25 November 2009

The Shamisen Club without a shamisen

(London Shamisen Club, live in Taipei 101)

Requested by London Shamisen Club, I am writing lyrics for two pieces, which the group will deliver in their upcoming gigs in Taipei.

London Shamisen Club consists of a mandola, a tablah (or darbuka, the goblet drum from Middle East and neighbouring areas, not the Indian tabla), a violin, a clarinet, percussion and sometimes other guest instruments. This group plays their original works, as well as rearranged folk music from a wide geographic range, including Greece, Argentine, Algeria, Cuba, Uyghur, Tajik, Malaysia and Turkey, with a 1950s retro-electro/dancehall flavour.

The key person of this group is the mandola player Tommo, who writes all the works and makes arrangements. Tommo has lived in London for so many years and thus, I believe, this Shamisen Club is called after the name of the city. However, I'm not sure about Shamisen, the Japanese three-string plucked instrument. Perhaps it has something to do with 'zen' or certain ancient Asian philosophy: because nobody plays shamisen in this group, it has to be named so.

Tommo would like me to give the two pieces a hint of showa kayo (昭和歌謡, 'ballads from the Shōwa period') and emphasises that showa kayo must not be confused with enka. As a purist who is obsessed about definitions and details, I have to listen to more song examples to discover the differences. I should write another entry for showa kayo later.

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