Drumming can take on a new life depending where in the world you are performing. It seems that cultures around the world have an affinity for drum music and the right beat can capture and take hold of any audience. For many countries a drum kit with all the frills of a snare, tom, cymbal, bass drum, high hat, and more aren’t necessary to make a band come to life. A simple djembe or a pair of bongos will do. World drum music has inspired musicians for years. For centuries drums have united and separated nations and this year a group of young drummers from Japan is looking to bridge cultural barriers with the help of their drums.
Kodo, a Japanese taiko drum ensemble that was established in 1981, has reinvigorated taiko drumming in Japan and toured worldwide. They have worked with hit acts such as the Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil, the Paris Opera and even taken the opportunity to tour alone. Despite language and cultural barriers, Kodo has relied on taiko drumming to connect the gap. Collecting inspiration from Japan’s long history of drumming and various styles, the group has crafted a performance that connects regions of Japan and shares them with an international audience.
“There are numerous folk performing arts in Japan, especially in the rural areas, that are unknown to people outside Japan,” Jun Akimoto, company manager of Kodo explained. “”Our mission is to introduce those to an international audience. We have learned from many towns and villages in Japan, spending time there to learn and then make an arrangement to perform.”"
While the company is small, with only 13 performers, they are making a big impact by bringing taiko drumming to the US. Their passion from drumming shows in their performances which rely on simple costumes but elaborate performance pieces. The drums can in a variety of sizes and the shapes influence the pitch. Musicians who are used to standard drum kits have found the switch to taiko drumming to be fairly simple. Both require drummers to have proper posture and an understanding of rhythm and timing. Understanding these basic ideas is useful for switching between instruments.
Still, taiko drums are not the only drums that drummers can explore. Kodo is helping pave the way for taiko drumming to grow in America but there are many percussive forms around the world that are gaining similar popularity in the states. Fans of Cuban, Caribbean, and Salsa music can explore a variety of drumming styles that are not standard in the US.