Artist Biographies

About Ozashiki Shamisen at Toyoakimoto
While popular geisha Shamisen music like Hauta and Kouta focus mostly on singing, Ozashiki Shamisen is largely instrumental. It is mainly instrumental and used mostly as interlude music before the featured geisha ladies appear, or to fill time in large parties and gatherings.

Artist Biographies

Tatsu Aoki is a prolific artist, composer, musician, educator and a consummate bassist and Shamisen Lute player. Based in Chicago, Aoki works in a wide range of musical genres, ranging from traditional Japanese music, jazz, experimental and creative music.

Aoki was born in 1957 in Tokyo, Japan into an artisan family called TOYOAKIMOTO, traditionally categorized as OKIYA, meaning a booking and training agent for Geisha ladies in downtown Tokyo's designated area. While the economy and social environment forced many of those traditional artisan family business to close down in the 60's, Aoki was luckily able to receive some of the important essence of traditional Tokyo Geisha cultural training and studies at age 4, and became a part of the performing crew in early childhood. After his grandmother passed away, he had kept on with the Tokyo music training until early teens, and shifted his musical focus to American pop music and experimental music. Since his biological father was a movie producer at Shin Toho Studio, he had also began working in small gage films and started to produce experimental films.

Aoki was an active performer during the early 70's in the mist of Tokyo Underground Arts movement. He became a member of the Japanese Experimental Music ensemble, GINTENKAI presenting mixture of traditional music and new western music. After coming to the U.S. in 1977, Aoki studied experimental filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently an adjunct Full Professor at the Film, Video and New Media Department, and teaches film production and history courses. During the late 80's, Aoki became a leading advocate for Chicago's Asian American community and one of Chicago's most in-demand musicians on contrabass, taiko (Japanese drums) and shamisen (Japanese lute).

To this date, Aoki has produced and appears in more than 90 recording projects and over 30 experimental films and he has been working internationally. He is one of the most recorded artists in Chicago music scene.

As an Executive Director of AIRMW, Aoki has initiated and managed several programs to advance the understanding of Asian American culture and community through the arts, including the Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival and the JASC Tsukasa Taiko Legacy arts residency project. His work as an artist and educator in the cultural arts and as a leader in the Asian American community address as well as define the issues facing the community, including the need for quality artistic programs that reflect the Asian American experience.

Chizuru Kineya is a Nagauta Shamisen artist and an accredited master of the instrument from the legendary Kineya Shamisen family. Chizuru started traditional Nagauta Shamisen studies at the age of 6 and has been performing professionally in the mainstream Japanese music and performing arts scene. In addition to her regular appearances at the National Theater of Japan, she has been active in workshops for regional schools and media to educate the general public of the nearly 400 year history of shamisen tradition. She has also collaborated with contemporary classical musicians.

Frequently collaborating with Master Chizuru Kineya is Master Satomayu Kineya. Satomayu Kineya is an explorer of new education of Nagauta and traditional shamisen music. She is shamisen instructor at Sankei University in Tokyo and leads several Nagauta shamisen ensembles as part of a dedication to the advancement of traditional music education.

Chizuru Kineya and Satomayu Kineya

Melody Takata grew up in the Japanese American (JA) community of Los Angeles with a rich experience in traditional arts. From age 8 she learned odori (Japanese dance) as part of the obon festival ritual (festival honoring ancestors). At age 12 she began formal study of Nihon Buyo (Japanese classical dance) at the Fujima School under NEA Heritage Fellow Madame Fujima Kansuma until age 20. From age 13 to 18 she studied shamisen (Japanese lute) with the Kineya School. At 15 she began studying and performing with Los Angeles Matsuri taiko and at 20 traveled to Japan to study and later perform as a member of Tokyo's O Edo Sukeroku Taiko, one of Japan's most highly renowned taiko ensembles. In 1995 Melody founded Gen Taiko and in 2009 incorporated under the name Genryu Arts in San Francisco Japantown. Gen Taiko is an ensemble and school which trains hundreds of youth each year in taiko and dance as a vehicle for community building. She has gained major recognition for her groundbreaking collaborations with composer Tatsu Aoki in Chicago, Francis Wong in San Francisco, and with Japanese traditional master artists Fujima Kansuma, Hideko Nakajima, and Chizuru Kineya. Over the past decade she has received commissions from the NEA (2005, 2006), Creative Work Fund (2007), San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commissions (2007, 2009), James Irvine Foundation (2007), Alliance for California Traditional Arts (2006).