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Peter Meanwell Peter Meanwell | 16:59 UK Time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

Picture of Etsuro Ono (Tsugaru-Shamisen) Shunsuke Kimura (Bamboo flute)

Etsuro Ono (Tsugaru-Shamisen) Shunsuke Kimura (Bamboo flute)

It will have been impossible to ignore the terrible events unfolding in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami struck last Friday. Three weeks ago though, when Japanese musicians Etsuro Ono and Shunsuke Kimura came into the World on 3 studio for a session with Mary Ann Kennedy, it was hard to imagine quite how things would change for the Japanese people.

Shunsuke and Etsuro were in the UK to perform at the Hibiki festival of Japanese music at Kings Place in London, and we managed to find time to bring them into the studio before they returned home to Japan. Shunsuke and Etsuro perform the folk music of Northern Japan on the tsugaru-shamisen, a three stringed plucked lute that hails from the Tsugaru region of the north of Honshu island. The way the tsugaru-shamisen is played results in a highly percussive sound, as the large plectrum slams against the taut skin of the instrument. The sound is reminiscent of a pair of duelling banjos, but with a unique shifting Japanese tonality. Originally the tsugaru-shamisen was played by itinerant blind musicians, and is part of a story telling tradition in Japan. Now Etsuro and Shunsuke are pushing the music forward, incorporating new rhythms and surprisingly, Irish and Scottish folk tunes. It was a fantastic session, and with Shunsuke playing bamboo flutes as well as the shamisen, it was a really special occasion.

When the earthquake hit, concerned, we got in touch with Shunsuke, as Etsuro and his family are from Miyagi prefecture, the area most affected by the tsunami. Happily we received this reply:
'Etsuro's place is in Miyagi Prefecture. where the earthquake and tsunami hit hard. Fortunately, he and all his family are all safe. Due to no electricity and no tap water, he is having a hard time though. I can only speak to Etsuro when he gives me a phone call from a public telephone. He must be very much encouraged by the message from our new friends in U.K.'

We're hoping that Shunsuke and Etsuro will be back in the UK over the summer, but for now you can hear the session with Shunsuke and Etsuro on World on 3 this Friday evening with Mary Ann Kennedy,. As the situation in Japan continues to develop, you can follow the latest news at BBC News online.

Peter Meanwell is a senior producer at BBC Radio 3


  • Comment number 1.

    On Late Junction last night Max Rheinhardt commented that Robert Johnson's geography in 'Sweet Home Chicago' places Chicago in California. However there is a South California Ave in Chicago, which houses most of the correctional facilities in the city including Cook County Jail. Could he have been thinking of this, and how's that for irony?


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