Kodo delivers performance of passionate intensity

"Kodo," the Japanese word for heartbeat, is one of the most famous professonial taiko groups in the world. (Ginikachi Anosike/The Daily Campus)

The Japanese taiko group Kodo delivered an intense and energetic performance at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts Thursday night, making their 11th appearance at the University of Connecticut and performing the emotionally-charged “DADAN.”

The group was composed of ten members who utilized various taiko drums and instruments, including the hirado o-daiko (a big low drum), the shime-daiko (a smaller drum), chappa (small cymbals) and even gongs. The group played their way through a vibrant set of ensembles and solos exclusively using percussion instruments, with the performers putting not only the rhythms, but also their motions and bodies into the act, leaping from drum to drum and moving animatedly to the beat of the songs.

“Taiko” is a Japanese form of music, and refers to a range of Japanese percussion instruments utilized in religious rituals, festivals, celebrations and special events. Taiko was often used in feudal Japan to call out orders during warfare or as a backdrop to kabuki theater. As such, performances are often laced with emotion and intensity in order to properly convey the message and the passion of the performers.

“Kodo,” which means “Heartbeat” or “children of the drum” is one of the most famous professional taiko groups in the world, performing and touring since its founding in 1981. Currently there are 32 actively performing artists within the group, which operates from its founding location of Sado Island in Japan.

The artists at Thursday night’s performance combined the slow, graceful movements of a ballroom dancer as they prepared to strike the drums, with the furious whirlwind playing of a rock band drummer and the musical flow of a jazz jam session. During the second half of the show, the drummers performed shirtless, sweat glistening on their backs from the intense physical demands of performing so energetically.

At times the musicians’ arms were a flurry of motion, beating so quickly that they were almost unseen. Then, the sound would suddenly stop as the performers paused before descending into a furious rhythm once again. Sometimes, the playing got so intense that the drummer’s dachi (drumsticks) flew across the stage.

Percussion wasn’t the only method used to make sound. In one segment the performers brushed their hands across the surface of the drums, making a soft hissing noise as their palms rubbed against the leather. There weren’t explicit vocals during the performance, but grunts, hums and cries enhanced the human element of the performance.

Matthew Sasaki, a member of UConn Kodama Taiko and second-year nature science PhD student, attended Thursday’s event and said the passionate intensity represented to him both a connection between the performer and their audience, and a connection to history.

“I thought it was fantastic. I always enjoy seeing Kodo,” Sasaki said. “My family is Japanese American, and for me taiko represents the progress the Japanese American community has made since World War II. (It) represents the connection between the people who came before us, and the performers.”

“DADAN” was laced with this connection, as the performers finished with a full ensemble of drums, gongs, xylophones and three enormous hirado o-daiko in the triumphant conclusion, ending with a (literal) bang. One curtain call, a final solo-laced encore and two standing ovations later, Kodo left Jorgensen cheering and begging for more.

“It was absolutely extraordinary,” said Pete Meyers, of Lebanon, Connecticut. “To see them having so much fun at the end was a remarkable experience. For them, it seemed spiritual and joyous.”

The energy of the performers resonated with some audience members, as well as the sheer magnitude of the sound.

“I come to a lot of Jorgensen events, and this is certainly high-caliber,” said Marjorie Liberati, a third year graduate student studying wildlife and natural resources. “(You could feel) the bass line… in your chest. These guys are strong. I can’t think of making my arms move to the rhythm like that. “


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.