The koto, shakuhachi and tsugaru shamisen are old Japanese instruments. While the shakuhachi was used by the ’emptiness monks’ as a spirit tool, the koto was widely used in court for the rich and wealthy. The shamisen on the other hand was mostly used to accompany drama like kabuki and bunraku. One band collected all these interesting instruments and together with a wadaiko player (great traditional drum) they form the Wagakki band.
And these guys play pop rock. Seriously. Although ‘Wagakki’ stands for traditional Japanese instruments, the band also has a drummer, a guitarist and a bass. And these guys definitely aren’t in the band for decoration. Wagakki band consists of eight members you see in the photo above: Yuko (vocals, red dress), Kiyoshi (koto, headband), Daisuke (shakuhachi, bald headed guy), Beni (tsugaru shamisen, long kimono), Kurona (wadaiko, with the drumsticks), Machiya (guitar, with the mask), Asa (bass,red hair and glasses) and Wasabi (drums, with karakters on his back). They’ve been together since 2013 and are classified as a pop rock/folk band.
Why listen to Wagakki band?
There have been bands before who combined traditional Japanese instruments with modern rock, but not on this scale. Of course you can use a bamboo flute in a song or a koto, but this band has a combination of different traditional instruments that mix perfectly with the modern ones.
Below is an example of their music. You can watch their song Senbonzakura, which is a cover of the Senbonzakura of Hatsune Miku of Vocaloid (more on them later on).
This song was, as I said above, a cover of one of the most populair Vocaloid-songs. The song had already proven itself, but the way the song is performed by Wagakki band definitely takes it to a new level. Here they start with the tsugaru shamisen, which gets accompanied by the wadaiko to create a fast-paced start. Then Yuko falls in, and together with the shakuhachi the first part of the song is acoustic. When Yuko reaches the long note the other instruments come in without losing the sound of the traditional instruments. And if you think you can’t play an awesome bridge with a koto, shakuhachi or tsugaru shamisen, these guys will prove you wrong.
This song obviously starts slower, taking time for the shakuhachi, which gets accompanied by the koto before the wadaiko, bass, drums and tsugaru shamisen fall in. They play the first part of the song before the guitar and Yuko fall in. The cool part about this band is that the traditional instruments are still clearly hearable above the guitar and drums, even in a heavy-sounding bridge. And how many songs do you know where the singer only starts to sing after one minute has passed?
Wagakki band and anime
The connection between bands and anime is very strong in Japan: most (good or interesting) bands have created and opening or closing song for one of the anime series. Wagakki band has created the opening song for Sengoku musou (Samurai warriors) called Ikusa (see above) and the ending song for Nadeshiko Sakura.
Wagakki band live
Wagakki band also sounds… well, almost the same live as they do on their album. The shakuhachi and koto usually create a calm and peaceful start which you’ll listen to intently. And when the bass, guitar and drums kick in, accompanied by Yuko’s strong voice you kind of get engulfed in the sound. And Yuko’s voice is something else! While most pop artists nowadays get ‘help’ from computers she easily tosses out a note which sounds seemingly endless. Just when you start to wonder how big her lungs are she takes a breather, to toss out an even longer note next. Just. Wow.
Wagakki band style
Their looks in one word: seriously amazing! Yeah, I can’t just use one word for it, their style is too cool. I’m a big fan of kimono’s, and the way they’ve customized them and made them fit for a band is just brilliant. The hairdo’s of the girls are beautifully done and Yuko’s fans are definitely high on my must-have list. And let’s not forget the guys, because their outfits match the kimono’s perfectly. My personal favorite clothing style is the one they used in Ikusa, since all the members have the same kind of look without losing their individuality. Although Yuko´s kimono in Tengaku is a very close second. Also interesting to note is the different karakters Wasabi has on his back. They always convey a different message matching the song, so it´s worth paying attention to.
Where to buy their music?
If you liked their songs and want to buy their music, here is a nice link for you. The album Vocalo Zanmai has not only the awesome Senbonzakura, but also Tengaku and Kagerou Days on it. I still haven’t found more places where you can buy their cd’s, so if you have an address please let me know!
And, what do you think? Is this something you can get used to?