The Yamato Drummers
'As the Japanese taiko drumming troupe make their way back to London, they bring with them the Odaiko drums. These traditional drums, used in Shinto rituals, weigh over half a tonne each, and require exceptional skill and physicality to produce each floor-shaking note.
Dedicated to their art, the Yamato drummers train ferociously. On stage, they display a staggering strength, using their entire bodies to play and share with their audiences an intense passion that comes out in their pounding, high-energy and thrillingly thunderous performances.'
Led by artistic director Masa Ogawa, the work was created in 2018 and builds a kaleidoscope of sound through an assortment of enormous barrel-like Odaiko drums to cymbals, bamboo flutes and vocals.
Used in Shinto rituals, the Odaiko drums weigh over half a tonne each and are played by the troupe with ferocious and staggering strength to produce a heart-thumping torrent of music. Requiring exceptional skill and physicality, the drummers use their entire bodies to play and engage with audiences to create an explosive spectacle. This plethora of energy ignited by both the performers and audience, and the drummers’ daily commitment to rigorous training, forms the inspiration for their latest work, Passion.
The members of Yamato are collectively responsible for the creation of musical compositions, theatre production, lighting design, choreography and costume design, including the bachi (sticks) used to play the drums.
Yamato takes the ancient art of taiko drumming to bring it bang up-to-date to audiences far and wide. The group formed in 1993 and have since performed in 54 different countries, with over 3,500 performances, reaching almost 8 million people. In 2013, the company founded Yamato Taiko School based in the Netherlands where company members teach up to 20 taiko classes and 200 people a week.
On a cold blustery Monday evening in March, after a fantastic but rather intense day at a Business Bootcamp, I legged it over from Gloucester Road to Holborn. My mind was a floating haze of business talk, business talk, business talk and I was really feeling mentally fatigued.
One thing that was running through my mind at that moment in time was food. I had eaten a very light lunch and munched on a few biscuits and nuts in between the blaze of business stuff. I was excited, elated and tired all at the same time. As I dashed into Gloucester station, multitasking and navigating getting through the barriers, texting my partner to say that my 7pm meetup was looking more like 7.15pm ish, then legging it down the stairs, being mindful not to do something daft like trip over the strap of my bag as my train approached, I realised that even though I was mentally tired I was mega excited that I was going to see Yamato, The Drummers of Japan perform at The Peacock Theatre.
The journey took around 20 minutes between Gloucester Road and Holborn and I had time to mentally switch off, being mindful not to nod off and miss my stop. That would be cause of train rage and I had a reputation to maintain. Once I landed at Holborn station around 7.15pm I did a five minute dash up the road to The Peacock Theatre. My partner was there, with raised eyebrow. I smiled bleakly and whizzed past him to collect my press pass. Once all preliminaries were accomplished, press passes in hand and program, I was then able to acknowledge him with a peck on the cheek, a flutter of my eyelid and an 'oops sorry dearest for being late.'
Our seats were in the Dress Circle and I had the pleasure of sitting next to an elderly gentleman who was full of beans and who proceeded talk and talk and talk. I was so glad I was interested in his conversation because it has been a long two days and any other type of conversation would have resulted in me getting up and moving seats. However, all of a sudden my fatigue lifted. It really was good hearty conversation. He proceeded to tell me that himself and his wife had travelled from Wales to see this performance and how they lived on a boat and sailed around how they liked, and what a sense of freedom it was to live this way. I love a free spirit.
Soon the lights began to dim, the stage was set and WOW, I certainly didn't know what I was in for, but what I can say now is that this was one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen in my career.
There were a cast of 10 drummers in total and from where I sat, looking down, they seemed big in size, however it was only after the show that I realised they were all quite small in stature and yet their energy was amplified magnificently on the stage several times over. I also put this down to Passion with a capital P.
I had been given ear plugs, and told that I would probably need them because the drumming was very loud however, I found that I didn't need them because this type of drumming was one that was soul led. It felt to me like a melodic hammering from the soul of the earth. Each performer carried their own sound, amplified through their heart beats merging with their own instrument. At times it seemed as if each individual was playing a different base line and rhythm and yet simultaneously they harmonised. I could feel the power of the universe course through me as with each stroke of the drum, an energy of expansiveness issued itself throughout the auditorium, mesmerising and captivating the audience. Adding to the creativity of such expansive moments , there was an animalistic energy that drove through the very limbs and structure of the troupe, whose bodies strong, like pillars of the earth engaged in a controlled yet almost frenetic energetic fusion of fun, passion with reached a depth of entertaining that was primordial.
The drummers moved gracefully, sometimes swiftly to the unseen melodies of the drums remitting a language of their own. I could see the energy of discipline and razor sharp focus etched on their faces, as they gave, and drove throughout with an impressive energetic fervour . Their attire symbolised their culture, their movements symbolised discipline and grace and their power symbolised passion and fire.
As the pounding of this soul-filled music continued, the evening was interspersed with silent comedy, quirky and humorous innuendos which added to the character of the evening. I found myself giggling like a love struck school girl on occasion. Not that it had anything to do with looking at all those rippling muscles and delightfully toned 6 packs.
Not one word was uttered throughout the performance and yet there was an international language in the auditorium, a language that transcended verbal speak, a language that bought people together and engaged us all. We laughed, we clapped, we gasped, we held our breath, we took part in fun activities waving our arms like crazed teenagers at a rock gig and yet no words were spoken (other then from those in the audience). This was a universal language that held us captive. The language of the drums. Did we all interpret that message in the same way? Was there only one message or many? Were the messages merely those from the heart beat of the drums or was it a mix and merging of performers and their drums, harmonising and creating this magic for us to enjoy?
The evening ended to grand applause and leaving the audience, I would surmise with a feeling of WOW!! I could hear comments from others around me expressing their enjoyment of the evening.
I felt elevated and enriched in many ways. I thought of young people and children and how a performance like this could inspire into their lives on different levels. First of all I decided I would up my workout routine. (Smile) Secondly, I was impressed with their dedication, commitment and discipline to their art in order to achieve the excellence with which they honored us with tonight. Thirdly, I was inspired to contemplate playing the drums.
After the show ended, we were due to leave, but as always in Esther Austin Style, I enquired of the Press Officer whether it would be at all possible to get a picture taken. I was told the troupe would be down to eat soon and that I could stay, not only to take picture but to indulge in some much need nourishment. Ahhhh...Food...that word again. So I stayed and as you can see from the pictures below, it was worth the wait.
I must admit , the performers were a trite smaller and shorter than I had imagined them to be, however, it reminded me that power lays in the soul of man and on that note I would encourage anyone who would like to meet the soul of the earth to go a see this wonderful performance.
The Peacock, WC2A
Tuesday 12 - Sunday 31 March 2019
Performances: Tue - Sat at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:30pm, Sun at 2pm & 6pm
Tickets: £15 - £38
Ticket Office: 020 7863 8222 or www.peacocktheatre.com
YAMATO 2019 TOUR
Chousensha: The Challengers
22 – 27 Jan – Basel, Music Theater Basel www.musical.ch/de/musicaltheaterbasel
29 Jan – 3 Feb – Zürich, Theater 11 www.musical.ch/de/theater11zuerich
8 – 10 Feb – Geneva, Théâtre du Léman www.theatreduleman.com
Thank you to my partner