Taiko drums enthral Slovaks

The Budapest-based Kiyo-Kito Taiko group played in Bratislava’s Main Sqaure on jUly 30 to iwnd up the Japanese Culture wekk hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Slovakia. The Slovak Spectator spoke with Takaku Keijiro form the group.

The Budapest-based Kiyo-Kito Taiko group played in Bratislava’s Main Sqaure on jUly 30 to iwnd up the Japanese Culture wekk hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Slovakia. The Slovak Spectator spoke with Takaku Keijiro form the group.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why is a band playing traditional Japanese drums based in Budapest?
Takaku Keijiro (TK):
The band was founded in March 2000 in Budapest at the initiative of a cultural centre, Szintézis, and by Tamás Paulinyi and originally it dealt with shamanic drums. But after they manufactured a big drum by themselves, they saw a TV programme showing traditional Japanese Taiko drums and they found out that they, in fact, do have a Taiko drum. They started playing it.

I studied Japanese percussions at home, but I was very fond of music since my childhood and I came to Hungary to study European classical music and Hungarian folk music. I was fascinated by the hurdy gurdy (wheel fiddle) and my teacher of this folklore Hungarian instrument told me about the Taiko band – and them about me and that I studied percussions in Japan; thus I joined them.

TSS: Do you play true to original music, or loosely inspired, or inventing completely new compositions?
Sometimes we play the original, traditional tunes – I know them quite well, having studied Japanese percussion – and tunes we compose ourselves, including me, but we let ourselves also be inspired by people outside Japan playing this music.

TSS: Can you tell us a little about the history, function, and popularity of Taiko drums?
Originally, the big drums were not meant for public performance; they were rather used in Shinto and Buddhist temples; in castles for feudal domains by each Sammurai leader. In the Edo period, festivals spread widely, dancing music, and so forth – not only among the aristocracy but also among ordinary people. Many instruments, not only big drums, but also smaller ones, and metal percussion isntruments, have been used for the feasts and performances since this period. So in this way, Taiko drums became part of the folklore tradition – not only the Noh theatre, or the Kabuki theatre, or Gagaku, but also in widespread public celebrations.

After World War II, some traditional drummers started playing for stage performances with many drums. First, in the traditional music, rather smaller ones were used. But then ever bigger drums were involved until they became really huge. Some of the traditional ways of drumming included choreography, the modern performers started studying it and this also helped it to evolve into stage music, a total stage performance.

TSS: How do people playing outside Japan learn to play and to what extent do they also learn about the history, background, and choreographies of Taiko?
Basically, people need to learn how to use sticks, to play the big drum, smaller ones; and nowadays, you can find CDs, a lot of music on the internet, in online shops and you can watch thenm on YouTube. Most of the traditional music is from Japan, as are the drums, but you can even learn how to make the drum yourself. There is an association of Taiko percussions in the US which even suggests how to make these drums at home; a lot of folks around the world play their hand-made drums. Even our founder Tamás, who is Hungarian, made his drum through this webpage.

TSS: And what about the background?
As I am the only Japanese member of this band, they want to listen to me. However, even I do not know everything, of course. At home, I could study only one type of traditional music from the original successors from the region - not from the city where I come from, but from the same prefecture when I was university student in Japan. Then I had to enhance my knowledge further, as there are many styles of traditional or folk music in each region of Japan. Mainly, I have searched them on the internet, read them, listened to them and watched them – I am logically the only one who can study these matters. Thus, I have been chosen the artistic director of the Kiyo-Kito Taiko.

TSS: How did you get to study the Japanese percussion? Do you have a family background of Taiko players?
No, I first studied percussion in the European classical music or comtemporary music; which means rather the percussion music in general. In this way, you have to learn about basic percussions, such as small drum, tympani and keyboard-percussion (e.g. xylophone, marimba, etc.) and also percussion cultures. I first studied European percussion; or rather, percussion music in general. In a Japanese school, if you study music, you have to learn about all styles and types and also all cultures. And then the percussionists specialise – one plays jazz, another rock, or maybe Arabic percussion style.

As for me, I am not limited only to the Taiko drums, I like all types and styles, not just percussion, but generally traditional, as well as modern music – I love rock, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, but also ethnic music: Indian, Gamelan, African music. But not to forget, I love Japanese music, too. Now I have started studying playing the Shamisen instrument. I am an autodidact, as there is no master player for it in Hungary. I learn from a textbook written by a renowned Shamisen master in Japan.

TSS: And how about Europeans, how do they learn Japanese music?
Of course, the best way to play is to go to Japan. You need someone to be a pioneer. Talented people can learn it – there is a four-member group in London which is very good and professional, founded by a person who had been invited to Japan not to study Taiko but to help local government in spreading English for international communication, where she was told to study culture. She stayed for one more year and after returning home she founded this successful band. But then, it makes a difference if there is some Japanese onstage. And if you want to profoundly study Japanese music, if you are fascinated by the Japanese culture and you have passion, try to find the way to study it or go to Japan. Japanese people are open-minded for everyone who loves, respects and wants to study our culture. After twenty, thirty years you will be told that you are one of us.

Get daily Slovak news directly to your inbox

Top stories

How a Catholic charity became a voice for migrants in Slovakia

Religious organisations have added leverage in changing perceptions of foreigners and migrants, says Caritas Slovakia.

Caritas Slovakia's ‘World Without “the Other” – Migration Myths’ campaign educates Slovaks on migration in a fun and artistic way.

Secret votes and public lies

There are uncanny echoes today of Slovakia’s agonies over its choice of chief prosecutor ten years ago.

Dobroslav Trnka (left) and Jozef Čentéš (right), the candidate who was eventually selected by MPs in 2011, never got to take up the post because the then president, Ivan Gašparovič refused to appoint him for reasons that were never clearly explained.

News digest: Slovakia to spend three Advent weekends with testing. President wants it to be voluntary

Seven candidates for the general prosecutor post approved. Acting general prosecutor steps down.

Installation of Christmas tree in Trnava

Which are the largest law firms in Slovakia?

For the first time, the ranking also provides an overview in partial categories of law.