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Although the shamisen has long been played by elegant geishas and accompanists for highly stylized Kabuki and Bunraku plays, the three-stringed lute was originally a little bit, well, country. The twangy, banjolike instrument was introduced to Japan’s main islands from the Ryukyus—the country’s version of the Deep South. Virtuoso Chikuzan Takahashi II has liberalized the shamisen’s role by exploring nontraditional styles and collaborating with musicians from other musical backgrounds, but, like many prominent Kabuki actors, she’s also bolstered the aristocratic notion of artistic dynasticism. Born Chikuyo Takahashi, in 1997 she adopted the name “Chikuzan Takahashi II” in tribute to her teacher, the blind master who greatly popularized the Tsugaru shamisen style. Her own playing, however, is more personal and contemporary than I’s. Takahashi performs at 6:30 p.m. at the Japan Information and Culture Center, Lafayette Centre III, 1155 21st St. NW. Free. For reservations call (202) 238-6901. (Mark Jenkins)