For Valentine’s Day, JB and I went to see the Kodo drummers. These drummers combine athletic prowess, music, dance, and rhythmic drumming in their performance. They come from Sado Island off the coast of Japan where they train and create community. I found myself sitting forward in my seat during much of the performance. The music was both meditative and energizing.
The word kodo in Japanese means “heartbeat” and also means “children of the drum” which infers that the drumming is to be done with the heart of a child. These drummers play the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum, which is said to sound like the heartbeat of a child in a mother’s womb. The drummers perform traditional Japanese music but also pieces solicited from contemporary composers and created by the drummers themselves.
Though the group was formed in 1981, listening to the music feels as if they have been around forever, their music reaching back into a deep and ancient tradition which simultaneously and creatively pushes the rhythmic boundaries of the present.
One of the many amazing parts of the performance are the drummers who play the very large drums. The audience watches the players from the back. They wear only a small loin-type cloth. As they play the big drums, their moving, pulsing muscles in their backs, bottoms, and legs are clearly visible forming a fluid visual to the powerful and exhaustive beats they play. It’s also a bit erotic.
Many years ago, in the late 80s, we bumped into this group playing in the middle of the Japanese mall, then known as Yaohan’s (now Mitsuwa’s) in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. We were captivated and were able to be up close to the performers, nearly able to reach out and touch them. Their drumming rhythmically activated every cell in our being. A few weeks ago in Orchestra Hall (actually now called Symphony Center), the Kodo drummers performed the magic once again.
(In the video above, the words of the new artistic director of the Kodo drummers, Tamasaburo Bando, a renowned kabuki artist, are not translated but much of the drumming is reflective of the concert we saw.)