Kodō - Taiko Extraordinaire

Kodō – Taiko Extraordinaire – Photo by Takashi Okamoto

It was 2002 during the World Cup when I first put the music to the name: Kodō. It wasn’t until I had heard Tataku: The Best of Kodō II (1994-1999), an amazing collection of their most recent recorded performances, that I made the connection between the music I was listening to and the globe-trotting band that wrote and performed the FIFA 2002 World Cup Official Anthem, a song which seemed to be powering the Japanese soccer club onto their best showing in a World Cup to date. Even then I still had no clue what it meant to experience Kodō live.

The story is much deeper than just the beat of a drum. And yet it’s not. This is the dichotomy of the 28 year-old Kodō, whose characters (鼓童) can be read as Children of the Drum, as well as referencing the beating of the heart (心臓の鼓動). As the first ripples of sound emanate out we hear the troupe’s playfulness as it gains and flows in and out of percussive cadence and it is only later, when the palpitations and multi-rhythmic vibrations quicken, that we note just how strong the drive and depth pulsate both within and without of our bodies. The average spectator, be they Japanese or not, sits ill-equipped with the cultural heritage to truly grasp the awe-inspiring accentuation of group playing, the many-headed articulation of arm to stick and hand to skin and back again to form an invisible enunciation of force and inflection through meter and modulation, one that can be understood in terms of timbre and tonality as well as striking a chord in the mysteriously unspeakable part of our reptile brains. After catching a whiff of the action way back then in 2002, I got hooked and decided to find out where they come from and what they are all about. What I found was more than just hippies banging on drums in the forest, it’s a way of life.

Kodō – Taiko Extraordinaire

Ondekoza (鬼太鼓座), is a Japanese taiko drumming troupe founded in 1969 by Tagayasu Den, which was influential in the rise of the kumi-daiko (group drumming) style of play as well as the groundbreaking Ōdaiko (Large Drum) solo, a musical piece focusing on one performer with little background percussion. Around this time and as part of a larger movement to rediscover Japanese folk art, Tagayasu brought together a group of young men and women to Sado Island to study and live. From this group members of Ondekoza formed Kodō in 1981.

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Kodō - Taiko Extraordinaire

Kodō – Taiko Extraordinaire – Photo by Takashi Okamoto

According to their website, Kodō “strives to both preserve and re-interpret traditional Japanese performing arts.” Taking this mantra to heart, the Kodō collective, ranging in age from 22 to 58 years-old, consists of 48 members, including 24 performing (17 men, 7 women) and 24 staff, many of whom spend about 1/3rd of the year performing across the globe, and have also created a commune in which to live, work, practice and play on the Ogi peninsula in the southern part of the island of Sado, off the coast of Niigata prefecture in the Japan Sea. When not on tour in the Americas, Europe, other parts of Asia and Japan itself, being at home doesn’t necessarily mean relaxing, due mainly to the international spirit of the troupe, which invites collaborations with myriad other artists and composers (just this year the U.K.-based choreographer Akram Khan and Dutch band Blof), often in preparation for the international arts Earth Celebration held in Ogi every August.

With this in mind the troupe rarely stops to catch its collective breath, yet always seems to be on sure footing as they play to packed houses of enthusiastic fans. Having returned to Japan just in time to reprise the best of their world tour before the end of the year, Kodō began December playing in Niigata, Okayama, Hiroshima and moving on to the Kansai area this weekend (Dec. 11-13) before appearing at Tokyo’s Bunkyo Hall (Dec. 17-20) and Kanagawa Kenmin Hall in Yokohama (Dec. 22). Ticket prices vary depending on the venue and seating, usually ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥6,000. Preschoolers and those younger are not admitted; nursery services will be available but limited. For more information, call (0259) 86-3630 or visit the group’s Website.