the lyrics (exception noted above), I still felt some connection to the music as it felt similar to Appalachian folk music. Sometimes the vocals hummed like a drone forming guttural sounds similar to yodeling. The shamisen itself had a sharp twang that made me think of a banjo but with more nuance. If the audience hadn't been utterly silent (as they mostly were), then the contrast of the stark strumming wouldn't have been as powerful as it resonated around the cozy auditorium. The The show was thrilling to observe and everyone in the audience seemed particularly transfixed -- there wasn't a bad seat in the house. It's worth noting that the Japan Society will present The Shamisen Sessions 4: 'SAKISHIMA meeting duo from Okinawa' on December 12th. But more info regarding The Shamisen Session 3: 'A Salute to Tradition' can be found here.

Visit Facebook to see a larger gallery of images.

From The Japan Society Page: "Artists include: Fujii Hirokazu (jiuta chanter/shamisen), Takemoto Komanosuke (gidayu chanter, Living National Treasure), Tsuruzawa Yumi aka Yumiko Tanaka (gidayu shamisen), Tsuruzawa Tsugahana (gidayu shamisen), Imafuji Chotatsuro (nagauta shamisen), Kineya Katsujuro (nagauta shamisen), Kineya Mitsuya (nagauta chanter) and Hanayagi Genkuro (nihon buyo traditional dancer)."





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.