Kodo, Japan's Samurai Rhythm Kings, Play the Power Drum Song
When 11 members of Kodo, Japan's power drum corps, came to the U.S. for the first time in 1975, they tuned up for a concert by running the Boston Marathon. It wasn't fear of flab that motivated the musicians, who performed in loincloths shortly after crossing the finish line. "We have the spirit of the samurai," says director Yoshiaki Oi, 36. "The samurai trained in order to make the most direct and efficient use of his body. We do the same thing in playing the drums. You have to make the most efficient use of your body when you strike the drum. That is the only way to make a clean sound."
And a unique spectacle. Kodo's combination of athleticism, intricate rhythms and power—the largest taiko drum weighs 900 pounds—has won kudos from critics. Fans at a recent New York concert—part of a four-month tour through five countries—seemed to agree with a Le Monde reviewer, who labeled Kodo's show a "monstrous, astonishing performance."
Kodo takes its name from the Japanese word for heartbeat and its creed of rhythmic harmony between man and nature from ancient Japanese teachings. Home base is isolated Sado, an island 200 miles north of Tokyo, where members and staff live a communal life open to anyone who can survive the daily regimen: 10-km beach runs at dawn, two hours of calisthenics, six-hour practice sessions and meals during which right-handed drummers must use chopsticks in their left hand—and vice versa—to learn ambidexterity. The life-style is Spartan, but that's the point. "Here," says Oi, "we are living by the rhythms of nature."