The thrill of Japanese drumming
Ironically, it was in London that Takashi Akamine discovered taiko, the great Japanese art of drumming.
He is now company manager for Kodo (meaning heartbeat) who bring the art form to Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Tues, Jan 30 at 7.30pm.
“I was a student in England in the 1980s, and I was just about to head back to Japan, and then I saw a Kodo concert in London. As a Japanese young man, it was an eye-opening experience! I did a bit of study and I said to myself that I wanted to be part of that company.
“I had known the name that the company had had before, but the artistic director left and took the name with him, so they changed their name, and I thought it was a new company coming… and when I saw them, it was just a total shock!
“Being away from home for some years and seeing something very Japanese, something very traditionally Japanese performing arts, I was so struck. I had never taken an interest in traditional music before. But it made me feel that it was part of my culture. I said to myself I have got to go Sado Island (in Japan, which is where the drummers are based). I discovered that they live communally, almost like a monastic lifestyle, getting up early every morning and going for a 10k run. They have to get out of bed every morning and go for this run whether it is raining or snowing! That’s how they always start their day, and I lived in that community for some years.
“You run and then you start cleaning the house. There is no TV, no radio, no central heating. Inside it was colder than it was outside. I remember the walls of my room didn’t hit the ceiling. I could hear the snoring and the talking from the room next door, so I put a tent up in my room, and that’s how I survived. A week later, I thought I had made the wrong decision going there, but it was actually a fantastic decision. It has taken to me to some fantastic places in all the four corners of the world. I thought that I should not be staying, but now I really appreciate that I did!”
The response to the drums is universal: “I think the rhythm is so familiar to people because it is the rhythm of your heartbeat. We drum the drums and the drums become one with people’s heartbeat. It is a wonderful feeling when you see people start to move with the rhythm, their bodies going from side to side and up and down and become one with the drums that they are hearing.
“Some years ago, Michael Palin came to Sado Island, and he ran with the apprentices. He wanted to play the big drum. He played it and one of the performers said ‘Play it harder! Make more noise!’ and he turned to me and said ‘In Britain we are taught not to make too much noise. We are conditioned not to! When we grow up, we are told not to make a lot of noise.’
“But this was different. That’s why they live on an island! Everyone knows that feeling. When you are frustrated or under pressure or whatever, you just want to go and make a lot of noise!’ And that was what Michael was discovering with us!”