Yamato Drummers: Ta-Ta to Traditional Taiko


When Warner Brothers grew tired of silent films, they released The Jazz Singer. When Motorola

became sick of corded telephones, they unveiled the mobile phone. And when the collective

known today as the Yamato Drummers had finally had enough of the traditional, monotonous

daiko drum beats that had been practiced for centuries, they began creating their own modern

daiko songs.

Since 1993, the Yamato Drummers have encapsulated the world with their new and inventive

take on daiko drumming. They’ve performed in over 50 countries worldwide, and have

reportedly put on more than 2,500 shows – one of which I had the pleasure of attending at the

Zeiterion. I’d been awaiting this show with great anticipation – About a month prior to seeing the

show, I’d had the opportunity to attend a daiko workshop, which gave me a bit of insight as to

the structure and terminology used in this practice, as well as instruction on the physical aspects

– the proper stance you must take, the correct way to hold the bachi (sticks), and the right way

to strike the drum itself. All of this was seen in the show, and the Yamato Drummers

demonstrated quite clearly that daiko drumming is not something for the faint of heart. Every

beat and rhythm must be kept up with maximum physical exertion – doing something halfheartedly

is not an option. The level of intensity I’d seen was very impressive – a true testament

to the skill and dedication of these performers, especially given the fact that they seem to be

doing these types of shows several times a week.

Of course, the drums weren’t the only instruments exhibited – several others took to the stage to

complete the ensemble at certain points, which included the shamisen (guitar) and shakuhachi

(flute). While the daiko drums were obviously the highlight of the afternoon, these backing

instruments provided an intense yet pleasant melody against the rumbling, pounding beats of

the drums. The drums themselves came in various shapes and sizes – from smaller drums

which came with a shoulder strap to allow movement while playing, to massive, hulking beasts

of drums that could easily fit several people inside. I’d recognized several of the drum rhythms

from the Taiko workshop – most notably the continuous quarter notes present throughout most

of the pieces. The pieces themselves were all original compositions written by the ensemble –

pieces that, while still maintaining the crucial components of daiko music, had been modernized

and made accessible enough so that any audience member could clap along to the various

songs if they chose. And there was certainly no shortage of that – clapping along was highly

encouraged, especially during the small skits put on between the main pieces, which consisted

of an “I-do-it-and-then-you-do-it” scenario where the audience would try to match the beat

played by whoever was leading at that moment. Though it would seem to most people to be a

minor, less serious part of the performance, I think it really showcases how music can be a

universal language that crosses all languages and dialects. Not everyone can understand

English or Japanese, but almost anyone can clap along to a solid beat.

And that seems to be one of the reasons these performers are so dedicated to their art, so

passionate in their quest to introduce daiko to the world – to spread the idea of music being a

universal language. In today’s society, it can sometimes feel like places such as Japan are mere

fairytales – we know they’re not, but we’ve never experienced these places before outside of

movies or television. Music is a doorway to connect these places in a way that isn’t so much

being able to fully understand or communicate with one another – rather, it’s the emotional

aspect that has the greatest impact on us. While other languages may seem alien to us, music

is something that every culture in the world has in common – and that’s a subtle yet important

idea expressed throughout every one of the Yamato Drummers’ performances. Even though no

one in the group speaks languages outside of Japanese, and aren’t able to have any verbal

dialogue with us, they’re able to tell us more about themselves, their culture, and where they

come from simply by hitting a drum.

The Yamato Drummers’ performance at the Zeiterion left me with a new way to see and hear

the world around me. I wish them great luck with their future endeavors, and I hope to see their

love of daiko music spread all over the world.

  • All
  • Jessica Lang Dance
  • Yamato Drummers

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