Reconstruction of Tokyo Style Geisha Music

(This video was made for 3Arts Fundraising project)

TOYOAKIMOTO: Reconstruction of Tokyo Style Geisha Music

Chicago's renowned musician, Tatsu Aoki, presents his new work of a 300-year legacy of Japanese cultural arts.

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

TOYOAKIMOTO is a project stemming from Tatsu Aoki's personal musical heritage and journey. Aoki was born in Tokyo, Japan (in 1957), into an artisan family clan called “TOYOAKIMOTO,” a lineage that was defined by its profession and business as “okiya.” Okiya houses were training and booking agents for geisha, whose proficiency in the arts of traditional music, dance, and conversation were in high demand in the designated entertainment area in downtown Tokyo. While the economy and changed social environment forced many okiya to close down in the 1960's, Aoki was fortunate to receive, from the age of four, the important training essential to traditional Tokyo geisha culture, and became a part of the family performing crew.

After his grandmother passed away, he continued the Tokyo music training until his early teens, when he 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. He was an active performer during the early 70's in the midst of the Tokyo underground arts movement and became a member of a Japanese experimental music ensemble called GINTENKAI, which presented a mixture of traditional Japanese music and new western music. Since coming to the United States in 1977, Aoki has been active in traditional music, progressive music, and the advancement of Asian American music in the Chicago area. He studied experimental filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently an adjunct Associate Professor there in the Film, Video and New Media Department, and teaches film production and history courses. Aoki is one of Chicago's most in-demand musicians on contrabass, taiko (Japanese drums) and shamisen (Japanese lute).

Under those environments of his childhood, Aoki has inherited historical and traditional essence of Tokyo Entertainment district's musical concepts, basics and value of flexible creations and applications. With the fall of these special districts in the late 60's and early 70's, the Tokyo's regional Entertainment musical concepts also disappears and as many other art forms did, Tokyo Geisha music had institutionalized.

Aoki started the reconstruction of his geisha house music in 2006. His hope was to retrieve and preserve this culturally important tradition. The project started when Aoki met with two acclaimed shamisen grand masters from the Kineya family in Tokyo, and it developed through their collaboration as Aoki taught them the music and concepts. It took the three of them about three years and much travel--to and from Japan, Chicago, and San learn the songs and to become fluent in their performance. The realization of this project has been a long time ambition of Aoki's, but it has been difficult because of the high level of commitment required not only to learn the songs, but also to perform them masterfully.

“One of my most important goals is to preserve the original essence of fluidity and flexibility, and to perform the rawness of REAL sound. I always apply this idea to everything I do. From my childhood environment, I inherited the historical and traditional essence of the Tokyo entertainment district's musical concepts, and the fundamentals and value of flexible creations and applications. With the decline of these special districts in the late 60's and early 70's, the musical concepts of Tokyo's regional entertainment also faded away, along with many other art forms that Tokyo geisha music had institutionalized. I wanted to recreate the lost spirit and reconstruct this wonderful music.”
-- Tatsu Aoki, June 2012, Chicago