Drumming the night away: Wadaiko Yamato

I remember hearing about Yamato: Drums of Japan from my cousin Miel a few years back. Japan Foundation Manila invited them for a performance and she was able to attend. I’ve been wanting to see them but I somehow keep missing the schedule and ending up hearing about it after the event.

Thankfully, through the power of social media, I was able to learn about it early on. I called JFMO to reserve some seats for tonight’s performance (July 10) and dragged various family members to go with me. Partners in crime: my sister Oski, Miel and her boyfriend Vero. Did I mention that this is for free?

Yamato, or Wadaiko Yamato is a performing group of taiko drummers formed in 1993 by Masa Ogawa in Nara, Japan. Ogawa was originally part of another wadaiko group but left to form Wadaiko Yamato. Initially, the group had ten members, five men and five women. While it wasn’t unusual for women to play in such a group, the female members of the Wadaiko Yamato play the same drums as the male members.

In an interview with BBC some years ago, Ogawa said that Japanese drums have a similarity to African drums, where they were used mainly for communication either amongst the people or to their gods and ancestral spirits. Western drums are mostly instrumental in fuction. Wadaika Yamato tries to combine both. (You can read more about the interview with Ogawa here)

We arrived just minutes before the performance began. There was already a huge crowd inside so even if we had reserved tickets, we weren’t able to get seats. No matter, since Sky Dome’s structure made it possible to view the stage from any angle (so long as someone doesn’t stand in front of you). Flash photography was prohibited, although there were marshals asking people not to take pictures at all. After I got told off after taking several pictures, I turned it off.

It’s not my first time to hear a taiko performance, but obviously, it was my first time to hear them live. The first strike of the drumstick on the surface of the drum is unforgettable. It reverberates deep down, you just don’t hear it, but feel it as well.

For nearly two hours, we were treated to a world class performance by excellent artists. It wasn’t just a musical experience, but also a visual one. The Yamato performers moved along with the beat of their instruments, and even had entertaining skits that had the audience laughing and participating.

It wasn’t just all drums too. One of the performances had the female members all playing shamisen, a three-stringed guitar-like instrument that is played with a bachi (think of big guitar pick). Another performance had the male members playing with small cymbals, while in their encore number, one of the female players had a flute.

Watching them perform would give you an idea that it wasn’t just a matter of hitting the drums. For one, the muscles on the drummers’ arms would tell you that it takes a lot of effort. Each member, including the females, would definitely need to have have strong arm muscles to be able to play tirelessly for nearly two hours. And it wasn’t just the arms. They moved around the stage, jumping and dancing. Sometimes they’d carry the drums around while playing them. I tell you, the energy that’s flowing from them will make you feel like you’ve performed as hard as they have after the show.

I’m stoked that I was able to get the chance to watch them. If they come back, I’ll definitely go see them again.

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