Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers

Assembly George Square

From 01 August 2013 to 26 August 2013

Rating: ****

Review by Catherine Lamm

For those unfamiliar, taiko are the group of drums most associated with the ancient Japanese community which is highlight by the Samurai culture and created originally for communication, to set the pace for marching armies and to frighten the enemy.

These drums range from the small, portable variety to the large one that look like they could hide a small community of drummers inside, made of different woods and tacked to the body or lashed with rope and usually played with straight wooden sticks. In any form or size, when handled professionally they are very impressive. Mostly drums, occasionally groups bring in masters of flutes and some stringed instruments.

Training is obviously long and precise focusing on the formality of this art form and a reverence for the history and training; one feels like one is in a religious ceremony. Predominately and historically a masculine group of musicians, the women, although still in the minority, take no back seat these days. Taiko groups range from the small with less rigid or formal performances to the larger groups, usually with very precise and elaborate choreography and sometimes accompanied by other musicians.

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are the larger, with seven featured musicians and feature a group of dancers. Neil Mackie, who originally trained in Japan, is the founder and driving force of Mugenkyo. There are four other men and two women who round out the group of musicians. They demonstrate the formal qualities of the tradition while incorporating their own interpretation of the classic works and match this with very modern percussive pieces.

One is immediately impressed by their focus on the traditional training and music. The sounds and movements demonstrate unmistakably the traditions Westerners associate with this music. Mr Mackie is featured in one piece on the very large Odaiko, and in one of the numbers, drummers seated on the floor in front of their drums lean back in order to play. Not just arms used to their maximum but here the abdominals are challenged. Very impressive!

The percussion comes not only from the drum head but is deftly demonstrated on the rims of the drums and the metal tack heads. The drums are noticeably tuned against each other for their musicality. They also incorporate the flute, bells and a gong at one point and have added the choreography of dancers with glowing streamers. One of the more modern pieces has incorporated some comic relief. The costumes range from the traditional to the camouflage. They perform and move the instruments around the stage with precision.

It’s quite an impressive show and very suited to families with somewhat older children.