"Kouta" is a popular song accompanied with shamisen (the three-stringed Japanese banjo), which was originally derived from "hauta" (a Japanese short ballad accompanied with shamisen). Generally, kouta is used as the abbreviation of Edo kouta (hauta performed and enjoyed in Edo). The abbreviation became common in the Meiji or Taisho period.
In addition to Edo kouta, there exist various kouta, such as Gendai kouta (modern kouta), Kiyomoto kouta, Tokiwazu kouta, Gidayu kouta (also called Toyomoto-bushi), and Shinnai kouta. The description below is mainly about Edo kouta.
The shamisen performance style in kouta is "tsume biki" (literally, plucking with the player's fingernails, but in reality, plucking with the player's fingers), while that in hauta is plucking with a plectrum. As is mentioned above, kouta originated from hauta, so kouta and hauta have almost the same melody.
In spite of the literal meaning of tsume biki, the shamisen player should use not its fingernails but its fingertips alongside for plucking the strings.
Kouta was mainly performed in a Japanese-style drawing room of the size of four and a half tatami (a Japanese floor mat), so the player naturally began to pluck with its fingers, instead of the plectrum that made the sound too big for the room.
The characteristics of kouta are the singer's mumbling voice, and its rhythmical and stylish song.
Basically, one kouta group consists of a shamisen player and a singer, and occasionally, there exists another shamisen player of kaede (the accompanying melody), uwajoshi (the higher range melody), or sagarijoshi (the lower range melody).
The performance time is from about one and half minute to about three minutes. At the longest, it finishes within five minutes. There exist various lyrics, such as yuri mono (also called yujo mono, the song of love affairs in the red-light district), bojo mono (also called jochi mono, the song of love affairs of the public), shibai mono (the song featuring a drama), yakusha mono (the song featuring an actor), bareuta (the song that has a satirical or sophisticated flavor), and inakauta (a traditional folk song and the like). Hauta is accompanied with an instrument other than shamisen, while kouta is accompanied only with shamisen.
Representative iemoto (the head family of a school) of kouta
In 1917, Kotama HORI founded Hori school, the first one in the kouta world.
After that, many schools were established. At present, about 70 schools are making their activities, and they are making every effort to train the younger generation, because most members of the schools are aging.