Takeharu Kunimoto- Roukyoku Rock ‘n’ Roll

Takeharu Kunimoto started his music career playing flat mandolin in a bluegrass group, but when he was 19, switched to roukyoku and the shamisen. ‘Roukyoku at the beginning of the century was the popular music of the day, it wasn’t traditional music as such. The songs though hadn’t changed, so I thought I had better bring roukyoku up to date, and play music that is for now.” he says. Although his parents were roukyoku performers, he wanted to teach himself and learnt from listening to tapes. “I then bought a rhythm machine and got an idea to start playing shamisen with rock music, I wanted to break the old image of shamisen (this he demonstrates by playing me on his shamisen a version of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’! ). I first played at a venue for roukyoku, but young people wouldn’t come, and even the older people got fewer and fewer. I didn’t know what to do, so I tried playing in usual live houses, and thought if I mixed in rock music perhaps young people would come.’


In the mid 90s, Kunimoto’s voice and shamisen was championed in some quarters as ‘Japan’s world music’ and he went to France to record an album, with African musicians including Ray Lema and Brice Wassy, and a few years later recorded another album in New York. He had already forged connections in New York by taking part there in a John Zorn production called ‘Wakamono’. “I’ve always liked the comedy aspect of roukyoku, it’s not just singing but a performance, a bit like acting. In New York, people couldn’t understand what I said, but their reaction was somehow very natural, whereas a Japanese audience seems to have forgotten how to express their feelings naturally. There are certain call and response patterns that audiences in Japan are unsure about, so now I teach the responses. Everybody then feels they can join in, and that helps to bridge the gap between me and the audience.”

Kunimoto’s voice has been much in demand for television commercials, while his acting talents have earned him a part in the NHK period drama ‘Genroku Ryoran’. An effervescent and charismatic character, inevitably his shows are punctuated by his own unique brand of humor. Though mixing in rock and other music such as blues and boogie into his music, Kunimoto is still keen to perform the older roukyoku repertoire and has earned two awards from the National Theater of Japan. “Those songs have funny stories and news from the time, so I want young people to know about that too. I just don’t want them to have an image of roukyoku as an old classical tradition.”

Go to the Shopping Page for Takeharu Kunimoto


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s