Kodo Drummers

by Andrew Frey
March 2005

Kodo Drummers

Kodo Drummers

The first drum beat each of us experience is our mother’s heartbeat. This drumming continues as our own heartbeat propels us through each day of our existence. On Sado Island near Japan, the group known as KODO express their own heartbeats through drums. Taiko drums to be exact.“

Historically, every culture has had their own kind of drum. It can be considered as “a tool shared by all mankind,” explained Jun Akimoto, KODO’s tour manager. “It definitely has the “power” and “possibility” to appeal to and connect the people all over the world.”

During their performances, the KODO performers are clad in sweatbands and loincloths and meticulously beat their drums to create rhythms and patterns as old as our collective human heartbeat, yet as new as the ears that hear them. Drums with names like “Hirado-daiko” (flat-barrel drum), “Chu-daiko” (middle-sized drum) and the giant 800 pound “O-daiko,” (a double headed drum made from the trunk of an African Bubinga tree and the hide of a large cow) all have been chosen and woven into tightly composed and choreographed rhythmic and musical tapestries. KODO have given over 2600 performances in 42 countries on all five continents since their debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981. When asked about a favorite among their live performances, Akimoto replied, “All the performances we’ve done are memorable in their own way but to name one, the outdoor concert that we did at Red Rocks, Colorado in 2002 as part of a music festival made a lasting impression as the venue was unique. Also our concert at The Acropolis (in Greece) was amazing.”

Kodo DrummersAre non-Japanese people allowed to become a KODO drummer? “Of course!” Akimoto says. “Anyone willing to go through the apprentice program, pass an audition successfully, and live in tandem with Taiko and KODO, all life styles are welcome.” Competition will be stiff though, as only 24 men and women comprise the performance group, with an equal number of staff, plus the dozens of apprentices and part time workers. In addition to passing the audition, the KODO then live on Sado Island. Akimoto clarifies, “Single members live communally in Kodo Village and those members who have family live near the Village with their family.” Having such a powerful global crossover appeal, KODO often plays with other musicians from around the world. Akimoto explained, “We will play with bagpipe player/recorderist from Spain, Carlos Nunez in Sado this Summer at our Earth Celebration Festival. We’re looking forward to that.”

KODO has released numerous studio and live recordings, but currently they are on tour in support of their “One Earth Tour Special” DVD. When asked what made it stand out from their other releases, Akimoto pointed out, “Physical and theatrical elements of our performance such as use of space and light in a theatrical space are highlighted through the performance captured on this DVD.  I think Tamasaburo’s (Tamasaburo Bando, artistic director of One Earth Tour Special performance) sense of those elements influenced us very much.”

On their upcoming tour there will be 6 kinds of drums. Plus Akimoto mentioned, “We also play compositions that feature Koto (Banjo-like Japanese traditional instrument), Bonan (Balinese instrument), Japanese flute and singing.” Akimoto concluded by saying, ““It’s been said from ancient times that Taiko has a power to encompass the entire area where its sound reaches as “community.” We’re looking forward to seeing you at our concert. There are new compositions that we will be performing for the first time in the US.” Be among the first in the community to hear them - 3/3 at Grand Theater in Wausau, WI, 3/4 at Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at UW Green Bay, WI, and 3/5 at Overture Hall in Madison, WI. www.kodo.or.jp

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