This jaw-dropping shamisen throwdown took place during a free performance sponsored by the Consul General of Japan at Denver, of ABEYA Tsugaru Shamisen Performance Ensemble. It’s an incredible eight-piece group that performs traditional folksongs (and original material) on the shamisen, a three-stringed lute with a tone similar to a western banjo, that’s plucked with a tool that looks like a putty knife.
The two men, Kinzaburo and Ginzaburo Abe, are brothers and both past national champions of shamisen. The woman, Maya Nemoto, who’s also an awesome vocalist, is the current national champion. These musicians are so amazing that it’s like imagining a similar face-off on guitars between rock giants like Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson and Les Paul.
Who do you think is the winner of this competition?
The Monsters of Shamisen rock, even though they’re playing a traditional Japanese instrument, a three-stringed lute that’s plucked with a plectrum that looks like an windshield scraper. The shamisen usually is heard playing traditional Japanese folksongs, and as accompaniment for kabuki and bunraku theater. It has an instantly-recognizable single-note sound that’s similar in tone to the banjo.
It’s a folk instrument.
But the Monsters of Shamisen don’t play just old-time folk music. You won’t hear only a Japanese version of banjoey, bluegrassy songs. Sure, you’ll hear that, but the MoS puts their instruments to use on Western classical music, pop and rock and roll, European folksongs, and yes, bluegrass too. Where else are you gonna hear Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” payed on two shamisen (above)?
Last night, two of the three Monsters, Kevin KMetz and Mike Penny, performed at the King Center on the Auraria Campus in a concert sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the Consulate General of Japan in Colorado. (The third, Masahiro Nitta, is in Japan.) Continue reading →