Chicago Shimpo
Taiko Legacy & Reduction Concerts Seek
Musical Synergies of New and Old

• Traditional Japanese drum (“taiko”) performance displayed a taste of the avant-garde through a collaboration with contemporary musicians and performers during Tsukasa Taiko’s annual Taiko Legacy/Reduction concerts last December.

• The annual “Taiko Legacy” concert has been featuring the performers of Tsukasa Taiko, the largest taiko ensemble in the Midwest, over the past 15 years, accompanied by the “Reduction” performance. Its 15th anniversary performance, “Taiko Legacy 15,” was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on December 9. “Reduction 6” to celebrate the 60th year birthday of Tsukasa Taiko Director Tatsu Aoki was performed on December 8.

• Grounded in the aesthetics of Japanese traditional arts, Aoki’s vision expands over the boundary of Japanese classical arts and adds to taiko musicality “theatrical elements which can be missing in mainstream taiko drumming.”

• Taiko Legacy 15 showcased the achievements of Tsukasa Taiko’s 22-year journey with programs such as “Pashiri,” “Tama,” Yanagimachi,” “Karami,” and “O-Daiko.”

Reduction 6’s programs intended to present collaboration and interplay between taiko, jazz sound and traditional Japanese instruments.
• The first program, “Araiba” (“Washed Wash”), began with a calm ensemble of the small taiko, tsuzumi (hand drum) and shamisen, which left a ghost of deep sounds in the intervals. Then, with an addition of a Western drum set, it morphed into the performance of “Kai Zan-ei,” a story of the heroic samurai lord Takeda Shingen, by the Japanese classic dance Grandmaster Shunojo Fujima.
• In between the listed programs, shamisen Grandmaster Chizuru Kineya from Japan and Chicago’s jazz greats such as Mwata Bowden and Edward Wilkerson, Jr. together mesmerized the audience with their collaborative performance.
• “Chindonya” performer Yasushi Shimazaki added a theatrical, entertaining facet to the stage with the characteristic bell/small drum sounds in collaboration with taiko.
• Renowned bassist Aoki and three female taiko drummers shared the stage in an elegant ensemble.
• A traditional Japanese dance by Grandmaster Yoshinojo Fujima and the taiko ensemble were joined by jazz sounds by Bowden and others, and the concert culminated in the collaboration of the Japanese taiko set led by Eigen Aoki and three sets of Western drums.

• Reduction 6, dubbed as Tatsu Aoki’s Kanreki (60th year birthday celebration) Special, featured programs entitled “Pashiri,” “ESL,” “Yu,” and “Kanreki Iwai” (“Kanreki Celebration”) as well as “Araiba.”

• After the Reduction 6 concert, an exhausted but satisfied Aoki summed it up: “I’m happy that I did what I wanted to do in the program today.”

Shamisen Master Chizuru Kineya

• Chizuru Kineya is one of the familiar faces in the Taiko Legacy series over the past 10 years.
• “As a specialist of nagauta [a type of traditional Japanese music that accompanies the Kabuki theater], I’m ready to play any nagauta classics, but here [on the stage of Taiko Legacy series] you must be capable of playing a lot more than that. Almost all my performances today were improvisation,” she commented after Reduction 6.
• Maintaining traditions and introducing something new means “defending” and “attacking,” Kineya explained.
• “You can’t really defend [what you have] unless you are able to attack effectively,” she said. “If you just keep defending, you can’t go beyond the existing boundaries. I love what Mr. Aoki is doing, searching for something new. That’s why I continue to participate in the [Taiko Legacy] series.”
• Kineya holds a dinner-show style recital in Japan every year to feature a wide range of traditional musical and theatrical performers. The live show, which attracts an average of 300 guests, seeks to present the audience with performances that grab their hearts.
• “I believe we, the performers of Japanese traditional music, must strive to attract the first-time listeners and make them want to come back again,” said Kineya.
• For this year’s recital in March, which features Japan’s good-luck symbols such as dragon, Kineya ordered a new kimono and obi (sash) with dragons hand-drawn by a master artist. That cost her as much as a luxury car.
• Kineya wore them on the Reduction 6 stage.
• The kimono and obi with the master’s dragons emanate the powerful energy of the artist, and wearing them made her feel as if she had been given that power, Kineya said. “You must have a strong determination to not be overwhelmed by them [when you put them on]. I believe there definitely is such a power.”
• Was it all right to wear such an invaluable kimono and obi in Chicago before the dinner show in Japan?
• “I truly wanted to wear them here – it’s such an important occasion. I don’t regret it,” said Kineya.

Yasushi Shimazaki, Chindonya Performer

• Chindonya is a traditional Japanese street performer. A dying breed, a chindonya performer is elaborately dressed and parades through the streets playing music and singing to advertise for clients.
• One of today’s rare chindonya specialists, Shimazaki presented a hands-on workshop after having performed in Reduction 6.
• A former stage actor, Shimazaki joined Kikunoya, one of the old chindonya agencies, in the late 1990s to be trained as a chindonya performer.
• Back then, not many people wanted to take up the disappearing profession of chindonya, a job to be lowly regarded. When he started, Shimazaki decided to not compete with his master (trainer). That meant to develop new business areas.
• In 2001, Shimazaki performed overseas for the first time as a chindonya performer. After the event in the U.K., a theater in Scotland invited him for further performance, and it was followed by performances in two other countries. He further performed in Portland, New York and Hawaii in the U.S., and Australia, Taiwan and the ASEAN countries. Receiving a Consul-General’s Commendation after his performances in the U.K. brought him such opportunities performing abroad.

• In Japan, Shimazaki has been a regular competitor in the chindonya performers’ competition held in Toyama since 2000. He has won several awards including the grand prize.
• He has engaged in some of the government’s public relations activities, such as the Tax Office’s “blue return” advertisement and the voting campaign by the Election Administration Committee. This has helped turning around the public image of chindonya and now the private sectors are willing to invite Shimazaki to perform at their corporate events.
• Around 2009, Shimazaki saw an increasing number of young graduates of the art and music colleges who came to join his profession. The technical and artistic level of the performers also went up, resulting in more performing opportunities. But then, the hope and optimism was crushed by the 2011 Great Earthquake and Tsunami – due to the unprecedented level of disaster, demand for the gay chindonya performance died out suddenly.

• The recovery began in 2014 and 2015, along with the general slowdown of the pachinko business.
• As demand from the pachinko parlors disappeared, the negative image of chindonya that had been associated with pachinko diminished, and large-scale restaurant chains and other family-oriented industries now want to use chindonya for PR events. Young talents are also developing new types of performance, such as improvising and interacting with the audience in front of them.

• Chindonya is an art form based on its own traditions. For instance, the music that has long been used by the performers is traditional Japanese music such as nagauta. Today, they don’t teach traditional Japanese music at school and the younger generations, who have learned the Western music at school, are not well-equipped to learn the old chindonya repertoires.
• Shimazaki, who has experienced the Kabuki stage in the past, is one of the rare performers who still maintain a link to that old tradition.
• “Theater and chindonya performance are not two separate things for me – they always exist side by side in me,” he said.

A scene from Reduction 6

Tatsu Aoki

A scene from Reduction 6

Grand Master Yoshinojo Fujima

Shamisen Master Chizuru Kineya

Yasushi Shimazaki, Chindonya Performer appears with taiko drummers.