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SXSW 2016: Japan’s Wagakki Band Rocks Austin

With South by Southwest over, let’s talk about a performance that rocked Austin last Friday March 18. Coming all the way from the Land of the Rising Sun is WagakkiBand, a modern rock band with a traditional twist, that rocked Austin at the Des Moines Embassy.

Review by Sandra Tsai-Yun and introduction by Sara Eunice Martinez

Photos courtesy of Avex Music Creative Inc.

Probably being the first of its kind, these eight rock stars blend traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen, shakuhachi, and koto with Western rock n’ roll equipment to create an original and yet authentic Japanese sound. Debuting in 2013, this band is a force that has dominated Japan with their 2015 sophomore album YASOUEMAKI, reaching no. 1 on the Japanese charts. Not only that but their YouTube smash hit, “Senbonzakura,” has culminated over 37 million views and counting. MTV Japan has also named the band an “Artist To Watch.”

Not only is their sound refreshing, but their live shows are amazing. Along with their throwback modern sound includes a historic performance, with twirling of parasols, manipulation of fans, kabuki masks, and the band each wearing beautiful outfits that’s worth checking out.

Shuffle Online's staff writer Sara E. Martinez interviewed the Wagakki Band before their performance last Friday night. Band members from left to right (top): Wasabi, Asa, Yuko Suzuhana, Daisuke Kaminaga, Beni Ninagawa, Kurona; band members from left to right (bottom): Machiya and Kiyoshi Ibukuro
Shuffle Online’s staff writer Sara E. Martinez interviewed the WagakkiBand before their performance last Friday night. Band members from left to right (top): Wasabi, Asa, Yuko Suzuhana, Daisuke Kaminaga, Beni Ninagawa, Kurona; band members from left to right (bottom): Machiya and Kiyoshi Ibukuro / Photo by ChinLin Pan

WagakkiBand is composed of eight unique and diverse talents. Yuko Suzuhana, the lead vocalist is a champion in shigin (Japanese singing poetry). Kiyoshi Ibukuro is the graceful koto player, which is a Japanese 13-string instrument. Daisuke Kaminaga is the wonderful shakuhachi player. Beni Ninagawa, the beautiful and talented tsugaru-jamisen player. Kurona, hidden in the back left corner with a prominent aura, is the wadaiko (or Japanese drum player). Machiya, the guitarist with his charm and charisma. Asa, the bass player was a force to reckon with. Finally, Wasabi, the youngest member and drum player, was an unforgettable presence.

Wagakki Band / Photo courtesy of Avex Group
WagakkiBand’s Yuko Suzuhana and Machiya (foreground) / Photo courtesy of Avex Music Creative Inc.

Fans cheered and welcomed the band before they even stepped onto the stage as the set-up was taking place. Yuko greeted the crowd in English, which was the start of their 8-piece showcase.

They opened the stage with “Ikusa,” the first track of their newest album, YASOUEMAKI. Next, they played “Tengaku,” which opened with Daisuke’s shakuhachi. The third piece was “Akatsuki no Ito,” which is the blend of a mellow and melancholic melody. Fourth was the “Shamisen Solo”, which was Beni’s shining moment.

Yuko’s added accessory, a red wagasa, or Japanese umbrella, added a delicate and sophisticated touch to the stage. Next was “Yoshizawa Lament”, another mellow melody, which was a warm-up for the upcoming drum and wadaigo battle between Kurona and Wasabi. The drum and wadaigo battle was intense and dramatic.

Wagakki Band's Yuko Suzuhana / Photo courtesy of Avex Group
WagakkiBand’s Yuko Suzuhana / Photo courtesy of Avex Music Creative Inc.

Before the unplanned encore piece, the band performed their top hit song, “Senbonzakura,” which was the crowd’s favorite. Many fans sang along the members, which became a harmony between the crowd and WagakkiBand. After “Senbonzakura”, the audience yelled “One more song!” countless times. They closed the night with an additional song called “Hanafurumai.”

The opportunity to see their showcase at SXSW was incredible. The band amazed the crowd and fans. Their harmonious performance, costumes, and the member’s colorful personalities were something not to be missed. I believe they are one of the best live performances and with no doubt, they will win the hearts of many new fans everywhere.

Stay tuned for our interview with WagakkiBand conducted by Shuffle Online’s staff writer Sara E. Martinez! And which WagakkiBand song is your favorite? Let us know @iamsaramartinez and @shuffleonline!

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