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Chicago Shimpo
Pursuing Artistic Quality of Taiko Drumming to The Stage: Taiko Legacy and Reduction

Enhancing artistic quality of taiko drumming, which was mostly played in festivals in Japan, “Taiko Legacy 14” and “Reduction 5” were held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago on December 16 and 17. The concerts have challenged for years to bring new types of taiko performance on the stage collaborating with Western music such as jazz and blues, and Japanese traditional instruments such as shamisen (three string instrument), bamboo flute and tsuzumi (hand drum).

Tatsu Aoki, Artistic Director and founder of Taiko Legacy, started this challenge 14 years ago and has involved Chicago’s avant-garde musicians and traditional music players in Japan in his initiatives to advance aesthetics of taiko music and performance.
He has led the Tsukasa Taiko, a taiko drumming group, invited Shubukai, a traditional Japanese dance group and has brought their performance to many towns across the U.S., and even played abroad. Taiko Legacy and Reduction are a compilation of their works bringing the ideal to the best stages to collaborate traditional Japanese arts and contemporary western performances.

Aoki’s long effort to create Japan-US collaborating arts on the stage was recognized by Japan’s government, and Consul General Naoki Ito bestowed the Foreign Minister’s Award to Aoki on the stage of Taiko Legacy 14.

Aoki has also been educating young members of the Tsukasa Taiko. They practice hard to make the stage of Taiko Legacy nice and learn diligently to advance their taiko-drumming skills to a higher level. Aoki said “My challenge is to make sure that their efforts are not wasted, by adhering to the musicality of the taiko, which in turn maintains the traditional aesthetics,” in the program book statement.
As the popularity of taiko drumming spread in the U.S., people tend to think that powerful performance is what it is all about; however, drum beating with drumsticks is subtle. He also said, “The more difficult path we have undertaken places aesthetic cultural education as the main goal.”

One of the features of “Taiko Legacy 14” was their fourth album “The Gintenkai.” The name of Gintenkai was a group to which Aoki belonged in the 1970s in Tokyo. The group was challenging experimental taiko music at that time. When we were well into the 21st century, he organized the National Gintenkai Project with Tsukasa Taiko and San Francisco based Gen Taiko to promote taiko’s artistic qualities as an aesthetic policy.
A highlight was “Hayama Suite 1~8”, which was created by Aoki’s teacher who was inspired by popular marching band LPs in the late 1970s.

Another highlight was “Kenmai (swords dance) by Grandmaster Koryu Nishikawa V and Grandmaster Shunojo Fujima of Shubukai. Nishikawa is a Kuruma Ningyo Puppeteer in Tokyo with a unique way of puppet manipulation which was developed Edo period. On the other hand, twelve-year-old Fujima entered apprenticeship with Shusai Fujima, who was the second to the top in the Fujima dance school in Japan. The two grandmasters danced beautifully with swords.

Reduction series started to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Taiko Legacy and marked the 5th last year. Reduction 5 was to create fusion music by using traditional Japanese music instruments like taiko drums, shamisen and tsuzumi with western instruments such as a saxophone, cello and drum sets in more free manners.

Grandmaster Chizuru Kineya, shamisen specialist in Tokyo, played with saxophone player Douglas R. Ewart. She said, “Spaces in Japanese traditional music are different from spaces in the western music. I wanted the audience to listen to Japanese music, so I freely played shamisen in my own way. I believe that each musician plays in his or her own way, and then the sound gets together. That is music. No matter how each rhythm and sound aren’t in unison.”

Kineya once had Nishikawa in her show as a guest and was impressed his performance with a puppet. She said that his heart was synchronized with the puppet, so she asked him to come to Chicago with her.

Nishikawa rode a small cart to manipulate a puppet, so he could move the puppet by himself; therefore, he could easily go anyplace to perform. For instance, another puppet theater Joruri requires three people to manipulate a puppet.
He is the fifth generation of the puppeteer family and said, “The same as shamisen, every instrument is difficult to use for a performance. In my case, I move a puppet by myself, so the might-be feeling of the puppet resonates with me.” It was interesting to see his performance in that his facial expression was the same as the puppet movement.

Nishikawa was performing with fusion music for the first time, so he improvised the puppet movements. “My performance is usually done with pre-determined music in Japan, but things were different here. I really enjoyed this first experience,” he said.

Nishikawa has had an American student, Tom Lee, for 13 years. The two have created their unique stories and been performing in Japan and the U.S. They had puppet show in New York for two weeks in 2016, and in 2017 they had a North America tour in March and April and Hawaii tour in September and October.


Scenes form “Taiko Legacy 14” and “Reduction 5”


Tatsu Aoki (R) receives Foreign Minister's award from
Consul General Noki Ito.