In a world fraught with political turmoil, broken up by war, and torn apart by loss, the absurd, lighthearted mountain music of Takeo Ischi more poignant and essential than ever. I mean, if the news has got you down (and how can it not), just take a break and watch this. You’ll feel much better, trust me.
Ischi’s electronic, accordion and yodeling dance track featuring “bock-bock-begooock” interludes is unlike anything you’ve likely heard before. And his story is downright inspiring for any musician trying to carve out a life for themselves through music.
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1947, Ischi was a self-described “loner” who had a difficult time fitting in. He heard yodeling on the radio as a child and became obsessed with the sound of it. It clearly made a massive impact on him, because his life was set on a completely different course after that.
His yodeling obsession was accompanied by a love of obscure stringed instruments like the zither and hammered dulcimer, both of which he taught himself as a child. In his teens, Ischi taught himself to yodel by listening to Franzl Lang records and imitating what he heard. In case you aren’t familiar, Lang is one of yodeling’s most revered figures and is widely known as the “Yodel King.”
When Ischi studied abroad in Germany a couple of years later, everything changed for our young hero. The aspiring yodeler traveled to Switzerland to try his hand at the art form in Zürich beer halls, performing in front of people who actually knew what yodeling was… And he was a big hit! Ischi’s skills earned him money, an audience, and eventually the attention of Franzl Lang, the King, himself.
As it turns out, when Lang heard Ischi do his thing, he was so impressed that he took him under his wing. Think about that for a second. That would be like a kid obsessing over Wilco albums, getting really good at writing songs, and eventually getting the chance to be mentored by Jeff Tweedy.
And Ischi really did have the chops! Check out this live performance from 1983, where he sings one of Lang’s own classic tunes, “Mein Vater Ist Ein Appenzeller.”
Word quickly spread about Takeo Ischi and he became known as the “Japanese yodeler” (“Der japanische Jodler”). Not a creative name, but you get the point. He returned to Japan, met a nice girl and proposed to her by, you guessed it, yodeling. They married and had five kids while Ischi solidified his role as one of the world’s most preeminent yodelers. He’s largely credited with bringing the culture of yodeling to Japan, at least modestly. That pretty much brings us up to speed.
So, what’s with his love of chickens?
While it’s unclear where this love came from, it’s undeniable that Ischi’s love of chickens runs deep and has contributed to his late-in-life viral fame. As you heard in the video above, his skill at clucking rivals his skill at yodeling. In 2011, he released “New Bibi Hendl,” his hit about catching a chicken in the Alps, and it has gone on to be viewed tens of millions of times across multiple uploads on YouTube. From there, he really leaned into the role of “Chicken Yodeler.”
Ischi’s website welcomes visitors with a video clip of him and the chickens as soon as you enter. He also has a new song out called “The Chicken and the Egg,” but it doesn’t seem to be streamable online — although you can hear a 30-second excerpt here.
And in 2017, Ischi paired up with YouTube sensations, the Gregory Brothers (of “Auto-Tune the News” and “Bed Intruder” fame), to produce “Chicken Attack.” Ischi stars as a Samurai-inspired, chicken-summoning warrior clad in lederhosen who harnesses “the power of nature” to fight crimes with the power of the “chicken attack.” It’s really worth the four minutes of your time:
Chickens and all, the fact that Takeo Ischi’s music is somewhat silly doesn’t mean that the man’s story isn’t one in which all musicians can find inspiration. He went from absolutely no training or background in yodeling, just a sheer passion for it, to working with the best musician in his genre and becoming internationally known and loved for his art for years to come.
Most of us would settle for much less in our own musical careers because we’re too……………. chicken.
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