The Drum Tao ensemble have amazed Fukuoka’s audiences once again, on their return to Kyushu from yet another world-tour. Having first taken their act overseas to Hawaii in 2003, they have since performed in more than 400 cities in over 20 countries. On the 23rd of May, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to witness their skill in action.
On entering Canal City Theatre, there was an unmistakable buzz of excitement. The reputation of Drum Tao travels before them and the level of anticipation was intense. However, the performers themselves took this intensity to an entirely new level.
There is something primal in the sounds of their drums. Once used to command armies, the taiko drummers retain that power, reverberating through the hearts of their enamoured, almost hypnotised listeners. The energy and stamina of the performers is astounding; a testament to their rigorous training. For the Drum Tao performers, each day begins at 5am and includes hours of muscle strengthening followed by a 20k daily run – all before drum rehearsal begins.
Drumming is certainly the beating heart of this performance, yet the music never once feels repetitive. An array of traditional Japanese instruments accompany the drums, including the koto, also known as the japanese harp, and the shinobue, a high-pitched bamboo flute. Their enchanting melodies contrast perfectly with the pounding drums, and the result is mesmerising. Particularly memorable are the shamisen players. This three stringed instrument dates back to the 16th century, yet the players shatter all expectations and play it with the sounds and style of an electric guitar – just one example of the incredibly diversity of these performers and their talents.
Hyakkaryoran Japan Drum Emaki is not only a fantastic display of musical skill but a true performance in every sense of the word. The Drum Tao ensemble is both a collection of musicians and a dance troupe, astounding in both strength and acting talent. Using puppetry, a compelling narrative weaves its way through the music. The performers tell the story of a young orphan boy, rescued by taiko master Takuya Era and brought up by the sound of drums. The story is set against a simple backdrop with a single raised platform, using the drums themselves as the focus of the stage. The set-up is simple, yet each scene is visually stunning. The toned bodies of the male drummers provide their own costume, while the women emerge with elaborate hair and brilliant kimonos. The image produced is heavily stylised, echoing the boldness and precision of their music.
To all this, the directors inject an unexpected humour. The endearing playfulness of Hiroyasu Yanaka and Taro Harasaki’s comedy duo won the audience within moments, with their clown-routines and slapstick acrobatics. The entire ensemble interact with the audience as fellow performers, bringing the music down into the stalls and allowing their audiences close up views of their splendid outfits, the strength with which they beat their drums, and their elated smiles as they perform. The Tao drummers are true showmen, and this is one show not to be missed when it returns to Fukuoka next year.
Details of their next performances and videos of their previous shows can be found on their website at: http://www.drum-tao.com (available in both English and Japanese)
Report by Laura Pugh
Laura Pugh is a student from London, UK. She is studying Japanese in Fukuoka for one year, and is a keen writer and artist.