Japanese drum troupe gets an update from a Kabuki star

The Kodo Drummers will show off their new moves at the Kimmel. Credit: Takashi Okamoto
The Kodo Drummers will show off their new moves at the Kimmel.
Credit: Takashi Okamoto

Meet the new Kodo Drummers.

They’re not exactly the same as the old Kodo Drummers.

The Japanese music troupe has undergone some subtle — and some perhaps not so subtle — changes since new artistic director Tamasaburo Bando came aboard in 2011.

“He’s been really keen on brushing up our musical heritage, in addition to giving us a different perspective with choreography and acting,” says troupe manager Jun Akimoto. “Musically, I think we have changed in a variety of ways, but we’ve also developed our visual aspects, with costumes, lighting and set changes.”

The troupe, founded more than 30 years ago, is based on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan. Its performances are a rhythmic and athletic exhibition of drumming on the taiko, the traditional Japanese drum. There’s also dancing, miming and making music with a variety of other instruments, including the bamboo xylophone, gong, wooden clacker and bamboo flute.

The shows defy easy categorization: part music, part ballet and part theater.

Bando, a Kabuki actor with rock-star popularity in Japan, came in and gave the group a tune up — especially important now that Kodo is no longer the only touring taiko troupe.

“For the radical changes, we had to have someone from the outside,” says Akimoto, about Bando. “Tamasaburo was the right person for the job. His vision was very clear cut. His direction is straight forward and he can be very strict, but at the same time he’s very warmhearted. We had a relationship with him for the last 12 years before we officially asked him to become our artistic director.”

The main goal of their performances, says Akimoto, is “to elevate.”

“The next step is musical fertility,” he says. “It’s ongoing and it might take 10, 20, 50, 100 years.”

That’s a lot of drumming. And it’s hard work, Akimoto says. “I was a violinist before I joined [Kodo in a non-performing role]. I wasn’t interested in being a Japanese drummer. It’s much too physical for me.”

 

If you go
Kodo Drummers One Earth Tour 2013: Legend
March 25
7:30 p.m.
Verizon Hall
Kimmel Center
300 South Broad St.
$30-$65
www.kimmelcenter.org


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