Today, we’ll go back to Japan, around the early 1920s. Still very much in the acoustic recording era before electric microphones, this is a classic example of min’yō, the generic name for Japanese folk music, passed down locally through oral tradition. Min’yō, however, is a late 19th century term used as an umbrella for a variety of folk music: traditional work songs, dance songs, and the like. Interestingly, it is a direct transliteration of the German volkslied.

Usually most min’yō song titles start with a place name, as does this one: Yasugi, a town in the Shimane prefecture on Honshū island. Yasugi Bushi simply means “song from Yasugi” in English. It became popular in the early 20th century, especially when accompanied by a dance of the same name, which imitated the movement of scooping down to catch loach fish. It is sometimes known as the “loach catching song.”

The beautifully expressive Shimizu Itoko is the singer of the piece, and she is accompanied by Okui Ichisaburou on shamisen, Akizuki Daimaru on the koto, Hirotani Omann on the taiko drum, and Hiramoto Shoichi on the tsuzumi drum. You’ll also hear some of the traditional pitched exclamations throughout the song, known as kakegoe.

Shimizu Ikoto – Yasugi Bushi

Many thanks to Makoto and Lena Watanabe for translation assistance.

Technical Notes
Label: Nipponophone
Issue Number: 16728
Matrix Number: same, with 1-A-1

japan.jpgWhile I do have some examples of Japanese instrumental folk music 78s, I thought this might be unique to post: an example of gagaku, or the traditional court music of Japan, recorded in the late 1920s or so.

First off, I have to send heaps of thanks to Steve and Sari at Airform Archives and inbetweennoise.com, as well as Rika Hiro, for going far beyond the call of duty for translations and meanings. Without their help and information, I’d be more or less clueless. So, this entry was co-produced!

Gagaku is truly an ancient form of music, dating as far back as 700 CE, when it was employed by the Imperial court. There are numerous styles and variants of gaguku, and the one being played here is an example of saibara. I don’t think I could explain the song type better than my friends, who wrote:

Sai-bara is a kind of gagaku song that is grew out of the folk songs of horsemen….basically the folk song of someone who owns a horse and sort of used the horse like a taxi cab (holding the reins while the rich person rode on the horse, because the rider is above the horse person in class)…[saibara] was eventually, during the 700’s, influenced by gagaku or entered the canon of gagaku and became more of a proper song.

The players listed, Kunai-sho gakubu, are the Music Department of the Ministry of Imperial Household. And the song title, Koromogo-e, roughly translates to “exchange of clothes,” in the sense that changing of clothes means the changing of seasons. And in the sense that in ancient Japan, this phrasing was a another way of suggesting the union of a man and woman.

Kunai-sho gakubu – Koromoga-e

Technical Notes
Label: Victor
Issue Number: 13024
Matrix Number: 273

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