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Yamato Drums up a great performance at the Fine Arts Center

The Asian Arts and Culture Department helped celebrate two anniversaries Thursday night as the Japanese Taiko drumming group, Yamato, came to the Fine Arts Center as part of their 20th anniversary world tour. The department, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, organized the show titled “Rojyoh – The Beat on the Road.”

*Cos/ Flickr

The Yamato drummers’ performance took audiences through the evolution of Taiko drumming and Japanese culture. The show opened with a short narrative on the history of Taiko and the founding of Yamato in the Nara Prefecture of Japan in 1993.

The string curtain lifted and the troupe displayed their skill and athleticism in their first original song titled “Masurao,” which translates to “Strong Man.”  It was an intense start to the evening that contrasted greatly with the end of the show, as the performance seemed to grow more whimsical as it progressed. During an intermission, the troupe changed from their traditional Japanese robes to t-shirts and jeans. Their changing was a way for the drummers to symbolize how they bridge the gap between ancient Japanese culture and the art of Taiko today.

“We, the members of Yamato, believe in the unique value of Taiko,” says the group’s president, Masa Ogawa, “We are committed to preserving its traditions and exploring new possibilities for this majestic instrument.”

The stage was set up in a tiered-pyramid style with the massive, 800-pound Miya Daiko drum sitting in the center. This special drum was set flat on its side as to let two drummers play on either side, however the stage was changed several times throughout the performance and drums were moved and repositioned.

In between stage set-ups, the drummers would perform in front of the curtain with smaller instruments, often incorporating humor and audience participation. In one song, titled “Garakura,” or “Toys for Scrap,” three drummers with small cymbals performed the equivalent of a rap-battle with just the small metal instruments. Tossing an imaginary object back and forth that signified whose turn it was, they humorously competed with the same precision and skill as their most intense drum song.

The drummers did an excellent job moving around the stage and interacting with other drummers. Rarely did a drum stay in one place for an entire performance. The facial expressions of the drummers also helped communicate with audiences the mood they wished their music to portray. However, it was not uncommon to see the furrowed brow of a drummer give way to a smile when their passion for the music broke through their composure.

Towards the end of the show the performers began to rely on their humor to engage the audience. They began to interact more with other drummers, joke with each other in an almost childish way and engage the audience even more. Yamato’s style of humor allows the drummers to connect with audiences of any age. Retirees and toddlers alike could be seen clapping along with songs. Unsurprisingly, they got a standing ovation and came back for one more song that relied heavily on the audience clapping in time with the drummers.

Yamato will continue their worldwide tour by going to Boston and playing several shows there. They have played over 2,600 shows in 52 countries since Yamato was founded 20 years ago and they have plans to continue touring for years to come. The mission of the troupe is to spread their love and appreciation for Taiko drumming worldwide and uphold “Yamato,” the spirit of Japan.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@umass.edu.

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