Preview: Yoshida Brothers
Spring Arts Preview
On J-Pop World, a website devoted to Japanese pop music, Ryoichiro and Kenichi Yoshida are listed as coming from Noboribetsu, Hokkaido Japan, standing 172cm tall, with blood type A and being born in 1977 and 1979 respectively. Their band, the Yoshida Brothers, is listed with other bands with names like Denki Candy, MUGWUMPS, Shonen Knife and Petty Booka. The brothers stand out not for their name or blood type, but for their chosen instrument. The Tsugaru shamisen is a three-stringed instrument whose origins are traced back to Aomori prefecture in the northernmost area of the Japanese island of Honsh?. A more robust version of the traditional Japanese shamisen, the Tsugaru shamisen uses heavier strings for a more percussive approach.
In bringing a hip and contemporary attitude to a traditional Japanese art form (with the musical chops to pull it off), the Yoshida Brothers are bringing a new audience to this ancient instrument. Mixing traditional Japanese melodies and rhythmic patterns with global dance beats, they create a music that defies definition while hitting the audience on a visceral level.
In a review of a recent New Zealand concert, the Lumiere Reader had this to say: “They cranked riffs like the best metal bands, threw in chord progressions and harmonies that were positively classical, and structured their songs like pop songs or jazz pieces. They also played some music which contrasted with these Western traditions, melodic progressions which were unusual and dynamic, and referred back to the traditions of the instrument. Each brother would take turn to solo, and they’d play with loud/soft dynamics, repeated riffs, or particular inspired melodic ideas.”
A year ago the brothers wowed audiences in Vancouver and Victoria and are back by popular demand, with shows at the Alex Goolden Hall in Victoria and the Vancouver Playhouse in Vancouver. This time around they are accompanied by a percussionist, Ippiki Takemoto.
The two brothers spoke to The Bulletin through an interpreter.
In their Own Words
You both began studying shamisen at the age of five, an age when most kids just want to play with their toys or their friends. Did your parents get you interested or did you discover the shamisen on your own?
Ryoichiro: A friend who lived in my neighborhood was studying electric piano, and I told our dad that I wanted to study something too. Then, he said “shamisen!” He likes shamisen a lot and wanted us to study it. We really didn’t spend our days only practicing shamisen, though. We of course played and went to school too. Just two hours after we came home were different from other kids.
Are there other musicians in your family?
Brothers: No, our family is not really a musical one . . .
Your first CD sold over 100,000 copies, which surprised a lot of people. Did it surprise you?
Ryoichiro: I didn’t expect shamisen music to become popular like this. After we made our debut, I wanted people in Japan to listen to shamisen and to feel how great it is. It has been 10 years since our debut in Japan and we have been giving concerts to deliver the beauty of this instrument.
Kenichi: I myself was so surprised and no one was expecting it too. I never thought that we could be able to travel overseas and perform like we do today.
You blend the traditional sound of the shamisen with modern jazz and rock music. How is your approach accepted by more traditional players?
Ryoichiro: I heard that there are some controversies, but it doesn’t mean much to us. As I said, we only want to deliver the greatness of shamisen.
Kenichi: I think there are pros and cons. However one thing I can say is that the audiences are supporting us, because we are making new traditions, and that would help to keep the shamisen industry active.
You perform not only in Japan, but all over the world. You played a sold-out show in Vancouver last year. What was your impression of Canadian audiences?
Ryoichiro: First, I was little nervous but the audience was so enthusiastic from the beginning so we could perform with a nice groove. When we entered Canada, we saw lots of green, which reminded me of Hokkaido where we are from.
Kenichi: I was so happy that the show became very exciting, more than I expected. And at that moment I knew I wanted to come back here
This year you are bringing a percussionist with you–Ippiki Takemoto. Does performing with a percussionist change your show a lot?
Ryoichiro: The shamisen is a stringed instrument, but at the same time it is very percussive. It’s easier for me to ride on the beat performing with a percussionist, and easier for audience to listen to too, I guess.
Kenichi: You will see and hear a big difference; it’s a good collaboration with shamisen.
Yoshida Brothers in Concert
Friday May 22, 8PM
Alix Goolden Performance Hall
Tickets: MacPherson Box Office
Saturday May 23, 8PM