Nobody can know what the first musical instrument was, but many people believe it was the drum. Even today the drum somehow reaches a place in our soul that no other instrument can really reach.
I expect that most of you are familiar with Taiko – or Japanese drumming. Taiko actually means “big drum” and now is popular all around the world with professional Taiko drummers making spectacular performances and touring to major cities and playing in major concert halls.
But this style of playing drums – Taiko – is actually very new in Japan. Taiko drums were traditionally used in Shinto and Buddhist festivals. The Taiko drum is played by hitting both the sides of the drum and the skin of the drum. The drums are carved from a single piece of a tree and the very biggest need trees of more than a hundred years old to make them.
Modern Taiko started when Daihachi Oguchi who was a jazz drummer was asked to play the Taiko in his local Shinto festival. He became fascinated with the idea of using the instrument in a more creative way and started to experiment. Eventually he formed the first of the modern Taiko group in 1958 and Taiko developed into the great performance art it is today.
The first video is of the famous Taiko group – Kodo.
Kodo in Japanese is written like this 鼓童 it can be read as two meanings. “Heart Beat” or “Children of the Drum” so it is a really good name for them.
They come from Sado Island, where Den Tagayasu , the slightly mad Taiko pioneer lived. He was a Marxist follower of Mao and built a commune and formed a Taiko group because he believed that Japanese people could be reborn from working the soil and playing Taiko. Of course having such a charismatic person on the Island resulted in the many great drummers coming from there.
Kodo – O-Daiko
However, traditional Taiko drumming is very much simpler and is part of the Matsuri or festivals we have in Japan which celebrate different Shinto or Buddhist occasions.
In the next clip you can see the really traditional Taiko drumming. This was at the Obon Festival in Tokyo. The Obon festival is our equivalent of Halloween but it is not scary like the USA one.
The Obon festival is a festival of light to show our dead ancestors the way to the next world and is a happy occasion. There is special dance called the Obon Odori which people do in a circle to celebrate and then we light lanterns to help our ancestors see the way to the next world, and in some places, the lanterns are floated down the rivers. The Taiko is placed in a high platform and the people do a special dance around the Taiko. Unfortunately I could not find a video that showed both good drumming and dancing so I choose one with good drumming for you!!!
Taiko is really popular now, but it is not the popularity of the elite groups playing in fancy concert hall, that give Taiko the vibrancy and power it has in Japanese music these days. It is the thousands of Taiko groups playing in schools, universities and neighbourhood associations and just groups of friends, all having a really great time just making a really LOUD noise!!!
I think the level of participation in Taiko drumming now is really very very high and Taiko is becoming like a major musical activity which is great. There are thousands of people of all ages and both genders really having a wonderful time making music, and some how connecting to the most primitive part of our soul, through the medium of music.
I want to finish this post with a video which for me captures the spirit of modern Taiko.
I would like to leave you with the young boys and girls of the Kanagawa Western High School Taiko Unit playing in the Mount Fuji Festival. The video is an armature video, but it capures the pure and happy hearts of the boys and girls.
Kanagawa Western High School