Traditional Japanese drummers to put their backs into it at BAM

Traditional Japanese drummers to put their backs into it at BAM
Takashi Okamoto

They dance to the beat of their own drums.

The internationally famous Japanese taiko drumming group Kodo is set to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. The group performs a modern take on an ancient style of performance that combines drumming and dance, according to a fellow practitioner.

“To get this combination of athleticism and musicality, you have to achieve a certain level of balance between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual,” said former Kodo member Kaoru Watanade, a Crown Heights resident. “It is an intense performance.”

Taiko’s members bang out intricate rhythms on drums that weigh as much as 900 pounds. The art form has incorporated more dance, costumes, and storytelling during the past few decades, but it remains rooted in the traditions of Japanese harvest festivals, Watanade said.

“It is like Mardi Gras with festivals around harvests and thanking gods for the harvest or other wonderful things,” he said. “It is about maintaining tradition and maintaining relationships and communication between people and their gods.”

The drums are so large that the musicians must use their whole bodies to play them properly.

“We have to use heavy sticks and our entire bodies, legs and backs,” Watanade said. “It is very physical art work.”

Taiko drummers typically apprentice for two years, during which they learn to drum and live cooperatively, he said, cooking, harvesting food, and making tools together, including their own drumsticks.

At the Fort Greene performance, audience members can expect to see short narrative sketches amidst the complex drumming compositions, according to a Kodo member, adding that it should be a deeply moving experience.

“The vibration that comes from the sound of taiko easily reaches to the gut of your heart,” Yui Kawamoto said.

Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gilman Opera House [30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Mar 19—21 at 7:30pm. $25-$55.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.