After a hugely successful Australian tour in 2017, the Yamato Drummers of Japan are back by popular demand returning to Australia with 'Passion', their new show boasting unrestrained dynamics, endearing humour, delicate stillness and disciplined perfection, the drummers push themselves to the limits.
Returning from a three week season in London's West End and visiting Switzerland, Italy and Holland, Australian fans will once again have the chance to be blown away by the high-energy, passionate performance of the Taiko drummers.
The group last year celebrated their 25th anniversary with over 3,700 performances in 54 countries, reaching nearly 8 million fans young and old. Yamato's never-ending passion for their centuries-old Taiko tradition continues to propel all throughout the world with no signs of slowing down.
Yamato performer Melanie Koppert answers some questions about the show, which will make stops around the country.
What makes a show such as this so invigorating and engaging for audiences?
We believe that Taiko can express the energy of life. In Yamato, we try to give all of our energy to the audience, and in this way hope to create big energy together with the audience. If you never felt Yamato's sound before, we think you will be able to get enormous energy from Yamato's performance. You can consider it as a great energy drink! Especially with our new show called ‘Passion’, we hope that after seeing the show, people’s passion and hopes will be reinvigorated and you want to keep going, keep trying your best every day!
Is it difficult to travel the world with the huge Odaiko and Taiko drums as well as lighting and sound equipment?
To be able to give our performances around the world, the transportation of the Taiko and all of the equipment is always a really big challenge for us! Taiko is quite big and heavy, but at the same time have to be handled carefully in order to not get any damage to the drums. Besides that, Taiko also reacts to harsh weather. If the weather is extremely cold, it’s not good for the Taiko skin and we have to find a way to keep the drums warm. For every tour, we try our best to think of a good way for the situation of that specific country.
Image © Eliza Wiley
Could you tell us a bit of history on the Taiko drum? How are the drums used in traditional Japanese culture?
First, I would just like to say that this is only what I know of the history of Taiko. Around the fifth century, Taiko came to Japan from India together with Buddhism. Taiko has always been used in religious ceremonies of Shinto or Buddhism. Here they believe that you can feel the power of the deity in the rumbling sound of Taiko. Besides that, a long time ago in wartime, the sound of Taiko was also used to communicate and to encourage the soldiers. The sound of Taiko is considered to have healing power, and it has been used as therapy. Sometimes there are some children and babies who fall asleep feeling the sound of Taiko. They might remember the sound of a mother’s heart they heard when they were in the mother’s stomach. Nowadays, Taiko is mostly known for being the sound of a festival. When you hear the Taiko sound, you know somewhere close there is a matsuri or festival going on.
How often does Yamato train when not on tour and what do these rehearsals consist of?
In Yamato, we are always training! It is important to gain stamina mentally and physically. For example: running ten kilometres in the morning, weight training in the morning till afternoon, and practising from afternoon to midnight. We devote more than 12 hours a day to training and practise. Basically, we just practise and practise except for the time needed for food and toilet!
How do you maintain such an ancient tradition while at the same time putting on a show that excites modern day audiences?
In Yamato we respect the traditions, but at the same time, it is very important that we are not limited by traditions. All the music is composed by the group, not just influenced by traditional styles. Furthermore, Wadaiko was not actually performed on stage in the old days. Performing with traditional style is not our goal. We trust that ancient tradition can live in modern expression.
Image © Hiroshi Seo
How will the passion of the drummers be reflected in the show?
In Yamato we feel that passion is very important in our lives. When human beings have no passion, daily life becomes stale. We believe that passion is the fire that keeps us going and keeps us moving forward. In Yamato, the drummers train and live together every day. As you can imagine this life is not always easy. Now, with their new show ‘Passion’, the drummers want to show the fire inside their hearts, the passion that keeps them going, day in day out.
How will the passion of the drummers be reflected by the production of 'Passion' in terms of lighting, set design, etc.?
Yamato lighting and set design are all designed by our Artistic Director Masa Ogawa. Also, our costumes are handmade by one of the artists. They all synchronise on stage, and passion grows. We also wish that maybe people can feel the beauty of Japan, and feel the air of our home village Asuka through the show.
The performers include both men and women. It is great to see such equal representation in such an intense and powerful show. Do you have any comments on this?
In Yamato, the women drummers are much more powerful than the men drummers!
It must take a lot of physical strength to be able to perform at such high intensity. Is there any physical training that goes into the overall preparations of a Yamato show?
It is needed to be physically fit in order to perform with Yamato. That is why Yamato is always training! With only one show, we lose about two kilograms of weight just from sweating!