Earth Celebration - Kodo Concert

The Concert

In the evening on all three days of the Earth Celebration, Kodo presents a concert along with some of their international guest artists. Kodo headlines all three performances, but the guests artists change each day. This was actually my first time attending the Earth Celebration, but from what I have understood, that is how they have done it for 20 years now.

We were able to attend the first night’s (Friday) performance. The guest performers were the Miyake Taiko Honkzai (about whom I will make a separate entry), so this concert happened to be pure taiko, … The encore, however, involved some international guests. The concert began at 6:30 and must have lasted nearly 3 hours, by the time we they finished.

When we arrived on Sado we were not actually sure if we would be able to attend the concert. We did not have tickets before we left, because the pre-sale tickets were sold out. Uncertain whether there were any same day tickets left, we were forced to wait until we arrived on the island to purchase them. Luckily we were able to still get tickets when we arrived.

It is a bit different, the way they organize the seating. All the tickets are the same price, except that if you are able to purchase a pre-sale ticket, there is a slight discount. Once you have your ticket, you must go to Kisaki Shrine (it is where the entrance to the concert venue is) to receive a color coded seating ticket. Depending on the color you receive, you are given a time and a place to line up for the concert. There are no reserved seats for the concert, so the earlier you can arrive at Kisaki Shrine, the better seating you are likely to have.

The concert venue is called Shiroyama Koen (park) and was built by Kodo specifically for the purpose of giving concerts there (I believe). For those that understand Japanese, you will recognize ‘yama’ as meaning mountain. While the park is not on top of a mountain, it is situated at the top of a rather steep hill. Once we had our color coded entry cards, which we picked up earlier at the shrine, we knew what time we could line up for entry into the park. Our call time was 5:30. Not the earliest, but also not the latest time. We were still able to get quite good seating. Once all the 5:30 people were lined up, each color group began the climb up the steep path to the park.

Towards the top of the hill, some of the concert goers began to rush a bit towards the seating area, in the hopes of getting better seating, I suppose. We chose not to rush and were pleased that we could still secure dry seating, where the view was quite good.

By about 6:15 or so, the park was full. Off to our left, we heard some applause and cheering. I looked and saw several people wearing the traditional Kodo Happi (a style of festival coat). I then looked to my right and noticed a man in a mask, carrying an Okedo taiko making his way towards the audience. His mask covered the upper half of his face and that, combined with his clothing style, reminded me of a character out of Grimm’s fairy tales. Soon, an announcement was made, explaining that these Kodo members were collecting donations for the benefit of victims of the Niigata Earthquake, which occurred in July, I believe. The highlight of this was when the man in the mask finally set up the drum he was carrying and played a short piece. The nice part was that it was not part of the concert (officially) so we were able to take video of it.

As the concert was getting ready to start, there was the pre-concert announcement, asking people to turn off their cell phones, refrain from using cameras and recording devices and other general guidelines and instructions. I was rather surprised to hear them advise guests who wished to stand or dance to use the open areas on either side of the seating area. Dancing at a taiko concert? I couldn’t imagine that. Granted that taiko are drums, and most of the time, drums help to provide a beat or rhythms to dance to, but taiko drum rhythms are often mixed meter (if there even is a meter) and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a piece that lent itself to dancing, or made me want to stand up and shake my bootie (booty? No, that’s for pirates. Perhaps bootay? anyhow…). That’s not to say that I haven’t been moved by taiko performances. As I mentioned in earlier posts, several performances have nearly brought me to tears. Perhaps the pre-concert script was set and was not changed from night to night. After all, the other concerts involved music styles other than taiko, like Latin music, and that certainly will make quite a few people want to dance, you almost can’t help it.

To my surprise, before too many songs had been performed, there were audience members up on the sides of the seating area dancing around. I guess some people just need to dance when they hear any type of music. My son would actually be one of those people, he is only 1, but if he hears music, he swaying back and forth, squatting and standing, leaning back and forth, all to the beat of the music. It’s quite amusing.

Back to the Earth Celebration… The last time I saw Kodo in concert was 7 or 8 years ago I think. I remember the program for that concert was very traditional and rather serious. This time, the concert seemed to have more variety. The traditional and serious pieces were still there, but there were a few “newer” (newer, at least to me) songs which seemed to be more in the modern taiko styles. It was a nice mixture. They ended with their standby crowd favorites: the Odaiko solo, followed by Yataibayashi.

The Odaiko solo is played on a large drum (about 1 meter or more across), which is wheeled onto the stage on a cart surrounded by lanterns. The drum is situated so that the head is facing the audience, and the soloist’s back, therefore is facing the audience. There are actually two people playing the drum, but one is playing the back side and is hardly visible to the audience. This part is more of an accompaniment anyhow.

Yataibayashi is one of Kodo’s most well known pieces, perhaps because of the position in which it is played. The drums are horizontal and placed low to the ground, slightly angled. The performer must play in a position sitting down, yet leaning back like he is midway through a sit-up. Needless to say, it is very physically demanding. These two pieces seem to always be played wearing Kodo’s other signature outfit, the fundoshi. It seems almost disrespectful to describe it as being like a diaper, so if you are unfamiliar with the term, ‘fundoshi’ do a google image search on it and you will get the idea. It seems that only certain members, who have attained a high level of skill, are permitted to perform wearing this “clothing”.

The encore was quite unexpected. By that, I do not mean that I was not expecting an encore, but rather the content of the encore was surprising. By the time it was finished, had lasted more than 30 minutes. I was expecting more taiko for the encore, but the first half did not even feature a taiko drummer, nor a member of Kodo. The first encore performer was Tamango, a West African tap dancer, who lives in New York. He was joined by a Puerto Rican percussionist, Giovanni Hidalgo. You can learn more about them at the following:

They performed for 15 or 20 minutes together. It actually took me a few minutes to figure out what was actually going on. Although the two performers were very talented and fun to watch, I thought that an encore should be more of the same type of performing that was in the concert. After all, isn’t that what prompted the audience’s response? I finally realized that they would be performers in the following night’s concert and they were just doing a little promotion for the next day’s show. Either way, I did enjoy their performances, and they were eventually joined by members of Kodo. The performing group grew as the members of Kodo joined Tamango and Hidalgo on stage one by one, building up to a climax, featuring more than 20 members of Kodo all playing at the same time. Perhaps it is because it was newer to me, but this was almost more impressive than the Odaiko/Yataibayashi finale.

After close to 40 minutes of encore, the concert finally ended and I would guess that the audience went home very satisfied (except for the one fellow who was removed for disorderly conduct).

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