The WASABI instrumental ensemble offered a free lecture/workshop at the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Music yesterday. The event, sponsored by the Embassy of Japan, was part of the year-long celebration of 40th ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. It was also a preview of what to expect later tonight for their concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).


WASABI is composed of Ryoichiro Yoshida on tsugaru shamisen and Naosaburo Biho on taiko/percussion. The three-stringed guitar and drum set are common accompaniment to Japanese folk music. The other two instruments are shakuhachi played by Hiromu Motonaga and koto by Shin Ichikawa. The flute and leaning piano are inclined to classical Japanese music such as sokyoku (koto music), jiuta (originally shamisen music but has been integrated to koto music) and solo shukuhachi repertory. There has never been any piece wherein shamisen and koto play together; likewise with taiko and shakuhachi. As such, the four instruments creating fusion music is quite radical but nonetheless very pleasing to the ears.


The tsugaru shamisen is basically the same as the Okinawa shamisen. However, Ryoichiro Yoshida, member of the Yoshida Brothers (吉田兄弟), explained that the tuning and manner of playing were very different. He demonstrated how the Okinawa shamisen is played meticulously almost note by note. On the other hand, his manner of playing the tsugaru shamisen was quite upbeat. He looked like a rock star guitarist. But do not be fooled because he does not only play in arpeggio but also in percussive staccato.


The percussion set is made up of five individual drums, four of which are Japanese in nature and usually used during festivals (祭) and the other a Korean drum. Naosaburo Biho jokingly said that his grandfather (?) was a master taiko player and that he was forced into the same field. Because the taiko usually accompanied traditional practices, Biho-san was criticized because of his contemporary use of the instrument. Nonetheless, he was most genki of all and he looked like he enjoyed teaching three volunteers (two of which were UP Center for International Studies Noh Ensemble members and the other one a UP music major) with a basic folk song. The bigger drums created fuller sounds (ドンドン) while the “snare drum” created high pitches(テンテン). In the group, the percussions emulated the upbeat and rock star quality of the shamisen. As such, Biho-san dictated the beat of their music.


R-L Biho-san, the music major, UP CIS Noh chanter, UP CIS otsuzumi player
R-L Biho-san, the music major, UP CIS Noh chanter, UP CIS otsuzumi player

The shakuhachi comes in different lengths depending on tone. Nonetheless, the other notes and the tremolo are controlled by the movement of the flute player. Hiromu Motonaga demonstrated how the movement of the neck and the changing shape of the tongue affected the pitch and echo of the shakuhachi. As such, seeing a shakuhachi player nod or dip his head means he is demonstrating skill.


The koto manned by Shin Ichikawa was the most interesting for me. When they all played together, the sound of the koto was quite muted as it carried the harmony while the shamisen and shakuhachi led the melody. Still, when Ichikawa-san played a solo piece, it sounded like two instruments: piano as harmony and a stringed instrument (not necessarily a guitar) as melody. He wore three finger picks on his thumb, index and middle fingers and kept the remaining two and his entire right hand free. Regardless, he used both his hand: his right hand led and his left controlled the echo, tremolo and other finger plucking exhibition (like tapping in guitar). Unlike Biho-san, Ichikawa-san was blessed by the“がんばって!”of his mother, a master player of traditional koto.


WASABI will be performing group pieces (which my friend claims as Tenchu music) at the CCP tonight. It is indeed unfortunate to not be able to watch it. Still, the workshop blessed the audience/participants the rare opportunity to listen to them as a group and as individuals. がんばってWASABI!




and thanks Wikipedia for some annotations 🙂