Odaiko New England

KODO: Playing with Style


Sheilarae holds the Ji while Kenta Nakagome of KODO readies himself for a Miyake solo

It may have been the first time anyone has participated in a jam-session Miyake with Kodo while wearing an LBD (Little Black Dress). It was certainly the first time I observed such a thing. For sure, a Kodo drummer pounding out a wild, macho Miyake on one side of the drum, with a poised, elegant American woman (our own Sheilarae, looking like she just stepped out of a box at the opera) in a chignon and little black dress kneeling and composedly holding the ji on the other, is a unique sight. With taiko, truly, all things are possible. And what can one say about the opportunity to play for and with Kodo? I guess it’s like a garage rock band having a chance to jam with Sting.

After feeding Kodo in the luxurious atmosphere of our dojo basement, we ONE community members performed Mahora for them. Was that a bit arrogant? I’m not sure; it was more like a tribute. Some people were nervous:

Perform for Kodo? Omigod!

But I wasn’t worried. It’s not like we had a chance of impressing them anyway, and Mahora is a noisy, power piece that entails more enthusiasm and energy than finesse. But I have to say this: I have never drummed with more confidence, commitment or energy. Everyone felt it: not fear, but a white-hot excitement, snapping out energy like lightning strikes, and the drum-thunder ringing out after. Our Mahora went off like an explosion, a volcano, a fireworks display – all because of the cheerful , unassuming Kodo members sitting in front of us.

But that was the reception.

About the performance: I saw Kodo the last time they were in Boston, and I don’t remember being so completely blown away by the odaiko piece. When the gigantic cart carrying the Odaiko was rolled downstage it looked like the preparation for something ominous, a sacrificial rite – perhaps a human sacrifice? When the two odaiko players leapt onto the cart wearing nothing but white loincloths, they reinforced that image. But when they began to drum, the context changed, became orgiastic, a relentless pounding sexual physicality. As the duet rose to a climax, I thought of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. In the ballet that accompanies the music, a sacrificial victim ultimately dances herself to death. Watching the sweating, nearly naked odaiko player with his back to us, I began to wonder if he was going to do the same. When he completed his solo, jumped down to the stage and without a pause launched into a horrific Yatai Bayashi, I was sure of it. We could finally see his face, and it was extremely uncomfortable to watch. He was in agony: Taiko as Human Sacrifice.

That member didn’t come to the reception; we were told he was too exhausted. Anybody else would have probably have been dead. In any case, the next time I think I’m ready to collapse during an oroshi, or after Miyake, I’ll think of that incredible Odaiko performance effort, which will put my own puny difficulties in perspective.

4 comments to KODO: Playing with Style

  • I remember thinking the same thing the first time I saw Kodo (1998?) It was the same thing. 15?…20? minute Odaiko solo followed by Yatai Bayashi. When I saw the Odaiko soloist’s face during Yatai Bayashi, I also worried that he would have a heart attack, or something right there on the stage. But I remember thinking, “He looks like he’s about to die, but if he does, I bet he will be overjoyed to go out playing taiko in this way.”

  • joy

    so, maybe I’m weird, but my response to watching the Odaiko + Yatai combo is

    I want to do that!

    No one ever accused me of being reasonable ….

  • kate

    I want to do that, too, except wearing a bit more clothing. And with an ambulance standing by, just in case…But seriously, I often think that what I love about Taiko is the fact that you can exhaust yourself in this way. I guess it’s the same reason that people run marathons: not just the process and the triumph of completion, but that incredible feeling of being completely, physically wrung out at the end. As I mentioned, the soloist was too wrung out to come to our post-show reception. I wonder what a Kodo drummer does to recuperate from such a challenge, and be ready to play again in a couple of days? Does anybody know?

  • Kani

    Kate reading this now I realized you have the KODO members name wrong.
    The one in the photo is Yuichiro Funabashi and not Kenta.