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Tsugaru-Jamisen Music: Takahashi Chikuzan

March 7, 2009

Tsugaru-jamisen (津軽三味線) is a genre of shamisen music originating in Aomori prefecture in the northernmost area of the Japanese island of Honshū. It is today performed throughout Japan, though associations with the Tsugaru area of Aomori remain strong.

The genre is played on a large shamisen with thicker strings than those used for most other styles. The bachi (plectrum) is proportionately small. Tsugaru-jamisen is easy to recognize by its percussive quality (the plectrum striking the body of the instrument on each stroke) and the lilt of the rhythms performed. Unlike most other Japanese music, some Tsugaru-jamisen pieces are in triple time, though the three beats are not accentuated in the manner of Western music. A technique unique to the Tsugaru-jamisen style in recent years is the tremolo played with the back of the bachi without hitting the skin. (Source)

Takahashi Chikuzan (高橋竹山) (born Takahashi Sadazō in 1910, died 1998) is a renowned Japanese Tsugaru-jamisen performer and composer.

He was born in Kominato, a village that is part of the Hiranai township in Aomori Prefecture. He lost his sight at around age two from measles before becoming a live-in apprentice of the Tsugaru-jamisen performer Toda Jūjirō near his home town. Before World War II he spent many years touring the Aomori and surrounding countryside, playing before doorsteps and making money any way he could. After the war he became more widely known, first as an accompanist for the famous Tsugaru folk song singer Narita Unchiku (who named him “Chikuzan”), and subsequently as a solo performer of the Tsugaru-jamisen repertory. His performances, for many years taking place regularly at a small venue called “Jan-jan” in Shibuya Ward of Tokyo, often featured long solo improvisations, which he entitled “Iwaki” after the tallest mountain in Tsugaru.

His most famous disciple, a woman who has assumed the name Takahashi Chikuzan II, continues to perform versions of Takahashi Chikuzan’s repertory. Takahashi Chikuzan I made a huge number of recordings, some of which are still in print today. (Source)

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  1. [...] Tsugaru-Jamisen Music: Takahashi Chikuzan [...]



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