Special Report: The Birth of California Shamisen

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The Birth of Caifornia Shamisen by NAO NAKAZAWA is a new documentary about a Japanese American musician who was the first foreigner to be accepted to the Hirosaki and Kanagi Championship tournaments in Japan for Tsugaru Shamisen music. Tsugaru Shamisen is Japanese Folk Music Art, named for the Northern Region of Japan and for the three stringed instrument that is plucked with a pick called a bachi. Born in Germany the child of a German and Japanese mother, KEVIN MASAYA KMETZ first developed his musicianship as a cellist and rock guitarist and later studied at the California Arts School of Music. When he watched the Shamisen master Takahashi Chikuza in Japan he became hooked on the music. Kmetz moved from Japan to California at 16 and has since then developed what is known as California Shamisen based on his experience as a solo player without instructors. Kmetz bends the rules, such as using his thumb when he plays and playing the Shamisen as a backup instrument. He also inventively collaborates with other musicians incorporating different styles such as gypsy folk music with an opera vocalist. One of the groups is known as Fistank ensemble. Later he developed a group called The God of Shamisen. His group will play a short set at the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito tomorrow, along with a screening of the film. Currently Kevin lives and works in Santa Cruz where he teaches Tsugaru Shamisen at the New Music School in Santa Cruz.
Nakasawa traces the history of Tsugaru Shamisen using silkscreen silhouettes in the beginning of the film later relying on interviews with his parents, the California folk arts music scene and enthusiasts and devotees of Shamisen in Japan. It is a fascinating insight into an eclectic use of this historical Japanese instrument in inventive and creative music making.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan
More Information:
The Birth of California Shamisen
USA - 2008