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Powerful New Sounds from Japan
Tsugaru Shamisen and Taiko Drums

• From American rock 'n' roll to romantic guitar like arpeggio, Koji Yamaguchi and Yoshihiko Fueki excited the audience by performing with Japanese traditional musical instruments, shamisen and taiko. The concert “Powerful New Sounds from Japan” took place on April 18 at the Alliance Francaise de Chicago hosted by the Japan America Society of Chicago.

• Speaking no English did not interrupt the communication between the musicians and audience. Shamisen player Yamaguchi wittily talked with the audience by using simple words and gestures, and the audience was induced to clap with the bouncy shamisen sounds.
• Taiko player Fueki set up his taiko drums similarly to the Western-style-drum set and invited the audience into a new world of shamisen and taiko music with unique sounds and rhythms

• Koji Yamaguchi began to learn shamisen from his grandmother when he was five years old and has won national competitions many times. He has collaborated with many musicians in different genres, worked on compositions, taught shamisen, and played as a member of Hayate, which is produced by Kenichi Yoshida of the Yoshida Brothers. Yamaguchi is a young, talented musician who is making a name for himself on the world stage.

• Yoshihiko Fueki started to play taiko drumming when he was 15. He was involved in establishing the professional wadaiko group “Dakanjin” in 2001. Since 2006, Fueki has collaborated with many famous musicians as well as performing solo drumming. He has been active internationally and was invited by Georgetown University in Washington D.C. to teach taiko drumming.

• An Interview with Koji Yamaguchi

• Q: You play shamisen like rock 'n' roll.

• Yamaguchi: I love rock 'n' roll music, so I prefer playing shamisen in a rock 'n' roll pace. I want to make my music go beyond the traditional shamisen music.

• Q: How did you learn shamisen from your grandmother?

• Y: She taught it to me in the traditional performing way. When I was 12, I experienced Tsugaru shamisen, which was a much faster tempo, and then I began trying other music genres with shamisen. But I seriously did it after I became 20. I’ve been trying not only playing Tsugaru shamisen, but also challenging any other genre including my own creations.
• What I want to do is “genreless”. I think that shamisen is a tool to create music.

• Q: What kind of music did you listen to?
• Y: I wasn’t enthusiastic listening to music, but I became fond of mixture rock when I was in grade school. It was a mixture of hip-hop for example, and many different rock 'n' rolls were becoming popular in Japan at that time.
• When I was the sixth grade, I fell in love with a Japanese rock group “L'Arc-en-Ciel”. The group was always in my mind, and I listened to many other types of rock.

• Q: How do you imagine a new piece of music when you compose?

• Y: Usually, it comes to me as a phrase, and then I combine each one together and develop a new piece.

• Q: How does your grandmother think about you to create new music?
• Y: She is a traditional shamisen master, but seems to be glad to see my activities.

• Q: Do many teenagers follow you?

• Y: Many of them don’t know about shamisen music. Other teenagers, who know a little about shamisen, tend to think that shamisen is boring. But my shamisen is easily accepted by them. I’m very glad to hear that they are saying, “Shamisen is cool and interesting.”

• Q: You teach shamisen across Japan.

• Y: Yes. I visit classes once a month. My home town is Nagoya, so the students in Nagoya come to my home studio.
• Many of them are in their 30s and 40s. Others are in their 50s, 60s, and some are teens. They want to learn not only traditional shamisen, but also contemporary music. They want to play Western music, J-pop, and my original pieces. Their preferences depend on their circumstances.

• Q: You had some concerts in Canada. How were they?

• Y: I enjoyed concerts in Canada. The audiences were very excited. I think that they were flexible and admissible. There were many Japanese Canadian people there. I think that the shamisen sound touched their roots or DNAs.
• Generally, Japanese people in Japan don’t realize that their inner natures were connected with traditional sounds like shamisen. But my music could touch Canadian people. I think that it is the best part of Japanese traditional performing arts.

• Q: How did you meet Mr. Fueki?

• Y: I’ve known him for long time and met him four years ago at an event. Since then, we’ve played together when we have a chance, but not so often.

• Q: Do you always wear Japanese kimono outfit?

• Y: Certainly. Today’s kimono is indigo dyeing. The color was added after indigo dyeing was done, so it is like watching cherry blossoms at night.
• I’ve never thought about changing my outfit to pants and shirt. It must be kimono while I’m performing. I think that being a traditional figure is a new feature. It is my expression that I’m carrying on Japanese culture.

• Q: Last question. What is your favorite food?

• Y: Tamagoyaki, sweet rolled egg.

• Q: Thank you very much

Koji Yamaguchi

Yoshihiko Fueki