A man walks slowly onto the stage with his back to the audience, he holds himself in a wide stance and begins to strike the taiko drum. The thunderous sound emitted consumes the entire tent and you know that this group have only one motive; to awaken and command the audience’s attention on this early Friday evening. This isn’t just music. This is a tour de force of physical power, movement and rhythms which thrusts the audience into the musical world of Japan.
They stare into the audience drumming confidently without any hesitation, as they produce rhythms of growing complexity that work in perfect harmony.
The group are clearly very experienced and have learnt their craft well. They stare into the audience drumming confidently without any hesitation, as they produce rhythms of growing complexity that work in perfect harmony. What makes this truly unique is that this style of drumming not only blends traditional rhythms with western musical forms, but incorporates dynamic dance and martial arts within the rhythms of the music. Not only is their ability to drum complex rhythms ceaselessly in time with one another fascinating to listen to, but their physical power and stamina makes this just as much a physical spectacle as an aural one.
One of the true highlights of the show is getting to hear Michael Graham on the koto – best described as a horizontal harp – which after the loud, high impact of the taiko drums provides a welcoming contrast. Graham is clearly a master of his craft. His understated performance was mesmerising to listen to as this unique instrument transported you away into the very heart of Japan.
However, although they may command the audience’s attention through their drumming, they need to work on audience interaction. They failed to address and welcome us until the very end when they finally asked us to participate with the show. Getting the chance to join in with the chanting helped to engage and make us feel part of the music, something which was lacking throughout the rest of the performance which was a true shame. Therefore, although they give a very informative programme full of information on their group, the pieces and the art of taiko drumming, they failed to deliver any of this throughout their performance, meaning that we at times felt distanced from them and the music.
However, one cannot deny that Kaminari have developed a tight ensemble with their complex rhythms and physical prowess. Although this show may still be a little rough around its edges, the taiko drumming is truly captivating as they exploit its theatrical potential.