Guest in Focus: Mitsune

© Mitsune Photo Shari Marks

Mitsune is a Japanese folk band from Berlin with three female tsugaru shamisen players accompanied by percussion and bass. Between tradition and avant-garde, they play an exciting mix of newly interpreted Japanese folk songs and their own compositions with influences from blues, jazz, rock and film music. In 2022 Mitsune released their second album, which was highly praised in the Rolling Stone magazine and entered the Transglobal World Music Chart’s Top 10.

We thank Mitsune for this interview.

How did you meet and under which circumstances was Mitsune founded?

Mitsune was founded in Berlin in 2018, at first as a shamisen trio. We three ladies (Shiomi, Tina & Youka) from three different lands (Japan, Germany, Australia) met through the mutual love of the shamisen, and started practicing traditional Japanese music together. We found so much ease and joy in playing together, we naturally started composing our own music and decided to form a band. We wanted to add some low frequencies to the sound, so Petros (percussion) joined us in 2019, and Daigo (contrabass) joined us in 2022. These talented guys are now permanent Mitsune band members.

How do all of your cultural backgrounds influence your artistic work?

Our music celebrates our diverse backgrounds in Japanese min’yo, jazz, rock and cinematic music, to name a few. Our cultural backgrounds play a part – half the band is Japanese, and our music is obviously centred around Japanese folk music – however, we like to think of culture as being beyond ethnicity. We are influenced by what we love, what we know, and what we have observed or learned in our careers as musicians and as foreigners living in Berlin. Our influences range from Khaleeji music of the Gulf, to North African music, to hip hop, to techno!

 The Tsugaru shamisen is the group’s central instrument. Why did you choose this instrument for your group and what fascinates you about it?

I would say that the Tsugaru shamisen chose this band, not the other way around! Hahah. The instrument actually brought Mitsune’s founding members together, as rare instruments tend to bring enthusiasts together, but also something about the magic of this instrument seems to attract people. I believe that our percussionist and contrabassist were also drawn to the instrument, and to playing alongside it with their instruments. The Tsugaru shamisen is a combination of a drum and a stringed instrument, and the playing style is uniquely percussive – rather than strumming the strings, you strike down on the string and simultaneously strike the skin on the instrument’s body, like hitting a drum. The sound is bold and fearless, steeped in folklore and tradition, and it awakens something deep and primal in people.

(Nippon Connection 2023 – Nippon Culture: Mitsune © Mitsune Photo Shari Marks)

Your latest studio album is called “Hazama”. What does the eponymous song’s name mean to you and why did you name your album after it?

Hazama translates roughly from the Japanese as “in between”, the sense of being in limbo or between worlds. This word aptly describes the band’s experiences as a cross-cultural group, each member with entirely different backgrounds and cultural stories. Through music, we are unified and find a common place – in the abstract dreamspace where music exists. The album is an exploration of this theme, with our songs combining different worlds and influences from around the globe and different ideas in our past, present and future. 

Your album has received praise from magazines like Rolling Stone and Songlines, and entered the Top 10 Transglobal Music Charts. How was your reaction?

We are overjoyed if our music can reach people and make them feel something meaningful. Positive media reviews are great, but for us it’s just as important to reach people at a grassroots level, to talk to people at concerts and receive private messages from people who connect with our music.

What was your most enjoyable concert experience to date?

We supported the amazing Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote at Huxleys Neue Welt in Berlin last year – we played to around 1500 people, easily our biggest audience to date, and the response was incredible. We are super grateful to Hiatus Kaiyote for introducing us to their audience, who are true music-lovers, many musicians themselves. It was a wonderful feeling to connect with this great room of people!

(Nippon Connection 2023 – Nippon Culture: Mitsune ©Mitsune Photo Andrea Berroteran)

Nippon Live On Stage: Mitsune
with Mitsune
at the 23rd Nippon Connection Film Festival
The program and tickets will be available on the festival homepage from May 12, 2023.

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