Hiromitsu Agatsuma (上妻 宏光 Agatsuma Hiromitsu, born July 27, 1973 in Hitachi, Ibaraki prefecture) is perhaps the most prolific Tsugaru-jamisen (3-stringed Japanese banjo-like lute) artist in Japan today.
Agatsuma began studying the Tsugaru-jamisen at the age of six, and earned his first accolade – top prize at the 1988 All-Japan Tsugaru-jamisen Competition – at 14. This was followed in 1995 and 1996, by top honours at the Tsugaru-jamisen National Competition, said to be the country’s most prestigious. Despite the high acclaim he received in the hogaku, or traditional Japanese music world, for his accomplishments, Agatsuma did not rest on his laurels. He not only continued to explore the traditional aspects of his instrument, but also avidly experimented in fusing its sounds with diverse musical genres.
His album “Agatsuma” comprised of five traditional and five original pieces, was named Traditional Japanese Music Album of the Year at the 16th Japan Gold Disc Awards.
His album “BEAMS,” his second album contains ten original works, taking the Tsugaru-jamisen in innovative directions.
Chieko Kojima first encountered Japanese folk dancing when she moved to Sado to join Sado no Kuni Ondekoza in 1976. She went on to become one of Kodo’s founding members in 1981. In addition to her work with Kodo, she also has an active solo career that is perhaps best characterized by her ongoing project, “Yukiai,” where she seeks out new encounters and collaborations with artists and taiko groups within Japan and throughout the world. Kojima is known for her original dancing style during Kodo’s taiko-based performances, which is best exemplified by her vivid portrayal of the goddess Ameno-uzume in the first season of “Amaterasu” in 2006. She became a Kodo Distinguished Member in 2012, and was the director of the annual concert series “Kodo Special Performances on Sado Island” for four years, starting from its inaugural season that same year. She continues to ambitiously broaden her expressive outlets, as demonstrated by her recent productions based on the “Tales of Dojoji,” which then became the inspiration for her first photo book, ” Kasane no Kiyohime Monogatari: The Myriad Layers of Kiyohime,” a unique work created with photographer Maiko Miyagawa and released in 2015.
Yosuke Oda is a very energetic and intense taiko artist who always pushes himself to the max. He entered the world famous Kodo apprenticeship program in 1999 and was a full-fledged member of the group from 2003-2017. He is now a solo taiko artist and continues to passionately pursue the true sound of the drum. He is a prolific composer, and awesome odaiko and Miyake Daiko soloist. He composed Ake no Myojo, a piece for female performers featuring taiko, dance, and song in the production, “One Earth Tour: Mystery.” He directed the “Earth Celebration 2013” Shiroyama Concert “Shukusai” and was portrayed the dramatic lead role of Susano’o in the Tokyo and Kyoto performances of “Amaterasu” in 2013. Yosuke is a great motivator and encourages drummers to play every beat with heart and soul.
Kenny Endo is one of the leading artists in contemporary taiko and percussion. He is at the vanguard of this genre, continuing to pave new paths in Japanese drumming even after forty years as a career taiko artist. A performer, composer, and teacher, with numerous awards and accolades, Kenny is a consummate artist, blending taiko with rhythms influenced from around the world into original melodies and improvisation. He is arguably one of the most versatile musicians in the genre, crossing easily between classical Japanese music and his own neo-traditional, globally inspired variety.
Sho’on Shibata is a taiko performer, teacher, and researcher from Fukuoka, Japan. He began his studies in taiko when he was awarded the Presidential Scholars Research Project Award while pursuing a musicology degree at the Crane School of Music in 2011. While conducting fieldwork researching Matsuri Bayashi (festival music) in Japan, Sean founded Potsdam Okuma Taiko, a collegiate taiko ensemble based in Potsdam, NY.
Sho’on was awarded the TCP Fellowship in 2015 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As part of his love for music from around the world, Sean has studied Southeast Indian carnatic music in Chennai, India, pungmul in Seoul, South Korea, as well as Caribbean drumming in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. He actively participates in many ensembles at UH including Gagaku, Chinese Ensemble, and Javanese Gamelan. He is a Taiko Center of the Pacific Performing Ensemble trainee and performs with several taiko groups in Japan.