Still in their early 20's, Ryoichiro and Kenichi, also known as the Yoshida Brothers, are the newest sensation in traditional Japanese World Music, achieving pin-up status with an ever-growing legion of fans. The brothers play a Tsugaru-Shamisen, a three-stringed instrument resembling the banjo and with a style originating from northern Japan with intricate and fast picking.
With the exception of their instruments, they are anything but traditional. With spiked, dyed brown hair and animated performances thrashing their instruments like rock guitarists, many have stated that they are a significant force in a new music revolution. "Every day we challenge the possibilities", says Kenichi, "we creat our own story... by improvisation".
The Shamisen originates from China. It has three strings and is three feet in length with a body and neck. The musicians of Japan began developing their own way of playing it, using a bachi (a large pick). It was primarily used as a background instrument for folk singers in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but as it's popularity grew, it became an important instrument in Japanese Classical Music and appreciated as a solo instrument in the 20th Century.
Tsugaru refers to the Tsugaru district in the Aomori Prefecture (the northern tip of mainland Japan).
The Tsugaru-Shamisen, known for it's "bluesy" and powerful sound, has been said to be like a howling of one's soul: a natural expression of the strength people acquired in learning to survive in the harsh climate of the Tsugaru region.