Yamato: Japanese Taiko Drummers Come to UMass

By Sarah Robertson

Muza-chan/Flickr

Yamato, a troupe of Japanese Taiko drummers, will be coming to the Fine Arts Center this Thursday. The group of 16 young male and female musicians will be performing Thursday evening as part of their 20th anniversary world tour. Coincidentally, the show will also mark the 20th anniversary of UMass’ Asian Arts and Culture Department, the program putting on the show. Ranjanaa Devi, the director of the department, coordinated the event aptly titled “The Beat of the Road.”

“Beat of The Road is a contemporary take on the tradition of Japanese Taiko drumming,” Devi said. “What is interesting about Yamato is that they have performers of mixed genders, something that traditional Taiko drum groups don’t normally do.”

It is this contemporary twist that makes the Yamato drummers appeal to such a broad audience. Most of the drummers are in their 20s or 30s, which is younger than a traditional group, and far more energetic. They play all original compositions, drawing influence from traditional Japanese Taiko while adding subtle elements of modern hip-hop and rap.

“They are the catalyst connecting younger and older generations through their music,” Devi said.

Taiko drumming originated in Japan and has played roles in Japanese culture ranging from dispelling evil entities and harvest festivals to communicating with opposing armies in medieval battles. Yamato was founded by Masa Ogawa in 1993 as a celebration of these traditions and has been making the rich history of Taiko drumming more accessible to younger generations ever since.

Originating in Asuka, Japan, in the Nara Prefecture, Yamato has held on to the culture by using traditional drums made from 400 year old trees and channeling their “tamashy,” which translates to soul, spirit and psyche.

While their performance is very spiritual, Yamato engages listeners and introduces them to Japanese culture rather than treating audiences as mere observers. Drummers interact with each other and play off of each other’s energy in a way that envelopes audiences with their spirit and soul.

“Their philosophy is to make somebody happy,” Devi said. “The drummers focus on the importance of spiritual sound. Spiritual sound is basic to nature and nature is what they frame their art from.”

Tickets for the show are available at the box-office in advance or as walk-up sales at the UMass Fine Arts Center Box Office. Prices start at $10 for Five College students and youth under 17. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected]