For Masa Ogawa, artistic director of YAMATO: Drummers of Japan, a great taiko performance involves using the entire body, so audiences can not only hear the beat but feel performers’ full human power.
Japanese taiko troupe, YAMATO: Drummers of Japan come to Toronto for one night only, at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday, Jan. 24. Photo credit: Hiroshi Seo.
“The most important element of taiko drumming is the energy. We are thinking about how to express the energy of our humanity. It’s in our body and soul, coming from our heartbeat,” Ogawa tells Nikkei Voice in an interview.
YAMATO is celebrating its 26th season with a 40-city tour of North America, with their newest show, Jhonetsu – Passion! from Jan. 17 to Apr. 15. YAMATO will be in Toronto for their only Canadian stop at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday, Jan. 24.
Performers build and communicate a story to tell audiences, not only through the music they create, but their body movements and choreography, lighting and stage design, creating a dynamic performance. Each performance is a unique encounter and creates a one time conversation between the performers and the audience.
The troupe is made up of 16 musician, whose physicality in their performances make them athletes as well. When the troupe is not touring, YAMATO performers live in Asuka Village of Nara Prefecture. Members wake up early and run the mountains and rice fields around the quiet village. They spend their days training at “Kongendo,” which is YAMATO’s studio and sometimes fishing in the village.
YAMATO’s musicians are involved in every level of their performances. From composing the music, to creating the choreography, theatre productions and lighting design. They even create their own costumes, props and bachi, or drumsticks, for each performance.
“We recognize our stage is the art created by us all and we are drawing our art in the frame. This way, we personally relate to every detail of our creation,” says Ogawa.
Over 26 years, YAMATO has performed in 4,000 shows in 54 different countries, reaching nearly eight million people. The group travels with about 40 drums, ranging in size from 10 kg to 500 kg. As artistic director, Ogawa aims to evolve the potential of taiko, being experimental and original to keep audiences interested and coming back, while still trying to respect the history and tradition of the instrument.
“I try to trust my instincts and knowledge of the art form when I start to create YAMATO’s new productions. Also I am thinking that I should trust the place we were born and live. The land gives us an energy,” says Ogawa. “However, even after it is complete, I am always nervous for my creation because I do not want to destroy Japan’s tradition. Keeping a respect for the tradition while also allowing for a bit of freedom from it are both so important.
At the core of YAMATO’s performances is passion and spirit, that Ogawa hopes their live performances will express to audiences, that will make their “bodies jump and their hearts race.”
“People act out of passion. People are moved by passion. We as YAMATO, want to express the energy of that passion on the stage. And we want to throw that energy to the audience’s heart through the Taiko beat,” says Ogawa. “After the show, we hope the audience understands that we all have this passion in our bodies and minds.”
For more information about YAMATO: Drummers of Japan and tickets, visit: http://www.yamato.jp/schedule/2020.html and watch the promotional video for Jhonetsu – Passion! below.