From Tatsu Aoki

The Art

For me, the most influential art is the cultural legacy, the sound which surrounded me at Toyoakimoto, a geisha house in downtown Tokyo where I was born and grew up. I've known this sound, this music, and this feeling as far back as I can remember. From my early 20s when I was a rebel wondering whether to go along or go against, everything I have done as an artist revolved around my experiences of cultural legacy - the art and legacy embedded into my very body and soul.
This has always been one of the projects I needed to finish, this reconstruction of our house music. One of my most important goals was to preserve the original essence of fluidity and flexibility and to perform the rawness of REAL sound as I know it. From the environment of my childhood, I inherited the historical and traditional essence of the Tokyo entertainment district's musical concepts in addition to the basics and value of flexible creations and applications.

In our rapidly moving world where many things are geared towards commercialism and consumerism, where cosmetic manipulation and perfection are valued as "products" more than the natural state, I wanted to recreate the music in the most raw and realistic manner. Something so real and so refined to coexist with roughness and rawness can constitute beauty as in handmade crafts. I longed to be honest in performing this distinctive style of music as I heard and felt it. I would hope that people are still interested in the truth.
I started the reconstruction about five years ago upon meeting two Shamisen grand masters, Chizuru Kineya and Satomayu Kineya from Tokyo. The process began with a collaborative effort of having them learn the music and concepts and then applying the particular techniques distinctive to this style. This took the three of us about three years to learn the songs and become fluent in performing. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation and thanks to these two fearless master musicians. I am grateful that we are able to present the raw sound of Tokyo geisha house music.
-- Tatsu Aoki, July 2012

 Aki Aoki

I was born in Tokyo, Japan into an artisan family called TOYOAKI MOTO, 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 businesses to close down in the 1960s, I was fortunately 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. The business was organized and managed by my grandmother Aki, a second generation owner of TOYOAKI MOTO. Most of the training I received was from Aki and her disciples.

After my grandmother passed away, I kept the Tokyo music training until my early teens, and then shifted my musical focus to American pop music and experimental music. I was a very active performer during the early 70s in the midst of the Tokyo Underground Arts movement. I became a member of the experimental Japanese music ensemble, GINTENKAI, presenting a mixture of traditional music and new western music. After coming to the U.S. in 1977, I studied experimentalism in school. During the late 1980s, I became involved in Chicago's Asian American community and joined the Asian American music movement.

From the environment of my childhood, I inherited the historical and traditional essence of the Tokyo Entertainment district's musical concepts and basics, and learned the value of flexible creations and applications. With the decline of these special districts in the late 60s and early 70s, Tokyo's regional entertainment musical concepts also disappeared, and like many other art forms, Tokyo Geisha music had also institutionalized.

One of the most important goals is to preserve the original essence of fluidity and flexibility and to perform the rawness of REAL sound. In organizing Toyoaki Shamisen in Chicago, I have adopted this idea to newer works as well. My main general concern is to present music which evokes a reality of roots and the true quality of my upbringing as a member of a long-lost traditional artisan family which at one time employed a distinctive musical style. It is my pleasure to share the effort of making this unique sound of Tokyo (EDO) Shamisen culture.

Thank you very much for your continuous support and love.

Tatsu Aoki
JASC Tsukasa Taiko
Toyoaki Shamisen