Thursday, September 10, 2009

Theme Thursday - Rhythm

When I think of rhythm, I usually think of drums. Not that you can't make rhythm in music without percussion, but percussion is often used to make the basic rhythm of a piece of music much more complex and more rhythmic than just the straight beat. So I had a great post all planned out, with Peter Gabriel's "Rhythm of the Heat" and Mickey Hart with Zakir Hussein and all kinds of rhythmic goodies. But then I decided to add a Taiko video to the mix, and that set off all kinds of fireworks in my brain. So...

Every July we have the Black Ships Festival to celebrate native son Commodore Matthew Perry and his re-opening of Japan to contact with the West. Among the more popular events in the celebration is the Taiko Drumming Festival. Taiko is a uniquely Japanese form of ensemble percussion performance, and can be very moving. Climaxes can be very thunderous, and I've never yet come away from a taiko performance without my entire body vibrating and my feet tingling; you can often feel the ground trembling under your feet at the height of the performance. And while beating away at the drums, members of the ensemble will shout encouragement to soloists, as well as letting out with yells similar to karate practitioners letting out the pent-up energy. So there's a palpable sense of excitement in a taiko performance.

While taiko is uniquely Japanese, it migrated to the US in the late '60s and has since become very popular here as well. Drumming ensembles sprang up in the wake of the first ensemble in San Francisco, and now there are performing (and often travelling) taiko ensembles in most of the major urban areas of the US, and even some not-so-urban places; I remember seeing some ensembles here from Kentucky and New Hampshire in the past. It's great fun to watch, but it looks like an absolute blast to perform, which probably explains the widespread range of the ensembles.

One of the US's premier taiko ensembles is Soh Daiko out of New York. Here are two photos of them at one of the earlier Black Ships Festivals. These are from my pre-digital days, taken with a consumer 35 mm camera and scanned to post on my old website, so the quality isn't quite what you're used to seeing from me.

And here is Soh Daiko performing their signature finale, sinuously snaking around and between the drums, swapping out solos, and just generally raising the excitement of the performance to a high pitch.

The oldest and perhaps the best taiko ensemble in the US is the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, started in 1968 by sensei Seiichi Tanaka. They're still going strong, and sensei Tanaka is still performing and composing the ensemble's material. Here they are performing in Taiwan; this is their signature piece - "Tsunami". I've seen it in person, and my feet still tingle with the memory!

But now let's go to Japan to see what's going on in the home-base of Taiko. The world's best-known taiko ensemble is Kodo; they have their own little community on Sado Island, and they travel around the world performing. Their usual theme is peace and cultural diversity, and they make a powerful statement with their music. This is a promotional video which gives you a good idea of their range of styles and talent. Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. Cool stuff. Drums do seem to come to mind for a lot of us when it comes to rhythm.

  2. Roy, awesome! Lots of power here. I was drawn to the second one, in particular( and having problems loading up the last one...GAH! )Niiice post :)

  3. I've never heard of Taiko! I agree you need the percussion to really feel the rhythm! So cool that your toes were rattling at the end! :)

  4. Now THAT is some serious rhythm!!

  5. Fantastic drums. Yes, for me, drumming is about as close as you can get to raw rhythm.

  6. Ditto for this. I can't see the videos at the moment, but I'll definitely be checking them out.

  7. those kodo drums are amazing, I totally forgot about the group that I saw when I was in fort worth in april - and I had some awesome pics too....and I don't think I posted any of them!

    hey, the great lakes brewery has a pale ale named after commodore's quite tasty.

    wonder if they would consider serving it at the black ships festival! ha!!

    here's the info on it:

    India Pale Ale: The Bow Brewery in London exported this pale ale to the multitude of British soldiers, colonial administrators and settlers in India. This pale ale style was a strong candidate for shipping due to the high potency and high level of attenuation.

    This monumental India Pale Ale honors the hero from The War of 1812 who battled the enemy on Lake Erie.

    too bad I can't send you a six pack!!

  8. Let's hear it for your rattling toes! Great!

  9. I gotta say they definitely have Rythym! Wow!

  10. I love Taiko Drums, the Koreans have something similar, I remember seeing them at Expo back in the 80's. Living with a drummer, I appreciate drums even more than the average bear I think.

  11. They remind me a lot of the percussion group "Stomp" (although, of course, any influence came the other way). I loved seeing it as much as listening.

  12. That is so great and interesting! Thanks for sharing with us lol