‘Thundering’ is absolutely the word that springs to mind when one thinks about taiko drumming. The mind’s eye conjures up an impressive image of the immense ‘Odaiko’ drum; its uncompromising reverberation is without doubt a major attraction of the art. However, after seeing Mugenkyo Taiko Drummer’s gig in Croydon other less obvious words and images are springing to my mind – such as ‘intricately interwoven’ and ‘fine layers of sound’.
Always purposeful, the players began the concert by coming onstage with measured movements, piecing together the blocks of varied percussion to build gradually to a great wall of sound. And it was a great sound in Fairfield Hall’s large auditorium. First we had the group’s own ‘Belenos’ and ‘Shibu Rokku’ (with the unusual addition of megaphone poetry!). They then went on to breathe new life into traditional tunes, such as ‘Kaikigenyo and ‘Fudoshin’ and to present their own compositions, layering punctuating pauses with controlled crescendos.
Contrasts abound in the show – and the light and breezy flute and Japanese bamboo pipe playing of Nobuko Miyazaki (a guest from New York accompanying Mugen players on this tour) was no exception.
The Mugenkyo drummers are serious about their art, and their drumming is always characterised by sharply synchronised movements. Whilst this is, in itself, pretty amazing to watch, the precision was enhanced with the clever use of UV lighting which caused their drumsticks to glow and highlight the dexterous movements.
The troupe is not too serious, though, to be above a brief comedic moment to change the atmosphere. In a nice comedy sketch, the drummers used worrying discrepancies in the sizes of their ‘uchiwa’ drums (which resemble fans, or rackets) to amusing effect.
All in all, this performance was a sensory treat displaying the kind of discipline and creativity that is truly inspiring to behold. Banging on big, loud drums could soon get tiring for performers and the audience. But Mugenkyo drummers showed the somewhat sparse, but very appreciative Croydon audience that the controlled quality of the silence between the beats is just as important as thundering reverberation.
Mugenkyo are currently on a UK-wide tour, with 24 dates at 24 different venues. Hailing from the the UK’s only Taiko Dojo in Scotland, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are led by Neil Mackie, who founded the group in 1994 after studying in Japan. More information about the drummers, the dojo, and the tour – which continues until 28th October – is available from their website.