What is Shamisen? It is a banjo-like, traditional Japanese music instrument. It is very rare for Japanese to play Shamisen either as a hobby or professionally nowadays. I never saw or knew anyone who played Shamisen when I was living in Japan some years ago. It is something you might see on TV sometimes, or if you go to see Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater), you will see a group of Shamisen players on the stage, instead of an orchestra.
Then I met this Shamisen player, Liam Morgan, in Manchester. When he first told me that his hobby was to play the Shamisen, I couldn’t believe my ears. And he plays well! It was a funny feeling to watch him play Tsugaru shamisen in front of me, here in Manchester, when I never watched anyone playing back in Japan (except for on TV).
The type of Shamisen music he plays is called Tsugaru Shamisen. It is hard to explain, but once you’ve heard it, it is easy to recognize. It’s very powerful and masculine, contrasting with the type of shamisen music Geisha play.
Just listening to his playing was impressive enough, but all the other stories he told me were even more impressive. He found a shamisen with a broken skin on eBay, purchased it and fixed it on his own! He learned how to do it by reading books and watching videos. He also learned how to play the shamisen by ear. And to an ordinary Japanese, his performance seems to reach to a high standard.
Listening to his shamisen made me wish I had learned more about Japanese traditional culture while I was in Japan. In Japan, the most popular things to learn are such things as piano and ballet. I was also very impressed by his tireless effort to make his performance better. He keeps improving the sound of his shamisen by trying out new skins or new ways to skin, and he spends many hours practicing playing. His attitude was an eye-opener. I’m so glad he agreed to play for my blog.
If you would like Liam to play at your event, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org