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Japanese Abroad

A New Take on Taiko

Hiroyuki Hayashida

  • Japanese
  • Chinese

Hiroyuki Hayashida wanted to be a professional drummer from an early age. The Nagasaki-born Hayashida recalls tapping out rhythms on his junior high school desk, once amazing his classmates with an entire drum solo originally performed by Kiss drummer Peter Criss. He eventually traded school desks for a drum kit, playing with rock and jazz bands during high school and college.

Although he was intent on playing foreign music, a chance visit to a concert by the famed Japanese taiko drum group Kodo in 1985 proved pivotal. The very idea of a taiko concert was new to Hayashida, since he thought taiko were only played at festivals. And since Kodo members train on far-off Sado Island—which is part of Niigata Prefecture—he admits, "To be honest, I thought of these guys as fishermen."

Yet Kodo's performance reverberated throughout his soul. He had considered taiko simplistic, almost monotonic, compared to a drum kit's spectrum of sounds. "It was culture shock," Hayashida recalls. Impressed with this potent element of Japanese culture, he realized that taiko could be like black-and-white photography, possessing their own beauty and depth.

Spotting an advertisement at the concert for Kodo apprentices, he signed up. One year later at a Kodo performance in London, the audience gave the group a standing ovation, a thunderous response that Hayashida believed drummers playing alone would never receive. He was hooked.

Seven intense years and some eight hundred concerts later, Hayashida saw the time was right for a break from Kodo's rigorous schedule. Moreover, he sensed the need to develop his own interpretation of taiko. He stepped away from music and spent several years assisting an art professor with metal sculpting and other design-related projects in Tokyo.

During this interlude famed folk singer Takio Ito invited Hayashida to collaborate on a concert with him. Thinking it could be his last performance, he dedicated himself to practicing the song, and did so well that the organizer asked him to prepare several more. "I ended up performing nearly half of the show's songs," he says. "And I was so happy."

That was Hayashida's debut as a solo taiko artist. He later became a pioneer proponent of the katsugi okedaiko, a unique taiko drum that is hung from the shoulder while played, and started his own performing group, Zi-Pang.

Hayashida has since performed in over thirty-two countries at a variety of venues, including the closing ceremony at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. He also performed the taiko during the tap dance scenes in Takeshi Kitano's movie Zatoichi, and was the lead taiko drummer in Coldplay and Rihanna's "Princess of China" music video collaboration, playing alongside members of the Taiko Center of Los Angeles.

Hayashida notes, "People in European countries appreciate this music for its rhythm and unique sound, and audiences in Asian countries with a tradition of using large drums, like Indonesia, relate well to taiko." Among all the concerts he has played all over the world, he remembers one in Africa where he performed for an audience of local children best, because they simply stared at him after the music finished. Puzzled by the lack of applause, he found out later that it was their first concert and they didn't know about clapping.

Hayashida also puts his energies into developing new taiko. In 2003, he developed an electronic katsugi okedaiko with an international electronic musical instrument manufacturer, and a model he created jointly with taiko manufacturer Asano Taiko won a Good Design Award in 2004. One he devised with famed American drumhead company Remo in 2011 is being marketed all over the globe. He believes there is still enormous potential to transform taiko's techniques, sounds and materials.
"Taiko is not just about making sound but visual performance as well," he adds. "The current style of taiko is only one part of what's possible."

Hayashida will continue to pound out the rhythms that are loved by fans all over the planet, and teach the world the wonders of taiko.

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