10. Tsugaru Shamisen in raw

We’ve reached the tenth blog entry and it was about time to introduce you to a Tsugaru Shamisen album.

A few weeks ago, I already recommended Nutrad by Agatsuma and Renaissence by the Yoshida Brothers, both of which are fantastic albums, but are still sweetened with other genres. There is no problem mixing genres, but when it comes to enjoying the instrument and its characteristics, these can be overlooked and lose the essence of its sound along the way.

That’s why this week I’m going to tell you about Hishou, an album that changed my way of seeing the instrument and grabbed me so strongly that it led me to buy a Tsugaru Shamisen.

Released in 2006, with the subtitle Shamisen Dake no Sekai (A World of Shamisen Only), Hishou is the most resounding album in his entire discography. An ode to Tsugaru Shamisen in its purest form, only accompanied by taiko and shakuhachi on a few tracks. Here is the list:

01. 序曲:飛翔 (overture: Hishou)
02. いぶき (Ibuki)
03. 鼓動 (Kodo)
04. りんご節 (Ringo Bushi)
05. 鯵ヶ沢甚句 (Ajigasawa Jinku)
06. 弥三郎節 (Yasaburo Bushi)
07. Panorama
08. 津軽よされ節(Tsugaru Yosare Bushi)
09. 時の砂 (Sands of time)
10. 津軽あいや節 (Tsugaru Aiya Bushi)
11. モダン (Modern)
12. dual
13. 津軽じょんがら節 (Tsugaru Jongara Bushi)
14. 終奏:飛翔 (closure: Hishou)

This album brings together some of the best pieces by the duo of brothers Kenichi and Ryôichirô Yoshida, as well as a large repertoire of traditional Tsugaru Shamisen songs.

Ajigawasa Jinku, Ringo Bushi and Yasaburo Bushi are already well-known songs from the traditional repertoire, all of which are fantastic, but I would like to focus on the original pieces on the album.

The first track of the album, Hishou (flight) serves as the opening for Ibuki, a masterpiece by the Yoshida Brothers. If I had to recommend just one song in the Tsugaru Shamisen style, it would probably be this one. It brings it all together. The melody at the beginning grabs you with its sensitivity and culminates in a frenetic run of notes with a lot of power and rhythm. This is the essence of the Tsugaru style. Playing a variety of registers and taking them to their maximum expression.

The best version you can find of Kodo is the one that continues the album, but I would like to highlight Panorama. This is one of those songs that make you realise that the Yoshida Brothers are not just any duo. A very fresh song, almost rock, with two shamisen, in which they answer each other with a very powerful and catchy rhythm. Here it goes!

The three most recognisable pieces of the Tsugaru style: Yosare, Aiya and Jongara bushi. Of these, I choose Tsugaru Aiya Bushi. The track starts in its minor key and rises in intensity and colour to intertwine with its major version. A delight to the ears.

Modern is another one of those trademark tracks. Fast and powerful, it is an original piece that brings together all the most recognisable movements and techniques of the tsugaru style.

I want to share with you this curious live performance on a Japanese TV show, as it must have been a good way to start the day full of energy. Was it really recorded at 8:15 in the morning?

The last song I’d like to highlight for you is dual. Objectively it could be the best song on the album. Its melody: melancholic and delicate, it slowly gets into your head until it reaches the final crescendo where it speeds up to break the initial lethargy. Personally, this song always reminds me of Momiji (the falling of the red autumn leaves) and transmits me a lot of peace. This song is one of those that you don’t forget easily and, besides, it serves as a good exercise to practice on your shamisen.

As you may have seen and read, I have highlighted many songs, and the fact is that this album seems to me to be a rounded work. The more you listen to it, the more you enjoy it. It is curious that despite being recorded with only two shamisen, it is so enriching and complete. Sometimes, less is more and this is a clear example. The amount of nuances you can hear from the shamisen on this album is incredible.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s article. If you feel like giving it a listen, leave me a comment with your opinion on the instagram post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

See you in a fortnight!


Hishou is available on Spotify and the official Yoshida Brothers Youtube channel.

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