If you’re a regular reader of Haikugirl’s Japan you might recognise the name Hibiki Ichikawa. Hibiki Ichikawa (一川 響) is an incredibly talented London-based shamisen (traditional Japanese stringed instrument) player who seems to crop up at just about every Japanese event I attend in the UK.
Born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture, Hibiki started playing the standard shamisen at the age of 20, moving to the tsugaru shamisen (a type of shamisen which lends itself to modern use) a year later, and training under Master Akihiro Ichikawa. In 2005, Hibiki joined the indie rock group Cazicazi. The group combines traditional Japanese flute and shamisen with western bass and drum rhythm section. Hibiki started performing in his local town and then quickly went on to play at events and concerts all across Japan, and internationally. In 2008, Hibiki started teaching tsugaru shamisen at the local community school in his home town of Kanazawa. His course quickly gained a good reputation and following, to such a level that there was a long waiting list to join the course. Hibiki moved to London in 2010 to introduce tsugaru shamisen to an international audience. Hibiki is currently the only shamisen teacher in the UK – you can find out more about his lessons here.
Hibiki’s CD, entitled Shamazing!, contains 7 songs:
1. Clover Steps (composed by Hibiki) – listen to a sample here
2. Nambu Tawaratsumi Uta (Japanese folk song, featuring vocals by Alika Mochida)
3. Electric (composed by Hibiki)
4. Akita Ondo (Japanese folk song, featuring vocals by Alika Mochida)
5. Wind of Sand (composed by Hibiki)
6. Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi (Japanese folk song) – listen to a sample here
7. Pechika (composed by Kyoko Kishida and featuring Kyoko Kishida on piano)
Before I talk about the music, let me just give a mention to the photography and cover design. This is a CD which is not only great to listen to, it’s great to own, and in this world of digital downloads that’s important. The cover is a cardboard digipack rather than a hard plastic box, which appeals to me from a design point of view and is probably more economical for online sales. The artwork throughout is simple but beautiful, with the deep purple and vivid green touches giving the whole package a modern feel. Hibiki holds his shamisen on the cover, wearing a slick shirt and tie rather than the traditional Japanese clothes he often wears for performances, again adding to the modern feel of the CD. If I just saw this on the shelf in a shop, it would definitely grab my attention and I would probably be guilty of buying a CD just for its cover.
Now to the music… If I had bought the CD just based on the cover, it wouldn’t have been a bad choice at all. Although every song is wonderful in its own different way, Electric is without a doubt my favourite song on the album. Electric actually had me up and dancing round my flat – this is shamisen like you’ve never heard it before, with a real folk heart! In fact, as much as I enjoy the traditional Japanese folk songs and Alika Mochida’s wonderful vocals, I have to say I like the songs composed by Hibiki even more and found them much easier on the ear and, dare I say it, more catchy than the traditional songs. Wind of Sand is a compelling song which conjured up exotic images in my mind as I listened to it – images of people dancing in colourful costumes on a beach. Clover Steps felt, to me, more like an Irish folk song, which I suppose could be implied in the title. It’s great to hear the shamisen being played in this diverse way, and wonderful that Hibiki didn’t just play it safe and record a CD of traditional Japanese folk songs. This album proves that the shamisen really is a ‘shamazing’ instrument that ought to be considered seriously in Western folk music today. My only complaint about the album, if I had to find one, would be that it simply wasn’t long enough. I could happily have listened to twice as many songs!
If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. Find out more about Hibiki Ichikawa and how to buy his CD on his website, hibikishamisen.com.