Shuffle Aces: Yoshida Brothers – Kodo

free online dating siteSomething a bit left field, but so worth checking out! I came across these guys when doing a bit of research around alternative instruments. The two brothers perform a traditional style of Japanese music called Tsugaru-jamisen that originated in northern Japan. It’s a genre played on the shamisen – a three-stringed instrument that’s kind of like a Japanese cigar box guitar! Their first album sold over 100,000 copies and made them minor celebrities in their homeland. They have subsequently built up a bit of an international following, and as well as playing the shamisen they sometimes use instruments such as drums and synthesizers. The commercials for the Nintendo’s Wii video game console that aired in the US back in November 2006 featured the song below: Kodo.

The shamisen has me intrigued. The construction is similar to that of a guitar. The neck is fretless and slimmer than that of a guitar or banjo. The body, called the dō, looks like a drum, having a hollow body that is taut front and back with skin, in the manner of a banjo. The skin used depends on the style of music and the skill of the player. Student shamisen often use dog skin, and sometimes plastic, as they are cheaper to replace, and more durable. The shamisen of professional players are often taut in cat skin, as it is more delicate and expensive. Bizarrely, on the skin of some of the best shamisen, the position of the cat’s nipples can still be seen!

The neck (or sao) of the shamisen is a single rod that crosses the body of the instrument and partially protrudes at the bridge end of the body and – like many CBGs – is where the strings are anchored. The pegs used to wind the strings are long, thin and hexagonal. The three strings are traditionally made of silk, or, more recently, nylon.

Tuning is eother honchoshi (first and third strings are tuned an octave apart, while the middle string is tuned to the equivalent of a fourth from the first string, eg D G D), ni agari (first and third strings are tuned an octave apart, while the middle one is a fifth from the first strong, eg D A D) or san sagari (which is tuned in fourths, eg D G C). It’s played with a pick called a bachi, and the style is very percussive – the pick hitting the body regularly in strumming.

All in all, a pretty cool instrument – and when you listen to the Yoshida Brothers in action you can really sense how there would be some great crossover between the traditional style and the blues.

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Unfortunately the Yoshida Brothers aren’t on Spotify, but you can find all the other Shuffle Ace tracks on a Spotify playlist here.

Shuffle Aces is a series of posts that highlights a song of the week that “shuffling” has brought forth. With all the streaming services it’s not just an iPod on shuffle mode that we use to discover new stuff, but the principle remains the same: hit play and wait to see what gems come forth.

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