shamisen


   Kabuki theater is a musical theater; it is filled with dance, instrumental music and percussion. There are two instrumental performance groups on the kabuki stage. To the left of the stage is a small room with a narrow window (kuromisu); inside this room sit the geza, or "background music" players. But on the right side of the stage is a raised platform, the choba yuka on which the narrator (tayu) and the onstage music ensemble (debayashi). This ensemble consisted of singers, hand drums (ko tsuzumi and o tsuzumi), a stick drum (taiko), a Noh flute (nokan) or bamboo flute (takebue, and the principle instrument, the shamisen. On-stage shamisen music became a constant feature of the kabuki stage from the middle of the seventeenth century.

   The shamisen is three-stringed instrument that developed from the classical Japanese stringed instrument, the biwa.

   The predominant genre of music played by the shamisen players was nagauta, or long song. This genre of music dates from the later seventeenth century, and was very simple, lyrical style up until the nineteenth century but grew into a more ornate lyrical style in the late nineteenth century. But the shamisen players also play a genre of music called joruri, after a singing style in the puppet plays, also called joruri. Such music was meant to accompany the narrator (tayu ) as he sung the story of the play. In the joruri theater, all the action is sung by a narrator, but kabuki theater alternates narrative with spoken dialogue. The central genre of narrative music is called gidayu, since it was invented by a puppet theater shamisen performer named Takemoto Gidayu (1651-1714). When a shamisen player in kabuki theater plays in both nagauta and joruri styles, this mixture of genres is called kake ai performance.


You can download a shamisen sample from Kabuki for Everyone!
(Sound file (au); 99K; about one to four minutes download time)