Tag Archives: Japan

Artist Profiles: Minyo Crusaders

Minyo Crusaders in 2019

In the late 1990s, guitarist Katsumi Tanaka moved to Fussa, a city in western Tokyo immersed in counter-culture folklore. Initially uninterested in min’yō, a catastrophic event in recent Japanese history led Tanaka on his current path: “Following the Tohoku earthquake of 2011, I reflected on my life, work and identity. A fan of world music, I began searching for Japanese roots music I could identify with. Discovering mid-late 20th century acts Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and the Tokyo Cuban Boys, I was captivated by their eccentric arrangements and how they mixed min’yō with Latin and jazz.”

Tanaka met vocalist Freddie Tsukamoto, who was performing in a session band as a soul singer. Mindful that Freddie’s true passion was min’yō, Tanaka asked him to form a band to revive this style. Freddie became very interested in min’yō after hearing a song from his birthplace on a TV competition while in a restaurant. It was an eye-opener. Until then he had been an aspiring jazz singer although he was uncomfortable singing in English. The restaurant owner told him a min’yō teacher was his neighbor and the rest is history.

“For Japanese people, min’yō is both the closest, and most distant, folk music” clarifies Katsumi Tanaka: “We may not feel it in our daily, urban lives, yet the melodies, the style of singing and the rhythm of the taiko drums are engrained in our DNA”.

Katsumi and Freddie invited other musicians like local drumming legend Sono and for the first few years they played low-key concerts. Things changed when bassist DADDY U, a veteran of the Tokyo roots music scene and the well-known Ska Flames, joined the band.

Minyo Crusaders in 2019

Through DADDY U, the musicians met keyboard player Moe, the leader of Caribbean jazz outfit Kidlat; saxophone player Koichiro Osawa, a member of Japanese-reggae/ska groups Matt Sounds and J.J. Session and regular session musician for reggae musicians visiting Japan; trumpeter Yamauchi Stephan, also a member of J.J. Session; percussionist Mutsumi Kobayashi of Tokyo’s cumbia Banda de la Mumbia; Irochi, conga player with Afro Cuban band Cubatumb; and vocalist Meg, a member of esteemed tropical DJ collective Tokyo Sabroso.

Since then, Minyo Crusaders have become a regular act on the Tokyo music scene and went national in 2018 through festivals such as Fuji Rock.

The Minyo Crusaders in 2019 included Freddie Tsukamoto (vocals); Meg on vocals, melodica; Katsumi Tanaka on guitar; DADDY U on bass; Moe on keyboards; Sono on timbales; Mutsumi Kobayashi on bongos; Yamauchi Stephan on trumpet; Koichiro Osawa on saxophone; and Irochi on congas.

Originally sung by fishermen (Kushimoto Bushi; Mamurogawa Ondo), coal miners (Tanko Bushi) and sumo wrestlers (Sumo Jinku), these songs deal with topics such as the returning spirits of ancestors (Hohai Bushi), Japan’s smallest bird (Toichin Bushi) and a bride’s undying love for her husband’s pockmarked face (Otemoyan), evoking nostalgia for a forgotten Japan. “As a traditional performing art, min’yō is considered highbrow, yet these are mainly songs for working, dancing or drinking – we want to return them to their literal meaning as ‘songs of the people’ ”.


Echoes of Japan (Mais Um Discos , 2019)


Artist Profiles: Yoko Hiraoka

Yoko Hiraoka

Yoko Hiraoka is a master of the classical music of Japan and performs with koto, shamisen and voice. Her early training as a young player was in the Kyoto and Kyushu traditions with a teacher who was blind. Her playing career spans thirty years and her musical performance encompasses traditional, modern and avant-garde compositions including microtonal music.

Ms. Hiraoka passes on the mantle of mastership through her school, the Koto Music Institute of Colorado. Since 1981 her teaching and playing have found venues in both Japan and the USA. She performs extensively in both countries at festivals, concerts, lecture-recitals, and in television and studio recordings. She has been a member of Kyoto Hogaku Group (an orchestra of traditional Japanese instruments) and Kyoto-based Shikandaza Ensemble.


Artist Profiles: Dozan Fujiwara

Dozan Fujiwara

Dozan Fujiwara studied shakuhachi under Yamamoto Hozan. A graduate of Tokyo University of Fine Arts in 1995, Fujiwara participated in the International Shakuhachi Festival held in Boulder, Colorado in 1998, and regularly collaborates with Western musicians to record modern pieces.


Uta (Columbia, 2001)
Yume ‎(Columbia, 2002)
Ichi (Columbia, 2005)
Kyo (2008)
Ten (Columbia, 2010)
Michi (Columbia)
Ikiiki-Shin (Columbia)
Toki Haru (Columbia)
Sai (Columbia)
San (Columbia)
Toki Fuyu
Kazauta Ku
Toki (Columbia, 2018)
Fairy Takeshima (2018)


Artist Profiles: Gocoo


Gocoo is an 11-person (7 women, 4 men) drumming group that captures the audience with original grooves woven with Japanese drums, taikos. The group was formed in 1997 and debuted at a big techno music festival, “Rainbow 2000”, the same year. Over 30 taikos, including ones made by one of the group’s members, Taro Matsuzaki, bring life to Gocoo world.

While many Taiko groups stoically pursue a traditional style, and while others seek new interpretations of traditional Japanese music by taking in elements of Western music, Gocoo’s beat exhibits free-spirited, innovative taiko music that appeals directly to any audience. The group not only incites enthusiasts of primal, spectacular drumming shows. With its complex poly-rhythmic beats and an impressive light-show, Gocoo creates a show that fascinates a wide range of audiences.

Gocoo’s regular live gigs at popular venues in Tokyo and all over Japan, such as Aoyama CAY and Shibuya On Air, are packed with young followers who tend to shy away from traditional music. For them, Gocoo’s trance-like, danceable sound is simply outstanding pop-music. Gocoo enjoys appearing at popular Japanese outdoor festivals and rave parties like Asagiri Jam, Equinox, Earth Dance, and Hotaka Festival along with various rock bands and DJs.

Gocoo’s first album Healing Asia Vol. 2 featuring Gocoo, released under Consipio Records in January 2000, was sound engineered by Shinichi Tanaka and recorded with no over-dubbing. The result was a CD filled with delicate layers of drums and the powerful grooves so quintessential of Gocoo’s live performance. The guest artist for the album, the didgeridoo virtuoso GoRo, has been joining in most of the live performances since then. The album Live 01 was released in June 2002 under Universal Music Records.

The year 2000 marked another milestone for Gocoo with its first US tour hosted by a Native American leader, Dennis Banks. San Francisco, Flagstaff, Sedona, Santa Fe – everywhere Gocoo performed, it was received by an enthusiastic audience. The tremendous spiritual energy Gocoo received through this experience is evident in the more dynamic and intense sound they’ve displayed since the tour.

Gocoo has performed with Kim Duk-soo of Samulnori, who perfected Korea’s neo-traditional percussion quartet music; Mamady Keita, the jembe player from West Africa; as well as Seiichi Tanaka of San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the recipient of the National Endowment of Arts award for his contribution to the U.S. society through Taiko-related works. In different words, all three have encouraged Gocoo to lead the way in creating new Taiko music.

Gocoo started off 2003 with its first appearance in Europe as the top music act at the opening party of ?Graz 2003 ? Cultural Capital of Europe?, followed by an incredibly successful tour through six major German cities in June/July. Also in 2003, the new Matrix movie as well as the accompanying soundtrack Matrix Reloaded include the tune ?Teahouse? by Juno Reactor featuring Gocoo. Later the same year Gocoo?s first DVD Live?02 was released followed by two new CDs: Amatsuchi no Aida and the new collaboration CD with Juno Reactor Zwara EP.


In spring 2004 Gocoo performed in Kazakh and then returned to Europe in July with it?s new CD Lovebeat and with an even bigger and more successful tour than the year before. The band performed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. An absolute highlight was the gig at the Gurtenfestival (Bern, Switzerland) in front of 15.000 people. The concert was also broadcast on Swiss television. Gocoo?s tour included a studio session in Hamburg, Germany. Here Gocoo contributed its sound to the soundtrack of the third sequel of one of the most popular role-playing computer games. The game will be released worldwide in 2005/2006.

Lead drummer, Kaoly Asano, attracts much attention as a newly emerging female Taiko player. When she is not performing with Gocoo, she leads Taiko lessons at her Tawoo Taiko Dojo where anyone can experience the joy of Taiko drumming.


Healing Asia Vol.2 featuring Gocoo (Pony Canyon, 2000)
Migwitch Gitchi-Manidoo (2001)
Live 01 (2002)
LoveBeat! (2004)
Joy (2005)
MatsuRhythm vol.1 (2007)
Roots of Joy (2011)
Eleven (2013)


Artist Profiles: Agatsuma


The 14-year-old winner of the 1988 All-Japan Tsugaru-Shamisen Competition, held at the Kanagicho in the Aomori Prefecture, began his studies of the instrument at the age of six. For several more years, the young artist continued to develop his talents and for two consecutive years in 1995 and 1996 was awarded the prestigious top prize in the Tsugaru-Shamisen National Competition held in Hirosaki, Japan.

Receiving high acclaim in Hogaku (traditional Japanese music) inspired Agatsuma to continue exploring the unique qualities of the Tsugaru-Shamisen, and in turn, his own musical specialty.

In 2001, on his critically acclaimed debut (self-titled Agatsuma), he received the award for ‘Album of the Year’ at the Japan Gold Disc Awards.

On his second release, Beams, Agatsuma blended his many musical influences of jazz, rock fusion and Latin based grooves with traditional Japanese folk music. As he noted, “I appreciate the foundation made by my ancestors. It has given me the opportunities to appreciate and perform many different types of music.”

About Beyond, his third release, Hiromitsu Agatsuma said: “I tried so many different things on this album, such as song motives, scales, play styles and so on. I even discovered new things during the recording, so I could have comfortable feelings of tension in the studio.

Several experiences gave me great influences on composing music for this album. The U.S. east coast tour on February 2003, the U.S. west coast live performances in August 2003, and the collaborations with Marcus Miller and Larry Coryell. I had lots of opportunities to perform in front of people saying ‘what is Shamisen?’ and ‘how is it played?’, who never heard Shamisen before. Those were the great experiences for me.

I was able to feel the wide potentials of the world of Shamisen by those experiences, and I believe that I could express more of the fusion with the contemporary music scene, in other words Agatsuma-ish Shamisen World. Furthermore, this album contains the collaborations with guest artists. Playing together with each artist made this album very provocative and innovative.

I would like to keep creating Agatsuma World with learning by trial and error.”


Agatsuma ‎(Eastworld, 2001)
Beams ‎(Domo, 2003)
Classics (Agatsuma III) (2003)
Beyond (Domo, 2004)
Eternal Songs – Eien no Uta ‎(Domo, 2005)
En (Eastworld/Domo, 2006)
Soufuu (2007)
Agatsuma Plays Standards ‎(Eastworld, 2008)
The Best of Agatsuma (2010)
Jukki (2010)
Kusabi (2012)
Gen (2014)
Sui (2016)
NuTrad (2016)