Mitsune Told Me: The Mind’s Behind ‘Hazama’

Mitsune is something to truly feast your ears on. Teaching us to look beyond the sounds of the western curtain, the quintet bring traditional Japanese folk music and infuse it with the sounds of modern blues, jazz and rock in a culmination that truly broadens horizons. The band’s latest project, Hazama, is due to be unveiled in mid-February so we got chatting to two of the Tsugaru shamisen players, Youka and Tina, to find out more…

STM: When was the last time you discovered an artist through word of mouth?

Youka: Constantly! The most recent examples are Yuma Abe (Japan), Audrey Nuna (USA) and Juba, a sick UK/Nigerian DJ who lives in Berlin. I found out about all of these artists through friends.

STM: How useful is the tool of ‘word of mouth’ when an artist is just starting their career?

Tina: I think it’s a communication of high quality, since the recommendation is added, which gives it this extra kind of honouring. Especially when starting a career, this can be the hidden gem recommendation.

STM: What were your first ‘tools of promotion’ when you first started in music?

Tina: Facebook, Instagram, mailing lists, website and flyers.

STM: What do you think the industry would look like without streaming platforms like Spotify?

Youka: This might be controversial, but I think Spotify algorithms are responsible for the homogenisation of a lot of music. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of diverse music on streaming platforms – anyone can put their music out there without a label or distribution deal, and that’s a wonderful thing! But these days most listeners are discovering music via Spotify algorithmic playlists, and I think it can really get you stuck in a genre box. Unimaginative music that sounds like whatever is popular at the time gets rewarded. I think it’s even started to affect the way people make music, musicians catering for this.

Anyway, to answer your question – I think the music industry without streaming would be overall more refined, curated by tastemakers, with more emphasis on albums rather than singles. On the downside, it might be harder for emerging artists to get their hat in the ring.

STM: What did you learn about yourselves as people and as musicians from writing/recording Hazama?

Tina: I learned to appreciate the energy of working together based on deep respect for a person and their skills. And there were so many new musical influences, which was a sensory experience. Last but not least: vocals + tricky shamisen techniques at the same time were a great challenge.

STM: Where did the idea behind the band come from?

Tina: The love for the shamisen was what connected us all. This mutual passion made us reach out for each other. The different paths we came from gave us very unique perspectives to this instrument, and to music in general. We want to show that this supposedly ‘traditional’ instrument is very much alive and contemporary. It is exciting and vibrant.

STM: How important is it that we spread knowledge and awareness of these traditional Japanese folk music sounds to those unaware of them?

Tina: For a more diverse music scene, any music that promotes lesser known instruments and tunes should get attention. There is such a big range of instruments and musicians beyond the western curtain, which still dominates what is broadcast and who is booked.

STM: What is the group dynamic like between the five of you?

Youka: Our rehearsals are a lot of fun, lots of laughter. Mitsune started first as a shamisen trio, so Tina, Shiomi & I have known each other the longest in the band. We have a deep relationship that extends far beyond musical collaboration – it’s a sisterhood. We love each other very much and are an emotional support network for one another. Petros & Daigo, our percussionist & bassist, are both super fun, enthusiastic people who are amazing to be around. They are also incredible musicians, open-minded and willing to tackle anything. The band is essentially based on friendship, so there’s a lot of great energy flying around in our rehearsals and on stage. We try to have fun 🙂

Hazama is unleashed on the 18th of February 2022!

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