The inside story of a Shamisen Player’s obsession with the music of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
It all started one sunny afternoon in March of 2013. A local junior high school in Misawa, Japan (where I currently reside) had discovered that the entertainer scheduled to appear at their up & coming graduation ceremony had cancelled at the last minute. Through a mutual connection I was contacted and asked if I would be available to perform on Shamisen.
"Heck Yeah! " the words shot out of my mouth like a Spaceship headed for the moon! I had not been offered a paying gig in quite a while and was definitely up for it! After receiving a 10,000 yen down payment I was then handed a list of songs the junior high committee had requested that I perform for the event.
"No Problem! " I said, beaming with confidence “I’ll just look these up later tonight and give them a listen!”
That night I logged on to YouTube and proceeded to retrieve the crumpled list from out of my pants pocket. There staring back at me from the paper, scribbled in the charm of old fashioned handwriting was the name Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. “What the heck is a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?” I heard myself say out loud. The first song I was to look up was titled Tsukematsukeru “An Ode to fake eye lashes!?” I thought “This can’t be good…”
Within seconds I found myself assaulted by the most obnoxious Jpop music I think I had ever heard in my life. The song began filling the atmosphere of my room like some kind of uninvited hyper active alien presence. “Good Lord! What have I gotten myself into?” I lamented, tossing the rest of the list aside in a gesture of disillusion and hopelessness.
The next few days were littered with confusion. First of all I pondered the very concept itself “Why would anyone in their right mind request a song like that to be arranged for Shamisen, a traditional instrument with a rich history associated with distinguished folk songs and often reserved for formal occasions!?” I thought about canceling the gig. My mind became filled with the incessant poetry of potential excuses. "I just realized I’m going to have the Flu that day… Wait! My cousin is getting married! Sorry I didn’t realize it was the same day as your event! " and so on…
The very thought of being seen in public playing Tsukematsukeru made me cringe with Embarrassment! I had always prided myself as being one of the first Shamisen players to really experiment with Death Metal, Gangsta Rap and all kinds of Hard Hitting music. And yet here I was being asked to arrange and perform what I considered to be most likely the stupidest pop tune ever written in the whole history of stupid pop tunes.
Almost a week passed and I realized I was running out of time. I had to make a decision fast! Finally with a heavy heart I picked up the phone fully prepared to admit that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was just something I was not able to get into. But just then something caught my eye. There on my coffee table was the 10,000 yen bill. I began to think about how difficult it would be for them to get a replacement for me at this time. Then another very peculiar thought began to form within the walls of my brain… “Maybe…just maybe is a way to make this work.”
And so, once again I found myself sitting in front of my computer with Bachi in hand filling my ears with the embarrassingly repetitive anthem to fake eye lashes. “Well, here goes nothing!” I said as I began to tune my instrument to the song. “Wait a second!” again, I was surprised to hear my own voice speaking out loud! " Good God! My Shamisen is already perfectly in tune with Tsukematsukeru !" It was without a doubt an omen. By nightfall I had successfully arranged the song and with some help from my newly acquired Boss Loop Station I had actually managed to incorporate a lot of my own original Shamisen style into the mix.
Although this was all well and good there were still other songs to learn.
The next one on the list was “Ninjari Ban Ban!”
Being slightly more open minded at this point I found myself tapping my foot to the beat. Could it actually be possible that I was starting to like this strange creature who called herself “Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?” Nah! Impossible!
And yet within an hour or so…
The day of the gig finally arrived and although still wrestling with embarrassment, I went on to hit the stage fully charged with an arsenal of Pamyu Pamyu songs all arranged for Electric Shamisen and loop station. As I struck the final note of the performance I found myself greeted with the most enthusiastic screams and cheers from a crowd of young Japanese kids who were all obviously die-hard fans of this super cheesy new Jpop music. It was at that moment that I realized I was ready to admit the truth. A truth that had been nagging at me ever since I struck the first note of Tsukematsukeru, a truth of which I had been in complete denial of up until that moment. Suddenly, as if struck by some inner lightening bolt I fell to my knees in humble recognition. I had become one of them. “Holy Cow!” I finally admitted, “I totally love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu!”
Somehow during the course of my learning her songs I actually began to fall in love with them. There was a fire burning inside of me that was telling me this isn’t going to end here. In fact this was just the start! It was time for me to embrace my embarrassment and begin to openly express my passion for Kyary’s music.
My next video project was an arrangement of her upbeat dance tune titled PONPONPON . I wanted to do something different and somewhat comical with it so I created an arrangement for piano and Shamisen that contrasts the fast paced original by presenting it as a slow, almost sad instrumental ballad.
Shortly after that I began indulging myself in the accumulation of Kyary paraphernalia. Pamyu Pamyu CDs, live concert DVDs, posters, pins, stickers, magazines and her autobiography “Oh My God! Harajuku Girl!” all began filling my residence at an alarming rate.
From Moshi Moshi Harajuku I began uploading covers of
(Cherry Bon Bon)
(Pin Pon ga Nannai)
(Kyary no March)
From Pamyu Pamyu Revolution I uploaded
(Pamyu Pamyu Revolution)
(Giri Giri Safe)
(Minna no Uta)
(Onedari 44 do)
(Chan Chaka Chan Chan)
I even created a medley of Kyary tunes with the loop station combining the themes of Tsukematsukeru , Ninjari ban ban and Candy Candy.
As well as
(demo demo mada mada)
It was all great fun and I savored every new KPP song I could wrap my fingers around! Yet my ambitions for creating Pamyu Pamyu Shamisen arrangements seemed to keep growing with each passing day.
To be continued!
[Edit: click here for part 2!]
About the author
Kevin Kmetz has played Tsugaru Shamisen since the start of this century and is considered a ground-breaking new artist. His unique blend of East and West cultures brought him to the attention of record labels in both Japan and the U.S. such as Mimicry, The End records and EMI Japan. He’s been featured in over fifteen releases which include three solo albums. Kevin has collaborated and worked with some of today’s top artists including Taiko master Hidano Shuichi, Kamancha virtuoso Imamyar Hasanov and Michael Jackson’s guitarist Jennifer Batten. He is the highest ranking foreigner to play Tsugaru Shamisen having won the second place award at The Kanagi all nation tournament in both 2006 and 2007. Kevin is currently a featured member of the international world music group Monsters of Shamisen. He is also the inspiration for the first brand of premium shamisen coffee, “Creamy Kevin.”