Interview with Masa Ogawa – YAMATO drummers of Japan

Explosive energy and thunderous beats – the YAMATO drummers of Japan are coming back to the UK!

The YAMATO drummers are famous worldwide for their powerful taiko drum performances. The traditional taiko drum, used in Shinto rituals, is pushed to the limit as the drummers use their entire bodies to create breathtaking performances.

Yamato – Chousensha – The Challengers is running at the Peacock Theatre in London 14-25 March. With tickets from just £15, there’s no excuse not to go. In anticipation of this exciting performance, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with YAMATO’s artistic director, Masa Ogawa!

First things first, please introduce yourself.

My name is Masa Ogawa. I am the artistic director of YAMATO the Drummers of Japan. My job is composing the music, finding the ideas for the stage performance and feeding the drummers!

Tell us more about YAMATO. Is this their first time performing in Britain?

YAMATO is the most powerful and the loudest Taiko performing arts company of Japan. All the members train their body to make energetic performances on stage.

YAMATO is based in Asuka village, the birthplace of Japan. It was the capital of Japan in the 6th century.

The group uses a traditional Japanese instrument called Taiko. Taiko is made with one piece of wood for its body. Our biggest Taiko is more than 500 kg and the drum skin diameter is about 2m. It is very heavy, as you can imagine.

YAMATO has been traveling all over the world for more than 20 years. We have visited more than 50 countries and performed more than 3,500 shows. We are coming back to Britain in March and will perform at Peacock theatre for 2 weeks and 22 shows. This is our 10th visit to Britain!

Where does your inspiration for the YAMATO music come from? How long does it take to put a performance together?

I get the ideas from people. Our performance and music are created by the energy from people’s lives. The sound of Taiko is the sound of the heartbeat. And this sound has huge energy. We are trying to express this energy by the sound of Taiko drum. It is difficult for me to say when the performance will be set perfectly. Because YAMATO’s performance is growing everyday. Our show is created by the company and the audiences.

Can you tell us about the history of the taiko drums in Japan?

In Japan, around 2000-3000 years ago, there was originally a drum instrument. The body was made with clay pot and the drum skin with animal skin. There was also a log drum. This is the story of Taiko.

Shintoism, the Japanese religion that honours spiritual beings known as kami, plays an important role in the Taiko drum’s history. The drum is made from a big tree and people listen for the voice of the kami that resides in the tree when the Taiko drum is played.

Eventually, other types of Taiko instruments came to Japan from other Asian countries, along with Buddhism. This is just my opinion. Taiko has a big history created by human heart and effort.

Photo: Sadlers Wells

The taiko drums have been part of Japanese music for centuries. Has their use or popularity in modern Japan changed much?

Taiko was seen as purely traditional ten years ago but it’s beginning to change. Many young Taiko drummers like YAMATO are trying to create new music with Taiko, and they could succeed in changing the image of Taiko. Or taiko could change the image of Japanese traditional music or the culture itself. Still we are challenging ourselves to discover the potential of Taiko.

Can you give us a hint about what to expect from YAMATO at Sadlers Wells?

Taiko is getting more popular now. People may come across Taiko on the TV, the radio or in pictures.

People think they know Taiko. However, The real Taiko sound is different.

It’s beyond imagination. It’s powerful and more energetic than expected.

And Taiko sound has the power to move people’s heart.

If you feel the vibration of Taiko directly, you must be so motivated.

Taiko is the vitamin of the people’s heart.

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