Japan’s traditional drums, taiko, conquered video games, modern pop music, and stages all over the world alike. Ranging from small to so big that they tower over whoever plays them, taiko drums have held an important place in Japanese culture ever since the 6th century. One group, however, has taken the traditional art of taiko drumming and adapted it to the global style of the 21st century in the most fascinating fashion imaginable. Meet DRUM TAO and their Martial Art of Drumming!
As I sat in Club eX of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Prince Hotel and waited for Drum Tao’s performance to start, the almost-empty stage alone already promised something marvelous. Big and small drums were arranged in front of a monochrome background, showing a projection-mapped tree that was half gnarly nature, half calligraphy.
Seen by over 7 million people on stages worldwide, with regularly sold-out shows, DRUM TAO has become somewhat of a synonym for Japanese entertainment arts. They keep casting their wild, rhythmic spell on audiences all over the world as guests on shows such as the United States’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and performances on national and international stages. Thus, my expectations were naturally high.
Suddenly, the lights went out and the quiet darkness was rich with anticipation. Then, a single ray of light illuminated the enigmatic figure of a modern geisha, soon to be revealed by two sliding doors. After two elegant steps, she pierced the silence with the surprisingly soft tunes of a flute. Her magical song and appearance had soon lulled me into an almost charmed state of mind – so much that the first beat of the giant drums right next to her literally shook me to my core. The vibrations of the beat seemed to resonate in my bones, sending a shiver of excitement down my spine. The show has begun.
Imagine if Game of Thrones’ Dothraki were Japanese, in a post-apocalyptic kind of setting. This was my first impression as DRUM TAO’s members stepped from the shadows, announced by the mighty beats of the taiko. Half-naked men, clad in black-and-silver costumes that really did resemble some kind of futuristic tribal gear. The performance that followed wasn’t just a sublime percussion piece, but also quite a visual feast.
Projection-mapped kaleidoscope shapes flitted over the bodies of Drum Tao’s performers as they danced with drum sticks in their hands, accompanied by the shouts and grunts so typical for taiko. It was astounding how their movements seemed perfectly in unison with the drums in the background, both wild and graceful at the same time. Their costumes provided for a flurry of silver, the swooshing black skirts making their dance ever so dynamic. After the first minute alone, I was entirely absorbed by Drum Tao’s mesmerizing show.
MANGEKYO, meaning kaleidoscope, is the name of DRUM TAO’s performance that I got to watch. The show sticks true to its name, not only regarding the kaleidoscopic projection mapping on both background and performers, but also their choice of styles. The wild, rhythmic dance was followed by the cheerful beats and shouts of a Japanese summer festival. No visual effects were needed here, just a handful of DRUM TAO’s members, drums strapped around their chests, having a fun time on the stage. Their excitement and good mood immediately carried over to the audience and you’ll find yourself bobbing your head, tapping your toes, and crave for yakisoba.
It was also during this particular part of the show when I realized one thing that I love about DRUM TAO: they don’t take themselves too seriously and do not shy away from having fun with their art, each other, and the audience. Making funny faces to the beat of their drum, segwaying over the stage, and even freezing in their pose so that another member can shoot close-ups of their flexed muscles – no, I am not kidding. DRUM TAO offers entertainment on many a level, and playful seduction sure is one of them.
While I will never say no to half-naked drummers, my personal highlight was the main performance of the two female members of the group. The first part was a solo act that can only be described as otherworldly beautiful. The background changed to a cherry tree in full, magnificent bloom, with the illusion of petals raining down on the stage. Accompanied to the alluring tunes of shamisen and koto, she stepped onto the stage in a white, kimono-like dress and performed a dance so elegant and energetic, it was all but mesmerizing.
The massive, red drum in the middle of the stage should soon play a part as well. As the softer tunes faded away and the dancer came to a halt, she exchanged her shawl for two drumsticks. Another female performer joined her on the stage and took the other side of the two-sided drum. Together, they created an amazing medley of beats, shouts, and movements, with nothing but that massive drum and their skill to bring their song to life.
DRUM TAO did not fall short on their promise to deliver a true kaleidoscope. From a plate of half-naked men to two performers mesmerizing the audience with just one massive drum, from the wild rhythm of numerous taiko drums to the soft tunes of shamisen, koto, and flutes – DRUM TAO manages to capture the essence of Japan, seamlessly fusing tradition with modernity in the most fascinating way imaginable. Word aren’t needed to understand the message. Just listen to the sound of the drums. A feast for eyes and ears, MANGEKYO is a performance that will shake you to your core, keep you hooked from the first second to the last, and will ultimately leave you craving for more!
DRUM TAO’s 70-minute MANGEKYO show is organized by JTB Communication Design, Inc. It can be seen until October 29, 2017, at Club eX in Tokyo Shinagawa’s Prince Hotel. Tickets are available via the official MANGEKYO website, and I highly urge you to make the DRUM TAO experience for yourself.
Club eXClub eX
- Address 4-10-30 Takanawa, Minato-ku, Tokyo
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