Japan Beat: The Yoshida Brothers
You've probably seen them—two young, hair-dyed Shibuya
types in kimono holding shamisenin one of the many advertisements
they've done since bursting onto the scene a few years ago.
But what you may not know is that these guys are for real. Exponents
of the ancient Tsugaru shamisen folk music of northern Japan, Ryoichiro
and Kenichi Yoshida have through their combined efforts revived an art
form that was nearly comatose.
Until the Yoshidas came along, Tsugaru shamisen, named for the Tsugaru
area at the northern tip of Honshu, was music reserved mostly for elderly
musicians recalling bygone days. But when the Yoshida Brothers, who began
studying the three-stringed shamisen as small children, began to improvise
with an unseemly abandon on their instruments, heads started to turn.
The Yoshidas had begun studying the shamisen in their native Hokkaido
at their father's urging, but it wasn't until they began working with
Sasaki Takashi, a Tsugaru master, that they began to take a liking to
the dog skin instrument. The most impassioned and evocative of the three
main types of shamisen, Tsugaru allowed the Yoshidas to express themselves
freely. "We play with our whole bodies and spirits," Ryoichiro
Devoting themselves as students to their instruments five to six hours
a day, the Yoshidas swept contests as teenagers, coming to national prominence
when a New Year's Eve concert was televised nationwide in 1997. Their
first CD, Ibuki (Breath) sold more than 80,000 in 1999, a remarkable figure
for a recording of traditional Japanese music, and the year 2000's follow-up,
Move, sold equally impressively.
Meanwhile, the Yoshida Brothers have sparked a nationwide surge in interest
in shamisen music. The year 2000's All Japan Tsugaru Shamisen Contest
included 280 contestants, nearly 10 times the number of aspiring players
two decades ago.
Ibuki and Move are available on Victor Entertainment. For more information
see yoshida-kyodai.com (Japanese).
Image: JVC Victor