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Nagauta

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  • Japanese: 長唄 (nagauta)

Nagauta (lit. "long song") is one of the most prominent styles or genres of shamisen music (coupled with singing) in both the traditions of geisha/courtesan entertainments, and the kabuki theatre. It is today the style of shamisen music with the most ryûha ("schools" of music), and the most amateur students.

Nagauta is the most standard or typical form of kabuki music, being performed in roughly half of all scenes or pieces in the kabuki repertoire; the remaining half of the repertoire is divided among tokiwazu, kiyomoto, and other shamisen genres. Nagauta is as a result the dominant style of music employed in Nihon buyô ("Japanese dance") as well. Nagauta dances began to emerge and gather strength in the 1750s, becoming dominant shortly afterwards; one of the most popular, Musume Dôjôji, dates to 1753.

Nagauta is described as a "lyrical" style, a more purely musical style in contrast to the more "narrative" form of the tokiwazu and kiyomoto styles. Its distinctive character is said to derive not from any core, essential identity of its own, but rather from a synthesis of influences and borrowings from other styles. Yet, this nevertheless yields in the end something quite unique and distinctive, in its vocal style, melodies, and mode of shamisen instrumentation.

Nagauta shamisen employs a system of notation (tablature) developed in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Singers, shamisen players, and hayashi musicians (e.g. drummers, flute players, other instrumentalists), can all belong to the nagauta genre. Like kabuki actors, kabuki musicians take on names from the kabuki tradition; Kineya is the most common surname among onstage nagauta kabuki singers and shamisen players.

References

  • McQueen Tokita, Alison. "Music in kabuki: more than meets the eye." The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. pp242-245.
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